Marines and sailors with 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, conducted counter-improvised explosive device training under the watchful eye of instructors from the Marine Corps Engineer Center of Excellence at Marine Corps Training Area Bellows, Hawaii, from April 25 through 29, 2011.
“In theater, the enemy is watching us and what our Marines are doing,” Chris Nelson, a counter-IED instructor with MCEC, said. “Their tactics, techniques and procedures are maturing, and we need to mature ours so we don’t fall victim to them.”
The training was part of a two-week evolution that brought 3/3 from the classroom into the field, allowing them to learn and practically apply counter-IED techniques in the same manner as other units Corpswide. Between teaching the Marines about metal detection, homemade explosives and how to use devices that jam remote-controlled IEDs, Nelson said the instructors focused on providing Marines the skills sets to “negate, neutralize or overcome potential situations in country.”
“We’re not teaching tactics,” Nelson said. “Our focus is to ensure that their counter-IED training is current and relevant. We’re providing them the basic building blocks so they are capable of conducting the appropriate immediate action when incidents happen.”
Stepping from classes into patrols by vehicle and on foot, many of the 3/3 Marines paired their instructors’ guidance with combat experience, while the newer Marines used it to build off of their prior training. On the patrols, MCEC instructors introduced simulated IED explosions, small arms fire and casualty scenarios in order to guide Marines on how to mitigate the threat of IEDs, and respond to their detonation.
“Practicing different scenarios on these dismounted patrols is beneficial because it helps us establish our standard operating procedures,” Lance Cpl. Jonathon Garvey, a team leader with India Co., 3/3, said. “When things don’t go as planned — to have to do it exactly as you would in-country — helps so much.”
Despite melting under the blistering sun on a foot patrol, a squad from India Co. remained vigilant, maintaining their dispersion and gripping their weapons at the ready. As they moved along their route, the MCEC instructors walked with them, aware of the upcoming scenario and ready to see how the Marines would react.
Without warning, a simulated, yet jarring IED explosion disrupted their reality, catapulting the quiet area into a chaotic frenzy of movement, yelling and the sound of machinegun fire. One simulated casualty lay exposed in the danger area, but two Marines quickly moved him to safety while their squad members cordoned off the area and provided suppressing fire.
“When we’re back in garrison training, situations are notional,” Pfc. Joseph Heron, a squad automatic gunner with India Co., 3/3, said. “When you add gunfire and people running around, you get to see how everything plays out. It exposes the little nuances that need to be fixed before we deploy.”
Once the dust had settled and the scenario concluded, MCEC instructors broke the situation down from the beginning to the end. They highlighted the squad’s successes, pointed out areas of improvement and offered suggestions on how to improve their immediate action response.
“The instructors were objective,” Heron, from Philadelphia, said. “They saw our trends, critiqued us and didn’t sugar coat their response. We know we’re going to mess up, but we can correct it now while we’re training. On deployment, our lives are in each other’s hands — there’s no room for error.”
Lance Cpl. Chad Winchell, squad leader, India Co., 3/3, said the high-intensity training, realistic environment and feedback from the MCEC instructors showed the Marines different ways of thinking. He said this allowed them to practice stepping into a higher billet in the event that a senior Marine were incapacitated.
“We’re teaching them that the enemy is attacking them for a reason at that location, which gives them the mindset to maintain an aggressive posture,” Nelson said. “If we can instill the right skill set as they move on to each level of training, we’ll help make them stronger, become harder targets, and help ensure every Marine that deploys, comes back.”
Beginning in Hawaii and eventually transitioning to California, the 3/3 Marines are preparing for a late 2011 deployment to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.