MARINE CORPS AIR GROUND COMBAT CENTER TWENTYNINE PALMS, Calif. --
They were three hours away from Las Vegas, but 8,000 miles away from the U.S.
At least that’s what it felt like to the Marines of 3rd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, who finished the new Afghanistan-specific pre-deployment training evolution aboard the Combat Center Sept. 23-25.
The training evolution is dubbed Mojave Viper and is a 35-day long pre-deployment training package with a final exercise combining all their skills learned and seemingly dropping them into a piece of Afghanistan within Southern California Sept. 23-25.
“It was like we were already in the middle of Afghanistan — from the towns to the role players, to the missions we conducted,” said Lance Cpl. Matt Travis, a team leader with 2nd Platoon, Company L, 3/8 and a Camden, Tenn., native. “There’s no such thing as too much training, but I think this was definitely the best and most indispensable training we have had.”
The three-day-long final exercise had the battalion setting up command posts and forward operating bases for each company around Sara Kowt, a large, mock Afghan town aboard the Combat Center’s training area, and performing day and night operations through several scenarios in the town, and surrounding areas and villages.
“In my mind, that had to be the best way to prepare ourselves for what’s going to happen — for what it’s going to be like in Afghanistan and to get us into that mindset,” said Cpl. Adam Jacks, the 3rd Squad leader of 2nd Platoon, Company L and a native of Heath, Ohio. “It basically gave us a physical and mental test in dealing with the people and the types of situations we’ll face; showing us what it’s really going to be like over there. Because even though many of us are combat veterans, it’s going to be a whole different ballpark — a whole different spectrum — then it was in Iraq.”
The Marines trained for operations similar to those they will perform once in Afghanistan. Tactical Training Exercise Control Group Marines controlled the sequence of events at each scene and how the Afghan role players would react during the scenarios.
“Throughout the three days, we were conducting mission rehearsal exercises, which basically are candid scenarios that the TTECG staff has put together for us, simulating missions that have been done or will be done in Afghanistan in the near future,” explained Capt. Doug Krugman, the Company L commander. “It allowed us to make sure we are fully prepared for our deployment to Afghanistan and are able to handle anything that is thrown our way.”
Once each company settled into their new living quarters on the outskirts of the town, consisting of tents and temporary shelters surrounded by razor wire, watch posts and entry checkpoints, the platoons within the companies immediately started conducting various missions in the area.
The Marines’ operations throughout the area, which had several smaller villages complete with villagers bordering the main town, encompassed all the types of missions 3/8 has been training for since they arrived at the Combat Center, such as joint patrols with Afghan National Police role players, meet-and-greets and censuses in neighboring villages, assaults on role playing Taliban forces in the area, and attacks on their own forward operating bases.
“It was about working the boys hard, getting them ready and getting them used to what they’re going to experience over there,” said Cpl. Justin Stubbs, the 1st Squad leader with Company L’s 2nd Platoon and an Orlando, Fla., native. “It involved everything from reactions to IEDs [improvised explosive devices] and snipers, to interacting with the local populace — just different things we might encounter over there. It was really good training. I hope my Marines took everything they could learn away from this training, because it doesn’t get much better than this.”