Special-Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force
Story by Cpl. Daniel Negrete
POPTUN KAIBIL TRAINING CAMP, Guatemala – At a remote training camp nestled deep within the Guatemalan countryside, a small detachment of U.S. Marines from Special-Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force Continuing Promise 2010 conducted a week-long subject-matter expert exchange with Guatemalan Special Forces soldiers or “Kaibiles,” near the vicinity of Poptun, Guatemala.
Poptun Kaibil Training Camp is where the Guatemalan Army trains its regular Army soldiers to become Kaibiles, or elite warriors specializing in jungle warfare and counter-insurgency operations.
Their arduous 60-day training course, which is conducted twice a year, is designed to weed out the weak and graduate only the best of candidates.
“In a class of about 40 candidates, only seven or eight make it to the end and become Kaibiles,” said Col. Victor L. Diaz, the commanding officer of the Kaibil training school. “We look for quality rather than quantity.”
The SMEE with the Kaibiles involved approximately 40 Marines of Alpha Company, 2nd Assault Amphibian Battalion from Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, N.C., who are currently serving as the Ground Combat Element for Special-Purpose MAGTF CP2010.
The Kaibiles provided A Co., 2d AABN Marines with an abbreviated Special Forces qualification course.
Although the typical Kaibil training course is 60 days long, many of the physical and mental challenges that Guatemalan soldiers must endure to become Kaibiles were incorporated into the week-long Marine SMEE.
For instance, Kaibiles believe food is earned. Before every meal the soldiers must climb a rope, do five pull-ups, 10 push-ups and then run two miles.
The Marines also performed these exercises prior to eating their “chow” during the week-long SMEE.
“It’s training like this that really makes you feel like a Marine,” said Cpl. Michael V. Palazotta, a U.S. Marine who participated in the exchange. “The Kaibiles put together an extensive training package for us which was priceless on both a professional and personal level.”
The training package the Marines completed focused on some of the Kaibiles’ more challenging exercises. The Marines completed the Kaibil swim qualification course, learned counter-guerilla doctrine, the history of the Kaibiles, overcame an obstacle and confidence course, learned land navigation in jungle-terrain, knot tying, moving vehicle exits, maneuvering in company-sized jungle patrols and reacting to ambushes.
“Many of the skills used during these exercises were similar to our doctrine with small differences based on what has worked for the Kaibiles,” said Capt. Lynn W. Berendsen, the commanding officer of A Co., 2d AABN. “The Kaibiles significantly enhanced the SMEE by teaching us some techniques for operating in a jungle environment, something most of the Marines have not done before and something most Marines have not done since the Global War on Terrorism shifted our focus to the desert.”
Marines are renowned for their expeditionary capabilities and their ability to thrive in austere situations. The Kaibiles are army special forces who also believe in these tenants.
“Part of being expeditionary is being able to conduct sustained operations with only what you are able to carry on your back,” said Berendsen.
“We can learn from the Kaibiles that not every area where Marines will operate in will have creature comforts and that like the Kaibiles we can still be a formidable force, respected by our friends and feared by our enemies with just what we can carry on our backs,” said Berendsen.
The week-long SMEE in Poptun, Guatemala, was one of three locations where Marines and Guatemalan military members exchanged knowledge and experience. The exchanges have been part of a larger mission to work with partner nations in Latin America and the Caribbean during Operation Continuing Promise 2010. CP10 is a humanitarian civic assistance mission dedicated to providing medical, dental, veterinary and engineering support, subject-matter expert exchange and disaster response to partner nations.
“A natural disaster can hit a Central American country like Guatemala at any given moment,” said Lt. Col. Chris S. Richie, commanding officer of Special-Purpose MAGTF CP2010. “By conducting these types of exchanges, we better prepare ourselves to assist a populace in the aftermath of a hurricane, earthquake or any other type of natural disaster.”
So far, the Marines have conducted similar SMEEs in Colombia and Costa Rica. Forthcoming exchanges are scheduled for Nicaragua and Suriname.
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