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Argentine, US Marines Train Together (Oct. 31)

PUERTO BELGRANO, Argentina---Argentine and U.S. Marines and Sailors joined forces to conduct an amphibious landing here, Oct. 17, as part of Unitas 43-02, an annual, multinational series of training exercises in Latin America.

Using every asset at their disposal--naval vessels and gunfire, assault amphibian vehicles, landing crafts and helicopters--the two nations exchanged ideas and tactics regarding amphibious operations, afloat and ashore.

"It was interesting to see how they operate," said Reserve Staff Sgt. Rene Avendano, platoon commander, 1st Platoon, Marine Force Unitas. "Though they model a lot of their tactics on ours, there are differences. I think it was really valuable for both nations. I think we both learned a lot."

One of the differences, according to Avendano, who left behind his position as a U.S. Border Patrol agent in Alamo, Texas, to take part in Unitas, was the way the Argentine Marines conduct their landings from naval vessels.

"Typically, we launch from the well decks (in assault amphibian vehicles) of our ships," Avendano said. "For them, it's World War II style--they load their boats from nets on the side of the ship. It was an interesting experience."

Once the U.S. and Argentine Marines reached shore, they moved inland to conduct a variety of missions--everything from hostage rescues and noncombatant evacuation operations to a live-fire exercise. For many of the U.S. Marines, the highlight of the exercise was the use of helicopters, a first for many.

"When we were in the helos," said Reserve Lance Cpl. Jason Juarez, assistant automatic rifleman, 1st Plt., "I was thinking, 'wow, I've only been in the Corps a year and a half, and I'm doing helo ops.' It really is an invigorating experience, jumping in and out of them; it was a really big rush!"

In addition to the great training, the bilateral exercise was much more.

"Exercises like this (with foreign nations) not only give us a better understanding of how others operate in combat, but helps to destroy stereotypes that both nations have," said Juarez, who is a sophomore at the University of Texas in San Antonio. "Through this, we can relate to each other much better."

"We learned a lot and made many new friends here," added Avendano. "We were really sad to leave."

Upon the conclusion of the exercise, Marine Force Unitas loaded back aboard the USS Portland (LSD-37) to continue its 4-month deployment to Latin America. After traveling to Uruguay and Brazil for further training, the Marines will return to Camp Lejeune, N.C., in early December.

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