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Face of Defense: Marine Officer Works on Home Turf in Hawaii Exercise

By Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Luke Kuennen III Marine Expeditionary Force

POHAKULOA TRAINING AREA, Hawaii, Sept. 11, 2017 — The unforgiving desert terrain and billowing pillow-rock formations here can seem alien to Marines who are mainland natives, but to Marine Corps Capt. Evan Ota, the operations officer for 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, it’s more than familiar -- it’s home.

“I was born in Kealakekua, Hawaii, about an hour and a half southwest of here,” Ota said. “Prior to becoming the operations officer, I was a company commander here with Kilo Company, 3rd Marines, did a deployment with those guys, and became the operations officer after that.”

As the battalion operations officer, Ota handles the logistics of scheduling ranges, devising schemes of maneuvers for training events, and mentoring lieutenants and other junior officers taking part in training.

“Capt. Ota’s role as my operations officer is that he plans the bigger picture,” said 2nd Lt. Andrew Carlson, a platoon commander with India Company, 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment. “He sets the base for our success. With him in charge, all I have to worry about is training my individual Marines.”

Ota does a great job of making sure India Company’s Marines can focus on their mission of maintaining readiness and preparing for the unit deployment program, Carlson said.

“Capt. Ota has experience as a company commander, and you can tell,” he said. “He’s very experienced, very professional, and great with dealing with the junior lieutenants as well as the Marines.”

“I’ve been working with Capt. Ota since March of this year,” the India Company commander, Capt. Steven Kent said. “It’s great working with him. He’s a very easygoing guy, very intelligent, and always offering good, sound advice.”

Training Challenges

As the battalion’s operations officer, Ota has been tasked with spearheading the largely unprecedented changes to the training schedule for Exercise Bougainville II.

“Normally, we do a Bougainville I, which is company-level training; then Bougainville II, which is battalion-level training; then either a mountain exercise, an integrated training exercise or a tactical air-land operations exercise as the final event before a deployment,” Ota explained. “We didn’t get one of those this year, unfortunately, but we’re doing our best to have this take its place.”

Ota and other battalion leaders have made several changes to Bougainville II to ensure that the Marines receive the same level of training they normally would before beginning their deployment in the Pacific.

“The first big change from what we normally do here at Bougainville II is that we’re doing a battalion-level attack and defense,” he said. “It hasn’t been done here, at least in recent memory, so we’re going to give it a go and [utilize] the ranges and base to the fullest of their capabilities.”

Training for Bougainville II began Aug.14, and is slated to end Sept. 13. The schedule is approximately two weeks longer to accommodate the additional events.

The changes have kept Ota busy, but he says he’s glad to be back serving in his home state.

“I was gone just long enough to see the world, see the sights and see a lot of different places I hadn’t expected to go in my life,” he said. “However, it ended up being a good point to come home, reconnect with family, see some old friends and enjoy island life.”

Exercise Bougainville II prepares Marines for service as a forward deployed force in the Pacific by training them to fight as a ground combat element in a Marine air-ground task force. 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment is scheduled to begin the unit deployment program in mid-December.

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