MARINE CORPS AIR GROUND COMBAT CENTER TWENTYNINE PALMS, Calif. --
For some Marines the experience of entering an Afghan village for the first time will seem as foreign as the culture they have been entrusted to protect. However, after training at the Combat Center’s newest and most realistic “mock” city training complex, many of those Marines will be better prepared to face that challenge.
Marines from 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, are training aboard the combined arms, live-fire, Military Operations on Urban Terrain complex here, which is designed to train Marines as they fight.
The Camp Pendleton, Calif.-based unit, used the 1,560-building facility at Range 220 here Feb. 15, 2011, as part of Enhanced Mojave Viper, the Corps’ premiere pre-deployment training exercise.
The facility, roughly equivalent in size to downtown San Diego, allows Marines to refine the complex and dangerous tactics they may have to use during their deployment to Afghanistan later this year.
The Marines are in the final week of the grueling month-long EMV, which combines all four components of the Marine Air Ground Task Force, the ground combat, logistics, aviation and command elements.
Trainers, known as Coyotes, brought in 575 friendly and enemy role players and spread them out over seven separate mock city districts within the 274-acres complex. During day and night exercises, small unit leaders and individual Marines were made to interact with role players, some of who spoke little or no English, and others who spoke only Pashto or other dialects found in Afghanistan and nearby regions. They had to communicate by any means necessary in a fast-moving environment filled with explosions, gunfire and the ever-present fog of war. At times, some had to resort to hand and arm signals when interpreters were not available.
Within CAMOUT, Marines were exposed to elaborate scenes filled with true-to-life characters that milled about the town square and alley-ways and often, whose allegiance was hard to distinguish. Trickier yet, a friend could turn to a foe after a serious insult. A “thinking” enemy was quick to adapt and change its tactics and quickly blend right into the crowd after a hit-and-run attack.
Both friend and foe followed a general script, but were free to act based on cultural and religious norms and the actions and reactions of the Marines.
With chaos swirling around them, the Marines were often challenged to transition quickly between roles, some of which required different and conflicting skill sets. They had to be warriors during an attack, then conduct search and seizure missions and do crowd control like policemen. They had to defend themselves from sniper attacks and ambushes, yet be sure to keep their fire in check to protect innocent civilians. They had to be peacekeepers between rival factions, then transition to humanitarian relief work and become goodwill ambassadors.
According to Combat Center officials, this is the current nature of conflict in many areas around the world. This, and recent history and lessons learned were some of the reasons the Combined Arms MOUT facility was constructed.
The complex supports any number of Marines and sailors, from a small 12-man squad to a full Marine Expeditionary Brigade, composed of more than 15,000 Marines and sailors and its supporting units. CAMOUT’s realistic settings such as classrooms, markets, hotels and other businesses complete with role-players, challenged Marines to communicate, coordinate, maneuver and operate in an urban setting. Throughout the facility, the Camp Pendleton-based Marines were constantly kept on the alert by the detonation of improvised explosive devices, and enemy ambushes coming from “spiderhole” hiding places and almost 1,900 feet of enemy tunnels. They had to search basements and find and destroy weapons caches found in almost 1,900 feet of underground tunnels, a manmade riverbed and dozens of courtyards and compounds, according to an official release.
According to Combat Center officials, the $170 million spent on CAMOUT, is a good investment. It will provide vital and realistic training Marines will need to accomplish their mission and most importantly, save many lives.