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  • Preparing for Combat.....

    Realistic training prepares Reserve Marines for Iraq

    6/21/2008 By Capt. Paul L. Greenberg,
    CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. — CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. — Reserve Marines from Company F, 2nd Battalion, 25th Marine Regiment acclimated themselves to the desert heat here June 18-20 in preparation for their upcoming deployment to Iraq.
    The company conducted “Hyper-Realistic Squad-Level Field Training” for their pre-deployment training program.
    The exercise focused on patrolling and familiarization with Iraqi culture. Each aspect of the training began in the classroom and moved into practical application exercises.
    Role players speaking Arabic added a sense of realism to the scenarios. Marines also heard the traditional Arabic call to prayer or Iraqi music on a loudspeaker every afternoon. The realism was further enhanced by the thundering impact of artillery rounds from another range several miles away.
    “Utilizing role players and battlefield effects, this training will provide an environment that ensures Marines can operate in combat under extremely stressful conditions,” said 1st Sgt. Dennis J. Schager, the company’s first sergeant. “This training is also an evaluation tool that will show us areas where we can improve,”
    Schager, a New York State Trooper of 10 years, is going back for his second tour in Iraq with the battalion. He added that not only will the training enhance the Marines’ urban warfighting abilities, but it will also refine small unit leadership skills.
    “It’s a big change to go from our civilian careers or college, leaving behind family and friends,” said Schager. “But regardless of which component we come from, we are all Marines and know we have a job to do. The Marines are working hard, day after day, to learn all they can. This will, in turn, provide our company with skills to do our job proficiently, effectively and professionally.”
    The training kicked off June 18, with a two-hour Iraqi Arabic class, taught by Kelvin Garvanne, a civilian instructor fluent in the language. Marines learned common greetings and key phrases in Arabic, such as: “Welcome,” “Can I please come inside?” “We can work together,” and “Do you have electricity?”
    The Marines practiced repeating phrases aloud and scribbled down phonetic pronunciations in their notebooks.
    “You have to find ways to build the Iraqis’]trust, to gain their confidence so that you can help create stability,” Garvanne told the Marines.
    After initial classroom instruction, each platoon spent one day on foot patrol, one day doing mounted vehicle patrolling and a third on raids, cordons and house-to-house searches.
    Col. Mark A. Smith, the 4th Marine Division officer in charge of training, has supervised Marine units going through this phase of pre-deployment preparation for the past two years.
    “The challenge of the current war is asymmetric,” asserted Smith. “Marines default to what they know when they’re confronted with these situations. We prepare them to function with a law enforcement mentality while retaining the Marine warrior ethos.”
    In his vehicle patrolling class, Smith emphasized that Marines must achieve “maximum efficiency under maximum stress.” The dusty desert roads on Range Kilo 2 provided the company the opportunity to put their training into practice.
    Over the four-mile patrolling route, Marines from 1st Platoon scoured the roadside for simulated improvised explosive devices (IEDs), reacted to explosions and set up a vehicle control point, where they encountered Iraqi civilian role players in suburban utility vehicles.
    As one group of Iraqi civilians distracted Marines at the control point with uncooperative behavior, a pick-up truck quietly approached. Within minutes, flames shot out of the bed of the truck as a simulated IED was detonated.
    “This training kick-starts their brains and makes it easier to react when the time comes,” said Angel Barcenas, a Marine gunnery sergeant who was medically retired in March due to injuries sustained in Iraq.
    Barcenas now works at Camp Pendleton as a civilian contractor and helps facilitate the vehicle control point segment of training.
    “I wish I had this training before I went over,” said Barcenas, who lost both legs from the knees down in a 2006 IED attack. After several surgeries and with the help of prosthetics, he is able to run three miles and even skydive again.
    Third platoon went through the squad dismounted patrolling and actions on the objective portion of training, in “Combat Town,” the range’s Military Operations in Urban Terrain (MOUT) site.
    Drawing on his experience in Iraq in 2004-2005, Sgt. Maj. Griff Lippencott, a Reserve Marine with 4th Reconnaissance Battalion in San Antonio, was the primary instructor.
    “It gives Marines the fundamentals of clearing a house and teaches them to focus on what they need to do in combat,” said Lippencott, a 12-year veteran police officer from Naperville, Ill. “The live fire teaches them to function under stress. The SESAMS [Special Effects Small Arms Marking System] rounds add a definite sense of realism.”
    Squads took turns entering and clearing houses of civilian role players, all native-born Iraqis. One of the biggest challenges for the Marines was distinguishing innocent civilians from armed insurgent fighters.
    “It’s the first time they’ve all been operating as a unit with role players in an unknown situation,” explained Capt. Darren Wallace, the 3rd Platoon’s commander. “They’re really beginning to mesh as a platoon.”
    Marines went through various scenarios in the town, which was constructed to resemble an Iraqi village. They began by doing “knocks and searches,” utilizing the skills they learned in the previous day’s language and culture class and with the help of an Iraqi interpreter.
    “It gets pretty chaotic, and we still have a lot to learn,” commented Lance Cpl. Kevin Fuller, a native of Niskayuna, N.Y., who is putting his junior year of college on hold for his first deployment.
    As the exercise progressed, the Marines took fire from insurgents and had to kick in doors and apprehend suspects, the entire time communicating over the din of shrieking role players and Arabic music playing over the speakers.
    “When you get hit with a sim [SESAMS] round, it’s a total reality check,” said Pfc. Kyle Samuels, a 19-year-old rifleman from 1st Battalion, 25th Marine Regiment, who was mobilized to augment 2nd Battalion for the deployment.

    On the opposite side of the MOUT site, 2nd Platoon conducted a dismounted patrolling exercise. This was designed to teach platoon-level security patrol techniques and counterinsurgency operations. Marines encountered a larger group of Iraqi role players and were encouraged by instructors to establish a good rapport and gain the civilians’ confidence.
    “We try to teach the Marines to be polite, how to show respect to Iraqi women and how to act well in Iraq. We try to show them that not all Iraqi people are bad, that we are peaceful, educated people who just want a better life,” said Ali Alaesawi, a 42-year-old role player. “We try to teach them so that they can come home safely.”
    A six-year veteran of the Iraqi Army, Alaesawi fled the country after a failed uprising against Saddam Hussein in 1991. Claiming political asylum, he moved to the U.S. in 1997, after spending six years in a refugee camp in Saudi Arabia.
    Back on the streets of Combat Town, 2nd Platoon moved through the streets and buildings, practicing their Arabic with the role players and exchanging blank round fire with insurgents.
    “Intermixing with the locals gives the Marines stress inoculation,” said Gunnery Sgt. Lee K. Kyle, one of the lead instructors. Kyle is the reserve first sergeant for Company A, 1st Bn., 24th Marines, in Grand Rapids, Mich.
    “After completing the ‘walk phase’ of this training, they’re in the ‘run phase’ for Mojave Viper.” said Kyle.
    All of the company’s current training will culminate at Twentynine Palms, Calif., in Mojave Viper, a battalion-level exercise. This is the last milestone before deployment, and the battalion will be evaluated on their proficiency in infantry tactics, techniques and procedures.
    “This type of realistic training opens the Marines’ eyes to how truly difficult the mission is. It gives the Marines a lot of things to work on over the next two months so that their tour in Iraq will be safe and successful,” said Maj. Thomas Armas, the Company F Commander. Armas has worked for the U.S. Secret Service since 1999. This will be his third tour in Iraq.
    The battalion’s Mojave Viper is slated for the entire month of August. Shortly afterward, the Marines are scheduled to deploy to Iraq for seven months.
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    ...And shephards we shall be. For thee my lord, for thee. Power hath descended forth from thy hand. That our feet may swiftly carry out thy command. So we shall flow a river forth to thee. And teeming with souls shall it ever be. E Nomini Patri, E Fili, E Spiritu Sancti.

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