NAMOSI PROVINCE, Fiji --
The tropical rainforest of Namosi Province, Fiji, presented Marines of KOA MOANA 15-3 with a unique opportunity to train in unfamiliar terrain and climate during an exercise with the Republic of Fiji Military Force, Oct. 12-16.
The exercise focused on re-engagement between the two countries while featuring jungle training and community rebuilding projects.
“Fiji has to go back to relationships with countries such as America, Australia and New Zealand,” said Maj. Henry Macomber, commanding officer of the Fijian Training Group.
From day one, Marines broke off into groups led by soldiers of the RFMF, and settled into the jungles of Fiji for the night where they would begin building relationships on both personal and professional levels.
Typical of the highlands of Fiji, rain and winds howled through the first night and throughout the training as the Marines and RFMF soldiers packed their gear and hiked through the jungle, some scaling through thick and heavy rainforest using machetes to forge a path, and others traversing through miles of river navigating to the next destination. By the afternoon, all Marines found their way to the command post, reconstituted their supplies and prepared for the next day.
“I was excited to be challenged both mentally and physically and proud to see how the Marines reacted to all the physical and mental challenges Fiji offered,” said Gunnery Sergeant James Kines, platoon sergeant for Law Enforcement Platoon, KOA MOANA 15-3.
After hiking in dense rainforest the day prior, Marines stayed out of the jungle during day three. The Marines received training at a site dubbed ‘Survival Village,’ where they learned how to create traps for food, purify water, build shelters and survive in a jungle environment.
“Whenever Marines go to other jungles around the world they will know how to tackle the problems they face,” said Macomber, when referring to the benefits the Marines received while training with his troops.
In consolidated groups the Marines then visited three different villages in Namosi Province where they helped build up schools or farms and built relationships with the local people. The Marines were rewarded with a dry night under a roof of one of the local schools. The women of the village also treated Marines to hot tea, home-crafted pastries and many accepted the invitation to participate in the village’s formal welcoming ceremony and observe local customs and music.
On the last day of the exercise the Marines spent half a day building rafts made of bamboo and the other half paddling down a river for several miles before reaching their extraction point. Throughout the training Marines learned valuable jungle lessons should they ever encounter such conditions during future operations.
“Marines taught the Fijians that we have a warrior spirit,” said Kines. “You put us in a tough environment and we can maintain a good attitude and we’re going to fight through whatever we have to, to make it to the end.”
The final morning Marines and Fiji soldiers shook hands and said farewells as they exchanged gifts and gratitude. It has been over a decade since Marines have conducted training in the jungles of Fiji. This exercise enabled the U.S. military to reach people in the RFMF as well as local villages and their people.
“We’ve been able to engage with the local people through community projects, working with schools, working with farms and overall we have created a positive image of the U.S. military and U.S. Government for not only the Fijian military but Fijian people as well,” said 1st Lt. Bradley Wilson, platoon commander for Engineer Platoon, KOA MOANA 15-3.
After the four days of training in the jungle, many of the Fijian leaders and soldiers told Marines that other countries have been put through the same training and were unable to finish the evolution. This proved to be an important and positive step in continued re-engagement with Fiji and certainly opens the opportunity for follow on training.
Far away from the dry climates of recent battlefields, Fiji provided the Marines of KOA MOANA 15-3 a unique training environment and opportunity that is not readily available to the southern California- based Marines.