MARINE CORPS AIR GROUND COMBAT CENTER TWENTYNINE PALMS, Calif. --
Successful convoy movements through enemy terrain must be alert, precise and resolute. But the fine-tuned coordination needed to move vehicles, personnel and equipment across dangerous geography is hardly something that comes natural to Marines. This state of readiness is reached only through training.
The Combat Center’s Advisor Training Group conducts interactive live-fire convoy operations at the Combat Center, designed to help units work out the kinks and sharpen what is already solid.
“Command and control and delegation of tasks within a patrol,” said Maj. Randall Horner, the training officer for ATG, and a native of Huntington Beach, Calif. “There are many tasks, that can’t all be done simultaneously by one patrol leader.”
But that’s not to say that many units haven’t figured some of these things out already, said Horner.
“A lot of units coming through have ideas and [Standard Operating Proce- dures] put in place for these kinds of operations; this is a nice opportunity for them to validate and refine,” he added.
Marines from the II Marine Expeditionary Force, Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, N.C., and Marines from 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, stationed at Marine Corps Base Hawaii, made up three convoys and put this course to the test March 2, 2011,aboard the Combat Center.
Before the exercise, the units supplied ATG with their motorized operations SOPs, which the assessors and instructors then evaluated and used to guide and mentor each team through the pros and cons of their unit’s approach.
Each team conducted a 10-kilometer movement over rough terrain, keeping a watchful eye for remotely activated simulated improvised explosive devices, or “targets” that help instructors simulate enemy direct and indirect fire.
Under the watchful eye of experienced instructors, teams practiced convoy dispersion and how to properly react to the enemy fire and IED attacks.
“There’s got to be a method behind the madness, some sort of concept behind why a team makes certain decisions," said Troy Rector, a lead assessor with ATG, during an after action discussion with one team.
“You didn’t do anything too sexy. You kept it simple. Shoot, move, communicate – you did what you were suppose to,” he explained to the II MEF Marines after their convoy. “On the other hand, pushing through the enemy fire [like the team did at the very beginning of the exercise] might work once or twice, until an enemy catches on and becomes more bold and creative with this [Tactics, Techniques and Procedures] and uses IEDs.”
While in combat zones, units might find that some of their SOPs are already being exploited, he added.
It is this constant psychological back-and-forth between Marines and a “thinking” enemy that makes it necessary for units to stay up to date on the latest tactics and techniques to remain even more adaptable and unpredictable than their enemy.
Between convoy operations in Iraq and now in Afghanistan, there have been changes to the SOP, said Sgt. Hugh Davenport, a patrol leader during the exercise with 1st Bn., 3rd Marines.
“This is definitely a great live-fire training opportunity for units getting ready to deploy,” added the Chesapeake, Va., native, admitting that in addition to SOPs, other things have changed since the last time he conducted motorized operations like the ones during the exercise.
“There’s better gear and equipment now, which allows us more maneuvering capabilities and tactics and gives us more options,” he said.
The upgrade in tactics and gear is expected to give the unit the confidence to operate in a fast pace environment, while using live ammunition, a confidence that will be required of them in theater.
And it’s not just individual capabilities that this intensive training aims to foster, said Horner.
“Some teams are a collection of misfits, an assortment of [Military Occupational Specialties] that have never collectively trained before. To others, this is nothing new. For both, this is where to make the mistakes and to learn.”