Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Dutch troops train for Africa at Camp Lejeune

By Trista Talton - Staff writer
Posted : Wednesday May 7, 2008 9:46:59 EDT

CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. — Sgt. Erwin Spil could see his Marines’ arms slightly shaking, fierce concentration marking their faces.

Firing live rounds in close quarters kept the Dutch marines on their toes. Hard to say what’s around a corner or who might be standing on the other side of a wall, said Spil, an instructor with 11th Company, 1st Marine Battalion.

Training in the shoot-house at Camp Lejeune’s mobile military operations in urban terrain facility was among the highlights for the Dutch marines, here on a three-week stay at the base.

About 120 of the Korps Mariners — the Royal Netherlands Marine Corps — have been hosted by 3rd Battalion, 8th Marines, and granted access to places such as the mobile MOUT and live-fire ranges peppered throughout the base.

“This kind of facility, like the shoot-house, in the Netherlands, we don’t have that,” Spil said.

On a warm April 29 morning, outside of the shoot-house, a small group of the Dutch marines suited up in their flak jackets and helmets, patterned in brightly colored green-brown-black camouflage. The protective gear stood in contrast with their woodland cammies, similar to those Marines wore before “digital” camouflage was introduced, and was provided courtesy of the Dutch army.

Like their U.S. counterparts, Dutch marines are considered a part of “the few.” The Royal Netherlands Marine Corps is about the size of a standard Marine regiment, about 3,000 Marines. But the group’s history spans back long before the first Marines pledged an oath at Tun Tavern. Korps Mariners formed in 1665, during the Anglo-Dutch Wars.

Camp Lejeune is a spiritual home of sorts for Dutch marines, who came to the base in 1944 after their homeland fell under Nazi control. Reorganizing completely at Camp Lejeune, the foreign troops settled in the Hadnot Point and Montford Point areas of the base to model their newly reformed corps after the American troops, according to historical records of the Montford Point Marines Association.

Members of the Dutch brigade practiced amphibious operations alongside their American counterparts, used the same base exchanges and facilities, and even modeled their uniforms on the U.S. pattern, according to the records. The units left the base in 1945.

Today’s Dutch marines have live-fire ranges of their own, but have less freedom when they conduct live-fire exercises because range control, not individual units, is in charge of exercises. They have access to two MOUTs, which are shared by all of the Dutch military, roughly 70,000 troops.

At Lejeune’s mobile MOUT, which is designed to resemble an Iraqi village, the Dutch marines tackling the shoot-house were reminded that communication in close quarters is important.

“You forget to communicate,” Spil said.

Lt. Maarten Van Der Hoek, 1st Platoon commander, 11th Company, said using live rounds makes a difference in their training.

“We’re used to working with blanks,” he said. “Now we have live rounds. You can see the tension in their faces.”

Several miles away at a live-fire range, another group of Dutch marines with 11th, 13th and 14th companies, prepared to walk the line.

As the Dutch marines fired their M16s, Marines with 3/8 watched their Dutch counterparts narrow in on targets.

“They’ve done well,” said Capt. Dan O’Brien, an exchange officer and officer in charge of a Dutch marine company-sized attachment. “That’s pretty competent basic gunnery they did and, two weeks ago, they couldn’t do that.”

Dutch marines don’t often have to train at ranges where they shoot into the sand, which helps shooters see where they’re hitting, O’Brien said. Dutch marines have even less access to machine-gun live fire in the Netherlands and they do not get as much ammunition.

Cpl. Stephen McGarry, a machine-gunner with 8th Marines, was one of two U.S. Marines working with Dutch marines firing their machine guns on the same range.

“They’re all really eager to learn,” he said. “The guys have been shooting real good the past couple of days.”

Dutch marines taking part in the training at Lejeune are preparing to deploy this fall to Chad in central Africa, where they will provide aid to Darfur refugees from the neighboring nation of Sudan.

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