View Full Version : Be prepared:Combat veterans stress extra training for the newly deployed

11-04-04, 04:05 PM
November 08, 2004

Be prepared
Combat veterans stress extra training for the newly deployed

By Gidget Fuentes
Times staff writer

CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. — So you’re going to “the sandbox.” Think you know everything you need to know? If you’re prepping for your first deployment to Iraq or your first trip back, combat vets who just returned from the fight say you can never learn too much, train too much or fire too many rounds on the practice range.
That’s because this time around, the sandbox is strewn with hidden roadside bombs, buried tank mines, hooded snipers in minarets, hidden weapons caches, suspicious vehicles and angry villagers blocking your Humvee.

But veterans of the occupation mission are offering up their war-zone wisdom to help get you ready before you ship out. Seven lessons they offered:

1. Train with the big guns

Basic marksmanship training is a must before any deployment. But with so many Humvees and 7-tons sporting Mk-19 grenade launchers and .50-caliber machine guns, every Marine is a machine gunner, too. Not everyone is an expert with a crew-served weapon, however.

So that means pulling out the big guns for extra training before the deployment.

“Train to the most extreme,” said Lt. Col. Brennan Byrne, who commands 1st Battalion, 5th Marines at Camp Pendleton. The battalion, which returned in July, spent most of April locked in combat in Fallujah.

Byrne’s training regimen included intensive shooting drills and close-quarters combat exercises to prepare for the expected flurry of raids and urban search missions. He beefed up his companies’ sniper capabilities and, like many other battalions, pulled out the bigger guns for extra live-fire training.

“Being a gunner is one of the most difficult roles,” said Lance Cpl. Timothy Walsh, an artilleryman with Kilo Battery, 3rd Battalion, 11th Marines. Leathernecks with the Twentynine Palms, Calif.-based battalion are pulling duty as a provisional military police unit in Iraq, and Walsh mans an M240G machine gun while on convoy duty.

“You’re the eyes for the vehicle and for everyone else in the convoy,” said Walsh, 22, of Amenia, N.Y. “You’re taking in everything that you can, trying to find something out of the ordinary. You’re looking for that butterfly in your stomach. It is a hard job.”

2. Get to know your gear

In a combat situation that can turn spectacularly chaotic, a few of your buddies are sure to fumble with their equipment or weapon as bullets and shrapnel whiz by.

And given the high risk of ambush during even a simple trip from point A to point B, everyone’s armed and loaded with ammo. The risk of a negligent discharge that could maim or kill someone is high.

To prevent that from happening, battalion gunners say, practice the basics of proper clearing and reloading, getting on and off vehicles, and entering and searching rooms.

And get comfortable with your combat gear, too — body armor, pistol holster, rifle sling, water hydration pack, rucksack. Don’t let your stuff get hung up on a turret as you dash from the Humvee or trapped under you when you dive into a prone firing position.

3. Lean on your NCOs

Many occupation missions will be handled by squads and fire teams, led by sergeants and corporals often miles and hours away from company or battalion leaders. It’s an NCO’s war.

“Concentrate on your NCOs,” said Capt. John Litton, who commands Kilo Battery, 3/11. “Because we are so spread out … it’s really important for the corporals and the sergeants making the decisions out there.”

4. Complacency kills

It’s not just a phrase plastered on countless placards and posters around bases and camps in Iraq. Complacency, combat veterans say, can and does kill.

“We have to fight complacency,” Litton said. “If you feel like you know your job too well, you start taking shortcuts.”

Again, NCOs are key. They can help keep junior Marines focused during lulls in the action.

“Be cautious. Don’t ever be complacent,” said Staff Sgt. Eric Mathijssen, 30, a platoon leader with Alpha Company, 1st Reconnaissance Battalion. “Pay attention to the constant reports with what’s happening around with the other units so you can adjust” your tactics, techniques and procedures. Mathijssen, who saw similar guerrilla warfare tactics in Somalia, urged Marines to “never set a pattern. Always do everything different.”

5. Road rules

Whether you’re at the wheel of a Humvee or a 7-ton truck, driving in Iraq is dangerous duty. Vehicle accidents are a leading killer of U.S. troops in the war zone.

Practice behind the wheel is critical — and it shouldn’t just be about driving maneuvers, Iraq veterans say.

Some Marines drive with one hand and have their pistol pointed out their window. Others drive with their rifles propped up along their thighs with barrels pointed out.

“It’s for my own protection,” said Lance Cpl. Eron Williams, a Kilo Battery radioman working as a vehicle gunner. “It gives you extra security knowing you’ve got your weapon” at the ready.

And drivers should prepare themselves for long days and nights on the road. Williams turns to stashes of Gatorade or Red Bull drinks and candy to stay on his toes.

“Bring something that can keep you awake and alert. That’s the biggest problem,” he said. Driving in Iraq “is a constant battle with fatigue.”

6. It’s an urban fight

Much of the mission consists of combat patrols, resupply escorts and raids in Iraq’s villages and cities, so learning to fight in urban terrain is critical.

Before deploying for occupation duty last spring, Byrne wanted to sharpen his men’s skills, so he studied the British style of urban operations and emphasized urban patrol tactics in training. The goal: teaching his Marines to sense “the presence of the abnormal, the absence of the normal.”

When Iraqi shopkeepers closed their doors in midmorning and drivers emptied a busy intersection, his men knew something was coming their way. Knowing these indicators gives you extra moments to react. The training, given in Kuwait, “proved highly successful,” Byrne said.

7. Learn the language

A few choice words in Arabic can sometimes make all the difference.

“Language is the biggest barrier out there,” said 1st Sgt. Charles Blumenberg, 42, of Chiefland, Fla., the top enlisted Marine for Alpha Company, 1/5.

Phrases like “Move away,” “Do you need food and water,” “Keep your hands up” and “Stay back” are among those you’ll use all the time, and it helps if you can say them in Arabic.

Don’t just rely on your cheat sheets, combat veterans said. Practice it, because it’s likely a translator won’t be around when you really need him.

Gidget Fuentes is the San Diego bureau chief for Marine Corps Times. She can be reached at (760) 677-6145 or gfuentes@marinecorpstimes.com.



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11-09-04, 02:48 PM
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