Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center, Twentynine Palms, Calif. --
Four Marines line a corner of a building. As one of them peek around, he spots someone dressed as a member of the Afghan Security Forces walking directly toward them. Something is not right. His helmet is off and he’s not carrying a weapon. He isn’t friendly.
The man rips his shirt open, screaming out as he presses the detonation button. White powder bursts around him and the suicide bomber role player drops to the ground, feigning death.
Lieutenants with the Infantry Officers Course conducted a series of patrols at Range 220 March 13, 2012.
IOC prepares future infantry officers to train and lead warriors for combat. They travel to California from their school houses in Virginia for this, their last consistent 20 day field exercise.
They are familiar with improvised explosive devices and training at a military opperations on urban terrain town, but here they encountered a third element that made this training far more real than anything they’ve ever seen before - Afghan role players.
“We’ve conducted raids before, but on a smaller level. The raids we’ve done before in IOC dealt directly with enemy and friendly,” said 2nd Lt. Altan Kandiyeli, platoon commander, 2nd platoon, IOC. “In this environment, we deal with friendly, enemy and civilian population.”
The exercises consisted of two evolutions for each platoon, a “cordon and search” and “cordon and knock.”
Each platoon began with the cordon and knock, trying to verify the presence of a suspected enemy cell or a cache of illegal weapons hidden within the town.
After spreading out and gathering information from the locals, the Marines came to suspect an abandoned Afghan National Army post.
The Marines tactically searched the building and surrounding area. They found fully automatic and hand machine guns, and five 60-millimeter mortar rounds.
The Marines completed the evolution by collecting the weapons and ordnance, and taking those caught with the contraband into custody.
“The only way to learn is by doing it,” said 2nd Lt. Joseph Pizzillo, student, IOC. “You can spend all day in a classroom, but you’re not going to learn anything.”
The second evolution was the cordon and search. Unlike the knock, a search does not require the Marines to gather intelligence for what they were looking for beforehand. The Marines had a positive identification on a person-of-interest from an adjacent reconnaissance unit and were ready to go.
“We had a photograph and knew what the individual looked like,” Kandiyeli said. “We found him immediately.”
However, before the Marines caught him, the role player had time to make one telephone call.
The Marines were put up against two simulated IEDs, one on a road and the other in a vehicle, and a role player acting as a suicide bomber.
A crowd of local Afghan role players and the Afghan media added to the chaos.
The lieutenants defused each situation, provided medical care for the wounded and controlled the crowd and media.
“This is what we do,” Pizzillo said. "This is the infantry.”
Editor’s Note: This is the first of a three-part series showcasing IOC and what the Corps does to get new lieutenants ready to lead in combat. See next week’s edition of the Observation Post for part two.