CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. -- All that’s left is the smoking remnants of an uninhabited city that’s been gutted to its very marrow of cinder blocks and rusting rebar. Bombed out cars, abandoned homes and bullet riddled infrastructure sets the stage for Marines donning face masks, neck protectors, flak jackets, Kevlars and M16A4 service rifles.
This was the final, arranged training event of the Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, Ariz.,-based Headquarters and Headquarters Squadron's deployment for training exercise. The evolution culminated in a real-time, live-action simulated scenario with Special Effects Small Arms Marking System rounds at Range 131 aboard Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, San Diego, Calif., May 16.
Three squads, made up of 14 Marines, shot off their SESAM ammo at the Military Operations on Urbanized Terrain site against each other to cap off the week’s combat training.
Since First Squad won the supplementary squad competitions during the DFT, they were allotted the decision to play defense or offense during the raid. Rather than recover a hostage, First Squad chose to defense and protect an intelligence asset.
“It was a good experience because we got to go head-to-head, hands-on, the way it actually would be,” said Cpl. Hector Aliceadiaz, First Squad leader for the exercise and a native of Passaic, NJ. “We played defense and our strategy was to position two Marines in each of the nearby buildings, making sure to take cover and pick off the other two squads as they came in.”
Marines switched their upper receivers and buffers for alternates that adapted to the special, blue and pink tipped non-lethal SESAM rounds provided.
The contest called for a time limit of two hours, the winner of which would be determined by whether or not the hostage was recovered or protected within the first sixty minutes. Much like paintball, those who were hit would raise their weapon over their head and make their way to a predetermined safety point.
“We pretty much broke off into teams based on the phonetic alphabet – Alpha, Bravo, Charlie, Delta, Echo,” said Pfc. Tommy Blackmon, an H&HS flight clearance clerk with second squad and a native of Milwaukee, Wis. “Our strategy was to have Alpha and Bravo [teams] proceed into the buildings from the sides and have the two teams behind them, Charlie and Delta, clearing out the building until we got to the hostage.”
Strategy and maneuvers were expected considering the training Marines had received earlier in the week at the Sierra MOUT training area as part of their overall DFT experience. During the exercise, Marines learned basic room clearing procedures, house to house and squad tactics in an urban warzone.
“It’s all part of the infantry immersion trainer,” said Alfredo Abel Trevino, a three year tactical analyst and a native of Lubbock, Texas. “The role players here used against these Marines are FAP’s (Fleet Assistance Program) and they’re basically here to simulate the actions of an enemy in a real life scenario.”
Basic communication, task delegation and the tactical mind of a well-rounded combat-ready Marine made up the infantry-specific clash at Range 131. Squads took to the streets, ducked behind alleys, rushed around compounds, and were on the receiving end of sniper fire.
For the two squads on the offensive, fire teams of four would split into pairs, covering each other while cornering buildings, slowly advancing in on the hostage. All the while, First Squad remained vigilant – conserving ammo while trying to keep their adversaries at bay in the city streets below.
After a little over an hour of regular barrage fire, the result came to a definitive end for first squad.
“Unfortunately, they took our asset - but it was all in good fun,” conceded Aliceadiaz.
The majority of training over the course of the week-long exercise focused on offensive tactics, which some speculate might have had something to do with the outcome. Having prior infantryman, Lt. Col. Karl Arbogast, the commanding officer of H&HS, drop by and join their ranks didn’t hurt either.
“It’s good infantry training for them and reinforces the ‘every Marine’s a rifleman concept’,” said Arbogast. “It was a good force-on-force exercise to not only have a little fun with, but actually utilize the training that they got all week and then apply it in an environment like this, with a scenario for them to think, create game plans, use small unit leadership and then go execute. I thought it was great.”
The DFT served as a reminder to participating Marines of our Corps’ heritage, history and pride in being the country’s go-to combat force in readiness. Regardless of a Marine’s occupational field, regardless of the weight of the weight of the rank on his or her collar – the training Marines of H&HS served as a reminder that every Marine holds true to the beloved age-old creed ingrained in our very core.