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Ground Combat Element Integrated Task Force

Integrated Task Force Marines return to Camp Lejeune, complete MCOTEA assessment

By | | May 21, 2015


Marines from the Ground Combat Element Integrated Task Force returned to Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, May 20, 2015, after completing the Marine Corps Operational Test and Evaluation Activity assessment after three months in the Mojave Desert and a just a few weeks in Bridgeport.

In early March, GCEITF Marines began the MCOTEA assessment at Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, California, and branched off to Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Training Center Bridgeport and Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton for phase two of the assessment. Prior to the Task Force performing the assessment, the companies trained for four months at Camp Lejeune.

Each MCOTEA assessment varied, depending on the Marines’ military occupational specialty and was assessed on a specific combat-arms billet. Male and female Marines executed tasks in one of the following: infantry rifleman (0311), machine gunner (0331), mortarman (0341), infantry assaultman (0351), anti-tank missileman (0352), light armored vehicle crewman (0313), M1A1 tank crewman (1812), amphibious assault vehicle crewman (1833), field artillery cannoneer (0811), and combat engineer (1371).

During the assessment at Twentynine Palms, infantry Marines and combat engineers were hiking every other day with a combat load at approximately 60 pounds on a four-day cycle, conducting offensive and defensive operations, firing their weapons systems.  

“It’s not very often in life you find something you can’t physically or mentally handle; I have never been tested so intensely before,” said Cpl. Sarah Wentling, machine gunner, Weapons Company, GCEITF. “I am thankful for that experience. I never would have found that in my previous MOS.”

Being previously stationed at Twentynine Palms working as a mechanic in a tool room, Wentling said she volunteered to better herself as a Marine and see a different side of the Corps, and in addition got to see another side of Twentynine Palms.

“I’m very thankful for this experience,” Wentling said. “This is an experience that I would have otherwise never had the opportunity to be a part of. A lot of people join the Marine Corps to be pushed past their limit because we find some kind of excitement in seeing what we can and can’t do. This is the first time in my life I have been pushed to the limit and beyond the limit at that.”

For the combat engineers, they conducted hasty breaches, mine sweeps, cache reductions and combat-conditioning hikes, alongside the infantry Marines in the desert, and sometimes off in the distance, depending on what they were blowing up. Although the Marines knew what to expect each day, every day brought different and unique challenges. 

“The four-mile hikes in Twentynine Palms weren’t bad at first,” said Cpl. Andrew Cochran, combat engineer, Engineer Platoon, Headquarters and Service Company, GCEITF. “It’s easy but it was repetitive. You have to have heart with this type of thing. You have to stick with it and keep pushing no matter how tough it gets.”

Task Force Marines were dispersed throughout several ranges at Twentynine Palms. Companies rarely crossed paths at Camp Wilson, as most of their time was spent in the field. Crews with Tanks, LAVs and AAVs spent majority of their time at Range 500 firing their vehicle’s main guns, loading ammunition, breaking track, and conducting crew evacuations and casualty evacuations during their assessments.

“My mindset coming to the Task Force was seeing how reservists transitioned to active duty, and how females and males were going to work together,” said Sgt. Chaz L. Como, tank crewman with Tank Plt., Company B, GCEITF. “The most positive thing that came from the Task Force and the assessment is to never judge a Marine by their perception at first; let them show their ability to perform. It didn’t really matter what your rank was or what unit you came from, it really came down to not judging Marines and letting the Marines be able to show their abilities.”

While every Marine’s performance was put to the test, over out at Gun Position Quackenbush, artillery Marines continued to push through their assessment as they conducted high-and-low angle fire missions, out-of-traverse fire missions, emergency displacement and battery defensive positions.

“It feels pretty awesome to have completed the assessment,” said Sgt. Mindy A. Vuong, field artillery cannoneer, Battery A, GCEITF. “I volunteered because it was an opportunity I would probably never have again being both a sergeant and closer to 30 years old than 20. I also believe that women are capable of performing combat jobs. This was a chance for me to help prove this to both myself and others. We did what we set out to do and I'm sure that if the Marine Corps had further missions for us as a battery and as a task force, we would not be resting on our laurels.”

Phase Two of the Assessment:
As Marines with Battery A, Tank and LAV Platoons completed their assessment at Twentynine Palms and headed back to North Carolina, AAV Platoon traveled to Camp Pendleton for waterborne and beach tasks while infantry Marines and engineers traveled to Bridgeport for their final assessments.

"Out in Twentynine Palms, I think we did really well. In the beginning we were a little bit slower because we weren't used to it. It was a little bit different for us but once we started to do the routine over and over again we got quicker, faster and smarter,” said Sgt. Kassie L. McDole, AAV crewman, Company B, GCEITF. "Out here in Del Mar, we didn't have as many trials as we did in Twentynine Palms. Water’s a little more dangerous in my opinion – you take what you learned, you ask questions, you learn from each other, and you learn from the staff. The staff has been teaching us and answering any questions we've had. Just relying on your training and the Marines to the right and left of you and going out there and doing it. It's pretty awesome."

While AAV Marines performed their final assessment on the water, infantry Marines and combat engineers encountered a slightly rockier final assessment where they hiked through elevation of over 7,000 feet with a 75-pound pack, and performed a 170-ft gorge crossing and a 40-foot cliff face climbing event during their time at Bridgeport.

“The gorge crossing was by far the hardest part of the assessment in my opinion,” said Sgt. Radmila M. Allen, rifleman with Company A, GCEITF. “It was challenging for upper-body, and I have a fear of heights. This experience has taught me that I can push myself and accomplish more than I ever thought. It made me physically and mentally strong, and I am very grateful for that.”

Over the past three months, some days were longer than others, and the tasks seemed grueling and at times, unbearable. But the experiences, camaraderie and the knowledge will be a part of the Marines’ lives for a lifetime.

“It’s exciting to finish what you start,” Allen said. “I was outside of my comfort zone but I definitely feel more-rounded as a noncommissioned officer. It’s sad at the same time because I met a lot of great influential people here, and we will go our separate ways.”

From October 2014 to July 2015, the Ground Combat Element Integrated Task Force conducted individual and collective skills training in designated ground combat arms occupational specialties in order to facilitate a standards based assessment of the physical performance of Marines in a simulated operating environment performing specific ground combat arms tasks.