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Lance Cpl. Michael King, a Range/Training Areas Maintenance Section worker, saws plywood to be used for constructing a trench at Combat Center Range 400 Jan. 15. Units participating in Mojave Viper, the base’s 30-day pre-deployment training package, use Range 400 to practice coordinating platoon and company-sized attacks against enemy objectives using a combined force of infantry, mortars and machine guns. RTAMS maintains these ranges and began duplicating them Dec. 11 so multiple infantry battalions can train simultaneously.

Photo by Lance Cpl. Nicholas M. Dunn

RTAMS, contractors help double accessible ranges for Mojave Viper

23 Jan 2009 | Lance Cpl. Nicholas M. Dunn

With the focus of the Long War shifting toward operations in Afghanistan, the need for Marines to be properly trained before deployments is paramount.

The Combat Center’s Range/Training Areas Maintenance Branch has teamed up with various civilian contractors to help facilitate the construction of new ranges in the base’s training areas.

“What we’re doing is essentially building a double of the current Mojave Viper,” said Mark Carrington, the RTAMS officer-in-charge. “What we have done through the approval of the G-3 [Future Plans] and TTECG [Tactical Training Exercise Control Group] is go find new areas that are suited for this type of training.

“Basically, even though RTAMS is technically building new ranges, they’re going to be the same as the old ones so the base can run simultaneous Mojave Vipers,” added the Baton Rouge, La., native.

Construction of the new ranges began Dec. 11 after Carrington and other RTAMS personnel scoured the desert for new training areas within the installation’s boundaries.

Although contractors have been brought in to recreate the more large-scale ranges, like Combat Center Range 210, RTAMS is responsible for the “HESCO” bunkers on the smaller ranges. HESCOs are prefabricated containers made of a steel wire mesh and a textile liner, which are filled with sand. They have been a key element in force protection since their employment in 1991 and are currently used by Marines as blast barriers in Iraq.

“It takes about a day to complete three buildings,” said Sgt. Alan Abrams, the RTAMS platoon sergeant. “We have to round up the dirt to fill in the HESCOs we place in the impact area – we never dig because there’s a possibility of unexploded ordnance. We also maintain the current ranges and replace damaged concertina wire.

“Our main issues are coordination and safety,” added the Corning, N.Y., native. “It takes a long time to reset everything and build new ranges and without safety, one of the Marines could get seriously hurt or killed.”

Due to the size and nature of the project, RTAMS is playing a much larger role than usual, which Carrington said can become highly cost-effective for the Combat Center. Being a retired Marine, he said he understands not only the importance of Marines being able to train, but also the need to help the base save money.

“A lot of the projects RTAMS does now used to be done by civilian contractors,” he said. “For instance, for contractors to maintain a 12-mile stretch of road in a training area, it can cost up to half-a-million dollars. If RTAMS is responsible for the road, the only cost is the equipment.”

Carrington added another element playing a role in the construction of new ranges in the employment of combat engineers.

“When engineer units come to the base to train, we have a lot of projects we can give them,” he said. “We have to build and maintain the FOBs [forward operating bases] that support the training areas. When the engineers are here, they help us do just that. Not only does it provide them with training opportunities, it also helps get the FOBs up and running.”

TTECG also understands the importance of building new Mojave Viper ranges at the Combat Center to support multiple infantry battalions and large-scale operations.

“This is really the only place where the Marine Corps can train a full MAGTF [Marine Air Ground Task Force],” said Maj. Andy Watson, the TTECG Maneuver Section officer-in-charge. “However, Mojave Viper can only support one infantry battalion at a time.

“Ultimately, we want to go back to being able to train a MAGTF,” added the Irvine, Calif., native. “With the increase in ranges, we’ll be able to exercise two full battalions at the same time. All elements of the MAGTF will have the opportunity to train simultaneously.”

For Marines in the field, receiving pre-deployment training is crucial for success in both combat and peacekeeping operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“The training here at Mojave Viper focuses my infantry battalion on being able to successfully accomplish mission-essential tasks in an environment conducive to training,” said Lt. Col. Christian Cabaniss, the commanding officer of 2nd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, which is based at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, N.C., and currently engaged in Mojave Viper training. “To put it simply, we cannot do this type of training at our home station

“The habits of thought and habits of action that we have already developed are being further refined and really hammered in here,” added the Tucker, Ga., native. “My Marines and sailors are truly prepared for combat operations in support of Operation Enduring Freedom because of this training.”

Cabaniss and the rest of “America’s Battalion” are preparing for their upcoming deployment to Afghanistan later this year.

The Combat Center has been the premiere training center for Marines deploying to Iraq and Afghanistan since Mojave Viper was instituted in 2005. With the help of units like RTAMS and TTECG, as well as civilian contractors, support will continue to be delivered to Marine Corps units training here in the future.

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