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thedrifter
04-15-06, 10:04 AM
Lejeune's Combat Town gets Iraqi renovation
DIANE MOUSKOURIE
The Daily News of Jacksonville

JACKSONVILLE, N.C. - The Iraqi flag waved briskly in the wind.

It was the first sign that Combat Town at Camp Lejeune had been converted into a realistic Iraqi village. Capt. David E. Nevers, a spokesman for the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, said it was important to give Marines training exercises that provide a certain sense of authenticity.

Troops landed on Onslow Beach for the second-to-last predeployment training exercise for the 24th MEU. The MEU is expected to depart for Iraq within two or three months, Nevers said.

Before the troops arrived in Combat Town, crews with Strategic Operations, a San Diego company that provides realistic training scenarios to military units, began transforming the old Combat Town in the middle of the woods into a realistic Iraqi village.

Buildings were painted with a sand-colored material that looks and feels much like stucco when dried. Clothes hung from long lines along the sides of some buildings, and brightly colored curtains blew in and out the open windows and doors.

"It really does have a feel of an Iraqi village," Nevers said.

The Marine Corps hired Strategic Operations to create the lifelike village. At least 10 Iraqi nationals and 12 other actors played the roles of villagers, insurgents and terrorists. Most of the actors spoke Arabic and English and dressed in typical Iraqi garb.

Stu Segall, the former movie producer who owns Strategic Operations, said creating the village was not much different than working on a movie set.

"This will be more permanent," he said. "Movie sets go up and come down."

Segall's main goal when entering Combat Town was to make it seem as realistic as possible, he said. Signs on the buildings, written in Arabic, aimed ominous warnings at American troops.

One exercise included about 50 Marines, who were expected to clear the village of insurgents and terrorists.

Armed with AK 47s, the actors prepared to take their places once the call was announced that troops were headed in.

The young Marines arrived on foot as Arabic music blared from loudspeakers atop a makeshift mosque. They quickly began their search through the village made up of several small buildings, a street bazaar and a mosque. Not long after the first guys entered the bazaar, shots could be heard inside. Several Iraqi women and men scattered making loud shrills and shouting in Arabic.

The sandy alley where the first set of buildings, an open-air bazaar, was set up was lined with tables laden with fruits and vegetables, baskets of every size and description and other trinkets "for sale." A rusty bike frame leaned against one building. An empty bird cage hung from another.

Just as the crowds dispersed there was massive chaos. A 55-gallon barrel loaded with an improvised explosive devise blew up.

Everyone close to the device as it detonated ran for cover. Two Iraqis left dead. Two Marines took fire from unidentified shooters.

Of course it was all fake, but it didn't look that way.

As the fighting intensified, some Marines stayed back to care for their injured and make calls for assistance. Others organized and regrouped. After the exercise, they were expected to watch videos of their progress and receive instruction from members of Marine special forces.

Commanders call the exercise stress inoculation.

"We throw as much at them as they can take," Nevers said.

The exercise provides training for the producer and actors as well.

"We change scenarios from unit to unit," Segall said. "There are no rehearsals. No do overs."

The scenarios are created to force the troops to think, he said.

"We try to make it so it's not logical," Segall said. "There are surprises at every angle, and they have to try and figure it out."

Another exercise was scheduled for Sunday night with the entire company of about 150 Marines. More than 1,000 Marines are expected to experience the training throughout the week, Nevers said.

"These guys are already well-trained, but there's always room for improvement," he said. "We are exposing Marines to the sights, sounds, smells of a foreign environment in which they may find themselves deployed. It's invaluable."
Information from: The Daily News, www.jdnews.com

Ellie

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