KOREA STRAIT — The Sea of Japan pushes and pulls gently in the afternoon sun as buoys bounce near the beach. Distant shouts across the water come in and out of audibility.
“One! Push! Two!”
As the shouts get louder, black inflatable boats glide across the placid water, carrying Marines from the Republic of Korea as well as the U.S. Integrated teams of Marines, swiftly and skillfully paddle across the flowing current, led by a team leader calling commands.
Just hours ago, these Marines were learning the fundamentals of inflatable boats and how to work as a team.
The boat training was part of a series of events under Korean Marine Exchange Program 15-13, a regularly scheduled training exercise involving Marines from the Republic of Korea and the U.S. KMEP focuses on teaching individuals from both countries to work together and push past language barriers and cultural differences. The exercise taught the fundamentals of launching inflatable boats and, ultimately, teamwork between service members of both countries. The boat training provided service members a new way to conduct amphibious landings.
The morning started with intense physical training similar to U.S. Marine Recon boat training. Marines hiked up and down hills carrying inflatable boats on their heads, shoulders and backs to keep the heavy boats from falling. They carried the craft back and forth for close to four miles.
“Even with all of the hardships, inflatable boat training was the best part,” said 2nd Lt. Kyeong Su Kim, first platoon leader, 11th Company, 63rd Battalion, 6th Brigade, 1st Regiment, 2nd ROK Marine Corps Division.
Kim said without a good team of cooperating individuals, carrying the boats would be much harder. Everyone must work together to accomplish the mission, in training and in real world scenarios.
“Carrying the boats was difficult, and we were all in pain,” said Kim. “But if I gave up, the Marines around me would suffer more. That’s what pushed me to keep going.”
Kim said this aspect of training — shared sacrifice for the good of each other and the mission — is what made the experience worthwhile for him.
“At first, I didn't think it was going to be hard,” said U.S. Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Michael A. McCann, a rifleman assigned to Echo Company, 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, currently attached to 4th Marine Regiment, III Marine Expeditionary Force under the unit deployment program. “If even one person was not in rhythm with the rest of the team, it threw the whole boat off.”
Bonding through effort and shared hardships, the Marines pushed and paddled harder and harder to complete multiple laps around a two-mile wide circuit course set up off the coast.
In the afternoon, teams of Marines raced each other in boats, paddling for over an hour before returning to the beach where they launched the small inflatable crafts.
For both Kim and McCann, these once-in-a-lifetime bonding experiences only occurred because of KMEP.
“This is something that I will remember for a very long time,” said McCann, from Woodbridge, New Jersey. “Not only the training, but the friends that came out of it all.”