Training, experienced leadership keys to success in Iraq

19 Feb 2007 | Lance Cpl. Christopher Zahn

War in a foreign place has once again given birth to innovative, confident and adaptable Marine leadership. Veterans of this conflict, like many previous campaigns throughout our seasoned history, have learned to make decisions in chaotic conditions. However, in this situation, adaptative techniques include executing both traditional combat and civil affairs missions simultaneously.

Marines from 3rd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 6, for whom this is their first deployment are taking on roles they never envisioned. They are finding themselves much more involved in civil affairs activities in addition to combat operations. They are required to simultaneously be peacekeepers, as well as warriors, in the living example of the “strategic corporal.” It can be an overwhelming task for the relatively inexperienced Marines.

“It was more of a kinetic fight last year for the junior Marines; I think it’s more challenging this time. You find yourself wearing multiple hats,” said Capt. Bradford R. Carr, 36, from Pensacola, Fl. “In the Marine Corps there is no such thing as a typical day. There are a tremendous amount of demands on the Marines, which is one of the things that makes the Marine Corps great.”

Fortunately, these untested Marines have battle-tested leadership at every level to guide them. The hectic deployment schedule has given birth to a generation of Marines tasting combat for the second, third, or even fourth time. The experience they gained is being passed down in training, but there is no training that can duplicate a deployment to a combat zone.

“Most of the guys don’t understand until they actually get here,” said Cpl. Joshua C. Davis, a 22-year-old Clifton, Tenn., native. “They ask a lot of questions and we try to explain, but a lot of it is just a flat-out gut feeling.”

Developing that feeling begins back in America, where new training that incorporates lessons learned in previous deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan.

“My first deployment to Afghanistan we kind of went out there and played everything by ear,” said Davis, the squad leader for 1st squad, 2nd platoon, K Company, who is on his third deployment. “But the deployment rate to Iraq has been high (so) there’s a lot of experience to bring back that they have incorporated in the training we were going through (prior to coming here).”

That training was as intense and realistic as possible in order to accelerate the learning curve.

“It was better training,” Davis added.  “But we kind of had some concerns coming over here that because training was so heavy it was almost like a deployment before the deployment. We were afraid that the Marines would be tired mentally before they got here, but that’s not the case.”

There is little difference now between the veterans and their fellow warriors as the Camp Lejeune-based Marines are conducting combat operations in Al Anbar Province.

“It’s been good watching them evolve as they become more confident and secure in their job,” said Carr, the commanding officer of K Company. “It just proves that the design works, that it is very efficient and works with no fluff.”

Not even the veteran Marines knew exactly what they would face on the ground once they arrived in country. The constantly changing wartime environment and a completely different area of operations left the Marines a little unsure despite all the training and preparation.

“Coming out here we weren’t sure whether we were going to be doing stability and support operations, or whether there was still a lot of shooting going on,” said Cpl. Peter R. Hazy, a 21-year-old Winston-Salem, N.C., native, who is on his third deployment. "We talked about it, but it didn’t really hit until we got here. I expected a lot more action in our platoon area, but once we figured this was a low-intensity area we knew we were going to be trying to help out the locals.”

“Low intensity” is a relative term. There are still regular mortar, small arms fire and IED attacks in the battalion’s area of responsibility. However, due to the efforts of previous units, the volume and intensity of the attacks have waned.

The combination of training and experienced leaders is paying off for the battalion according to Davis.

“We’re comfortable in what we’re doing,” he added. “We don’t feel like we’re getting pushed on unimportant missions. We feel pretty good about what’s going on and how we’re getting things done. The training was really good; they got better training than I’ve ever gotten before a deployment. It gave them more confidence to come over here and do their job.”