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MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. -- Lance Cpl. Deepak Natarajamurthi, an infantryman with Company K, 3rd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, peeks out from behind a wall as he provides security for fellow Marines during a security and stability operations training exercise here Dec. 7. Third Battalion, Eighth Marine Regiment is currently preparing for its second tour of duty in Iraq after having returned from Fallujah nearly four months ago.

Photo by Cpl. Mike Escobar

No rest for the weary: 3/8 commences pre-deployment training, once again

14 Dec 2005 | Cpl. Mike Escobar

The frosty air of eastern Carolina’s early December nipped at the Marines through their tan fleece sweaters and matching colored beanies as they pushed through the afternoon’s training evolution. Some warmed up as they ran to provide perimeter security around their humvees, while others nearby fumbled with machinegun parts and probed the insides of an automatic grenade launcher with fingers numbed from the cold. The Marines of 3rd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment were bearing the late autumn chill as best they could while keeping one thought in mind: that soon enough, they would be toiling in the torrid temperatures they had come from not long ago and would not soon forget.Not even four months after returning from safeguarding parts of Fallujah and its surrounding areas, these Marines began security and stability operations training once more. They were preparing for their mission to help Iraqi Security Forces bring security to Ramadi, the capital city of western Iraq’s turbulent Al Anbar province, in March. For five days, the battalion trained at several stations on topics such as patrolling techniques, operating machineguns, manning vehicle check points (VCPs), and improvised explosive device awareness. At one station, 27-year-old Sgt. John Paterson schooled the battalion’s Company L on how to remove rounds jammed inside a M2 .50 caliber machinegun and MK-19 automatic grenade launcher.“Nearly every (guard) post and a lot of humvees where we’re going to be at will have heavy machineguns, so we’re trying to get as many Marines as possible trained up on how to use them properly,” the Johnstown, Penn. native said. “During the last deployment to Iraq, we lost a machine gunner. If anyone is hurt or injured this time around, we want to already have trained replacements.”“At some point, everyone will be behind a machinegun,” he added.The Marines listened to Paterson as he demonstrated loading, clearing and remedial action procedures before them. Afterward, they got some trigger time themselves inside the nearby Indoor Simulation Marksmanship Trainer, firing at tanks and troops on a video screens to hone their machinegun skills.This sort of training is particularly valuable for infantrymen who have little experience with heavy crew-served weapons, said Lance Cpl. Jake Mathers of Company L.“I’m a mortarman by trade, so I need to get used to firing these machineguns,” he continued. “After listening to these classes, I know what to do in combat when I have a misfire.”As Mathers and his fellow Marines continued learning about heavy weapons, 3rd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment’s Company K personnel were practicing proper vehicle and personnel search procedures outside a barracks approximately two blocks away.Staff Sgt. Charles Moralez, a section leader with the battalion’s Weapons Company, observed as several Marines sprinted from their humvees to establish overhead security positions while their teammates searched an Iraqi role player and his vehicle.They were practicing how to distribute themselves throughout “snap” and “trap,” VCPs, check points set up quickly to search autos inside them while preventing other vehicles from entering that temporarily blocked-off zone.Working within 20-man teams, the infantrymen dashed to establish perimeter security, put up concertina wire to mark the boundaries of the VCP (“trigger lines“), and search the vehicle and its passenger.“They need to learn how to make the most use of what Marines have available and task-organize people effectively,” Moralez said. “This exercise teaches them to do exactly that as they quickly put up and collapse the VCP.”It is a skill Marines like Company K’s Lance Cpl. Joseph Budrow take to heart.“We need to move quicker in this AO (area of operations) than we did in our last one because of the danger of sniper fire,” said the infantryman from Carteret, N.J. “We hear that if you stay in one spot (for an extended period of time) in Ramadi, you’re going to get shot at.”Throughout this entire field training exercise, the instructors emphasized something all recruits learned during basic training: attention to detail.At another nearby training module, 3rd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment’s snipers watched as several infantrymen lay on their stomachs and drew sketches of the barracks buildings and wooded areas around them. Far from a lesson in art, the instructors were instilling in the troops the value of paying close attention to the minutest of details as they penciled in these field sketches.“When these Marines go to man an OP (observation post), they need to be in the state of mind to take note of everything they see and pass it on to their relief,” explained Cpl. David Rodriguez, one of the instructors. Throughout the next several months, 3rd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment personnel will continue putting these newfound and refreshed skills to the test, as further training awaits them before returning to Iraq. Some Marines described this short time spent from Iraq to the U.S. to Iraq once again as “the fastest turnaround time in the Marine Corps.” Despite this high operational tempo, however, Marines like Paterson remain dedicated to learning and teaching skills that will keep the young men safe overseas.“We’re all doing our parts to train and bring everyone back home alive,” he said.