MARINE CORPS AIR GROUND COMBAT CENTER TWENTYNINE PALMS, Calif. --
The Combat Center opened its newest training venue here Feb. 18 when the Tactical Training Exercise Control Group ran one of the very first units through Op Barma in an effort to prepare Marines and sailors deploying in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.
Elements of 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, from Marine Corps Base Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii and 1st Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion from Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Calif., received training which was formerly conducted only in Afghanistan during Enhanced Mojave Viper, said Capt. Edward Rushing, the officer in charge of TTECG’s engineer shop.
“The Marines get outstanding training in the new Tactical Modular Foot Bridges, Compact Metal Detectors, PackBots, [Counter Radio Controlled Improvised Explosive Device Electronic Warfare systems], and other counter-IED equipment and [tactics, techniques and procedures],” said the Knoxville, Tenn., native. “This program was taken from Afghanistan, where it had previously only been offered to units once they were in country. Now, we’ve moved the exact training and information to here, where Marines have the opportunity to focus entirely on training.
“One of the primary purposes of Op Barma at TTECG is to allow units to receive critical counter-IED training before they get into Afghanistan.” Rushing said. “This will enable them to spend more time conducting counterinsurgency operations during their deployment.”
Rushing said the installation was thankful to those who did the labor to make the new range.
“[Combat Logistics Battalion] 5 did excellent work to build the compound on short notice and under an ambitious deadline,” he said. “We needed them to have it ready to train Marines by the next month and, despite a torrential rain which destroyed much of their work, they came through in the en ahead of schedule. We’re tremendously grateful to them for what they did.”
Along with help building the compound, various units here also play a hand in running it, Rushing added.
“Base [Explosive Ordnance Disposal], robotics people and the base’s Engineering Center of Excellence personnel all pitched in to train the Marines,” he said. “We’re really thankful for everything they do; their efforts increase the level of instruction dramatically.”
Rushing elaborated on the different lanes within the range and why they are so useful.
“There are six total lanes in Op Barma, as well as academic classes that directly correlate with each practical application,” he said, referring to the different training evolutions in the compound. “The main focus is on mobility and dismounted counter-IED training, but exercise force Marines are exposed to other, related training as well.
“They get a lot of great experience with temporary bridges, the V-sweep lane, and the Compact Metal Detector lane,” he said. “Marines get familiarized with the Guardian System and the PackBot as well, which is a tracked robot with two cameras and a gripper claw which is operated with a [PlayStation 2] controller. They also learn what a homemade explosives lab looks like so they can identify it in country.”
Rushing went into more detail about just how vital their familiarization with the equipment and tactics were.
“Equipment like the robots and Guardian System aren’t something every Marine is going to be taught to use expertly,” he said. “But they’ll learn a lot by just getting to see and use it at the station.
“The homemade explosives lab is very important too,” he said. “If they know what to look for, they stand a better opportunity of preserving the lives of their Marines and setting EOD up for success when they are called into a suspected HME situation.”
Every Marine gets crucial exposure to the training, with the expectation that a few select individuals from each company will be given additional training throughout Enhanced Mojave Viper to bring them to a higher level of proficiency, Rushing added.
Leaders recognized the value of what their Marines were being taught, and expressed their enthusiasm over the training.
“What I think is most important here is the very, very complete training,” said Capt. Francisco X. Zavala, the commanding officer of Co. I, 3rd Bn., 3rd Marines, and a native of Washington, D.C. “Marines take a lot from the hands-on skills they learn here.”
Zavala said the procedures practiced at the Combat Center precisely mirror those they will use overseas.
“Everything they’re doing here at Twentynine Palms, they’ll be doing in Afghanistan,” he said. “Particularly learning about how to spot homemade explosives and labs – that is very important for us to spot and stop before it gets too bad.”
Zavala’s Marines unknowingly echoed their captain’s thoughts about the ground-breaking training they received.
“This stuff is new, exciting and we’re all taking a lot out of it,” said Pfc. Shane Kucera, a rifleman with Co. I, 3rd Bn., 3rd Marines, and a native of Jacksonville, Fla. “We’re really building on our core competency to prepare for Afghanistan. It’s not going to be easy over there.”
Now that Op Barma has been integrated into Enhanced Mojave Viper, Marines and sailors deploying to Afghanistan can receive quality training on a variety of counter-IED scenarios, which has the potential to save numerous lives in country.
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