MARINE CORPS BASE TWENTYNINE PALMS, Calif. -- A squad of Marines, pinned down from enemy fire, remain behind the safety of a building while their squad leader pulls the pin of a smoke grenade. Lobbing the grenade into the middle of the street, the Marines wait for the inevitable burst of concealing smoke.
As the street is swallowed by the white smoke, the squad runs across the danger area to their objective. Entering the structure, their rifles pinned tight into their shoulders, their eyes peering down the muzzle, the squad cleared the house and secured the enemy threat.
Rifle companies within 2nd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division, participated in a live-fire urban assault exercise using simulation rounds, here Nov. 21-25.
“This training is the closest thing to being in Iraq,” said Cpl. Michael J. Willcutts, an instructor-controller, or “Coyote,” for the Urban Assault Lane Training here. “Most likely, 90 percent of the battalion’s patrols in Iraq will be through urban terrain. Everything -- from the role players and Iraqi vehicles rolling through the area, to the live-fire simulation rounds that we use -- really is the best a Marine can get when dealing with urban combat situations.”
The combat town itself is constructed from hundreds of trailers, replicating a city or village in Iraq. Dozens of role players, acting as Iraqi nationals, walk and drive down the streets to test the response of the Marines who are conducting patrols or raids.
“You have to hand it to the role players,” said Cpl. Paul M. Trudell, 2nd Platoon team leader, Company G, 2/6. “If we gave them a command in English, they would not respond. It goes to show that speaking even a little Arabic will help out a lot.”
After completing a dry-run through the town, the Marines loaded their rifles with simulation rounds and strapped on protective masks to prevent injury. Although everyone was wearing proper protective equipment, the simulation rounds still left marks that you would feel in the morning, according to Staff Sgt. Hugo H. Monroy, an engineer with 2nd Combat Engineer Battalion, elements of which are attached to 2/6.
“I was shot up quite a bit,” Monroy said. “But what really got to me was after I was ‘dead,’ a role player came up to me and took all my magazines. Then again, it’s to be expected in Iraq.”
During the exercise, role players would open fire from windows using simulated rocket-propelled grenades, improvised explosive devices and small arms fire.
“This combat town was a perfect place for the Marines who have never been to Iraq to get a realization of what to expect,” Trudell said. “If a squad leader gets hit with a (simulation) round, he had to lay down for the remainder of the exercise, which meant that the junior Marines would have to take charge on their own without guidance. In Iraq, something might happen where a young (private first class) or lance corporal may have to take charge of clearing a house.”
Each platoon broke into three elements for the patrols, Willcutts said. Entering the town first was the assault team, whose role was clearing houses and engaging the enemy. Support followed close behind to provide immediate backup and casualty extractions. The security element provided constant protection in the rear of the patrol, constituting all the Marines with ample area coverage and leeway for extractions.
“It doesn’t matter if your job doesn’t require you to patrol the streets of Iraq,” Willcutts said. “If you are (an administration Marine) in the back of a seven-ton (truck) and you are engaged by enemy fire and have no idea what to do, it could cause casualties. Knowing and not using the knowledge is better than not knowing at all. The reason we have this training is to save lives in Iraq.”