LOS ALAMITOS, Calif. --
In 2014, the last Marines pulled out of Helmand Province, Afghanistan, which was home to some of the most kinetic activity during Operation Enduring Freedom. One Marine who conducted two combat tours there is preparing for a different yet familiar style of deployment as he and his Marines recently completed a certification exercise prior to departing in May.
Sgt. Randall J. Hernandez, a squad leader for Company I, 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, brings an abundance of experience from his missions in Afghanistan and recently participated in a training exercise at Joint Forces Training Base in Los Alamitos, California, April 12-13, 2015. His company is set to deploy with the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit as part of the ground combat element of the Marine Air-Ground Task Force, which is capable of amphibious operations, crisis response, humanitarian relief, embassy reinforcement and more.
“He takes every exercise we do very personal, as if it were real, so that we get the maximum training value out of it,” said Lance Cpl. Matthew F. Kathe, a rifleman for Company I who is preparing for his first deployment. “He has a lot of knowledge that he passes down and has taught me a lot.”
Hernandez has a lot of family with experience in the Marine Corps including two cousins who served. As a football star at Shasta High School in Redding, California, Hernandez found the Marines a natural fit.
“I joined the Marines for the pride of belonging and brotherhood,” said Hernandez.
Marines have so many opportunities when it comes to combat tours, embassy reinforcement and humanitarian missions that there are plenty of chances to see the world and make a difference, he said.
In the training scenario, the Marines were called ashore to reinforce a simulated U.S. Embassy besieged by role players acting as protesters. The “protesters” hurled objects at the Marines guarding the interior of the embassy compound. As the situation deteriorated, a simulated Improvised Explosive Device was detonated, resulting in many of the role players becoming simulated casualties.
“The role players do a good job of mixing it up,” said Hernandez, who has been in the Marine Corps for six years. “Marines were getting hit with a lot stuff they haven’t seen before.”
Marines were finding it challenging to communicate with actors in character as local nationals who didn’t speak or understand their language.
For the bulk of the event, Hernandez said his team was in charge of providing embassy reinforcement to simulate a real life situation where an ambassador and his staff feel the circumstances require additional security—a mission for which a MEU is trained and ready.
“The embassy reinforcement gave us a defensive stance and an opportunity to understand (guard) post rotation while working with the State Department,” Hernandez said. “The exercise provided us a culminating event to test ourselves prior to deploying.”
Much like in the exercise, Marines may face similar situations while deployed on a MEU where humanitarian assistance, disaster relief, security cooperation, working with foreign militaries, and other operations are common.
Marines like Hernandez, a combat veteran who also worked closely with Afghan locals, bring leadership backed up with first-hand knowledge that can be beneficial to his unit.
“Having combat and tactical experience gives my Marines trust and confidence in my ability to make the right decisions when encountering situations while forward deployed,” said Hernandez.
Following the exercise, Hernandez and about 2,400 Marines and Sailors of the 15th MEU will embark on a seven-month deployment in the Pacific Ocean where the long hours of training will prove invaluable.