MARINE CORPS AIR GROUND COMBAT CENTER TWENTYNINE PALMS, Calif. --
Marines with 3rd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, a Camp Lejeune, N.C., -based battalion, are in the final stages of the month long pre-deployment training exercise known as Mojave Viper, which is usually intended for units deploying to Iraq, but has been modified to prepare the battalion for their upcoming tour in Afghanistan.
Once in country, the battalion will take over for 2nd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, who deployed in April, and will perform combat operations and support the Afghan military and security forces, according to Lt. Col. David Odom, 3/8’s battalion commander, from Emerald Isle, S.C.
The battalion arrived at the Combat Center the last week of August and immediately began the conventional combined-arms training and stability and support operations training upon arrival, Odom said.
“This training is the capstone event, if you will, for infantry battalions that are getting ready to deploy to Iraq, or in our case, Afghanistan,” he explained. “And it is our opportunity to deploy from our home station to conduct combined-arms training on the desert floor with trainers, evaluators and the entire infrastructure to give us some final assessment and some validation to the battalion prior to going on deployment.”
Although this Mojave Viper is geared to prepare these Marines for Afghanistan, the training has pretty much the same core elements as previous exercises tailored for units deploying to Iraq, with some minor tweaks, according to Gunnery Sgt. Danny Watts, an instructor and evaluator with Tactical Training Exercise Control Group.
“In Afghanistan, you don’t have as much of your patrolling operations inside dense cities as in Iraq, so we’ve been pushing them into more of the mountainous terrain we have out here, which is exactly what they’ll see and have to traverse in Afghanistan,” said the Billow, Miss., native.
Mojave Viper also recently added Afghan role players into training scenarios serving as community members, street vendors, and National Police and National Army to interact with and challenge the Marines with the most realistic training available, Watts said.
Throughout Mojave Viper, dozens of instructors and evaluators, known as Coyotes, teach classes, give demonstrations and follow the Marines during scenarios to serve as a kind of referee and give their expert opinions on the Marines’ performances, Watt explained.
“Our job is to watch the scenarios and make sure they’re played out correctly and as realistically as possible,” he said. “The Coyotes make any changes that need to be done on the spot to the training and help the Marines any way we can.”
Odom said since arriving at Camp Wilson, the main operating base for Marines at Mojave Viper, the battalion has been pushed from day one, starting from fire-team all the way to battalion level training.
“It has been the progressive crawl, walk and run approach, but once we got everyone settled in, we immediately went out to the ranges where we were able to do basic combined-arms integration at the fire team, squad and platoon levels,” he said. “We eventually progressed into the deliberate assault course, where the battalion’s headquarters commanded and controlled a mechanized task force, utilizing combined-arms from aviation, artillery and then the striking power of the battalion for that decisive affect.”
The unique quality and amount of training in the Afghanistan-centered Mojave Viper is exactly what an infantry battalion preparing for a tour needs, Odom explained.
“Simply put, I think the training is right where it needs to be for a unit about to head out to Afghanistan,” he said.
With all he has observed so far, Odom said that he is confident about how his Marines will perform once in theater.
“They’re doing magnificent, every day I see them, they’re learning, they’re focused, they’re ready and they’re taking care of each other,” he said. “There is no doubt in my mind that they’re absolutely ready to accomplish their mission of assisting and helping the Afghan populace.”
3/8’s next step after completing Mojave Viper is to return home to North Carolina and finalize administrative and logistical details prior to their deployment in the coming weeks.