View Full Version : Split-second decisions can mean life or death

06-26-05, 06:02 AM
Published June 26, 2005
Marines: Split-second decisions can mean life or death
By T.M. Shultz
Lansing State Journal

CAMP GRAYLING - Maj. Kevin Yeo has been asked to raise the dead.

It's part of his job as a training instructor for the Marines of Lansing's Charlie Company.

"Sir, the captain says that he cannot be undead until you tell him he can," barks a young Marine who's run up a hill to bring Yeo the request.

"OK," Yeo says, chuckling, "I'll undead him in a little while."

Eventually Yeo ambles down the hill to the captain lying prone in the grass.

"Devil Dog!" he says sharply, then makes the sign of the cross with his right hand.

The now undead captain rises, none the worse for wear.

For two weeks earlier this month, Charlie Company, a rifle company of more than 100 reservists, and the rest of the 1st Battalion, 24th Marine Regiment, descended on Camp Grayling to hone the skills the unit needs to survive in the deadly confusion that is Iraq.

"The responsibility is overwhelming," said spokeswoman Capt. Mabel Balduf. "Their job is to come home to their families - and to the Corps - in one piece. Alive and well."

Here's a glimpse at a few of their exercises.

Relief in place

The Marines of Charlie Company - stiff and sore from spending most of the previous night in the rain - hump their packs and weapons toward a convoy of military trucks.

Part of the company begins to load up. Others fan out in a half-moon perimeter on the other side of the trucks, their weapons pointed outward, their eyes scanning every bush, building and tree.

A few yards away, Marines dressed in flowing robes, acting as civilians, approach.

A heavy tailgate on one of the seven-ton trucks slams down and dozens of battle-ready Marines - there to replace Charlie Company - leap to the ground.

The Marines are executing a carefully orchestrated exchange of men and weapons.

"There's no security here!" squad team leader Christopher Richards shouts. Marines run to fill the empty space, but they go too far. He instantly corrects them: "Stop pushin' out. Just peel around this way," he says, motioning with his hand.

More civilians move in.

"Don't let anybody grab your weapon," a sergeant yells.

Eventually, the duty transfer is complete. Charlie Company heads to a secure area to rest.

Quick reaction

The word comes in: There's enemy infiltration down by the battalion aid station.

At a shouted, "Let's go!" more than 30 Marines rush out, crouching low, darting from building to building, truck to truck.

"Lee, get your team up. Get 'em over here," a squad leader shouts. He looks back and isn't happy.

"Hey, FIX THAT FORMATION," he bellows.

Staccato bursts of small-arms fire can be heard ahead.

As a squad advances, the last man walks backward, his eyes scanning for snipers. One by one, the men run across an open driveway. About 200 meters up the road, they spy a Marine, oozing red amid the chaos.

Crouching behind a Humvee, a Marine is told to move.

"He can't," declares his exasperated buddy. "This is his friggin' post."

The Marine in the road goes into shock. Calls for a medivac go unanswered. Finally three Marines - one on each arm and one lifting the man's legs - pick up the wounded Marine and run.

"Keep rear security, but keep moving back," a squad leader covering the retreat shouts to his men.

Later, Sgt. Jesse Lake, 25, an instructor who portrayed the wounded Marine, says Charlie Company made one fatal mistake.

While running with him - loaded down with their gear and his 170-pound body - they grabbed his wound when he started to slip. It killed him.

Cordon and search

"Halt, halt, halt!" screams a Marine, his M-16 pointed at a battered SUV slowly coming toward him.

Charlie Company has blocked the roads leading to a suspected bomb-making factory.

About 70 Marines roar up in Humvees and seven-ton trucks. They jump down and fan out. Radio communications crackle while squad leaders shout orders and dozens of Marines run into the factory.

"Freeze, freeze, freeze! Don't move!" two Marines shout as a passenger in the SUV, his head swathed in a red scarf, steps out of the vehicle, rifle in hand.

Both Marines motion him to get down. "Drop your weapon!" they take turns screaming.

The man goes down on one knee, slowly lowers his rifle, but keeps his finger on the trigger. More Marines arrive, shouting and pointing their weapons.

Tense moments pass before the man finally drops his rifle.

As more Marines approach the SUV, they suddenly freeze and back up, screaming, "IED, IED!"

A bomb team is called to examine a suspicious package. The Marines move the two suspects to a grassy detainment area.

A factory door bursts open. Out stumbles a Marine carrying another Marine slung over his shoulder to a waiting medical Humvee.

Gunfire erupts at the end of the block. The Marines there fire back as they move closer to their truck, using it as a shield.

"Tango team on me!" shouts a team leader near the factory. His men gather and they run inside.

It's quiet now except for the rumbling engines of the seven-tons. A Humvee driver parked in front of the building sits slumped behind the wheel, spitting chewing tobacco into a plastic Coke bottle.

It will be an hour before the factory is searched and dismantled. The Marines outside settle in to wait.

Sneak attack

It's late in a long day, and Charlie Company Marines are relaxing in the relative safety of their "firm base" - a compound of low cement buildings at Camp Grayling.

Two visiting civilians and several Marines lounge outside a makeshift chow hall on a small hill above a checkpoint, swapping smokes and stories as the sun goes down.

One by one, the training staff appears, lining up along the cement block wall of the building, looking down toward the checkpoint, whispering and nudging one another.

As a curious civilian - sensing that something's about to happen - moves to get a better look, a Marine gently urges her back - she's standing in front of three Marines and a machine gun that will soon have a job to do.

When the action finally comes, it's fast and furious. A fusillade of weapons fire erupts. The checkpoint below is overrun by a massive insurgent attack. Dozens of attackers breech the compound and run up the hill.

Marines in various stages of dress pour out of barracks, weapons in hand.

The machine gun that was expected to stop the attack jams.

Some of the instructors laugh, some get red-faced in frustration, pacing as they try to hold back and let the young troops figure it out.

Bodies pile up in the road leading to the compound as, one by one, the enemy is picked off and Marines are wounded.

The three Marines at the machine gun emplacement frantically work to unjam their gun.