CAMP BLUE DIAMOND, Iraq -- The Marines were waiting for their pre-patrol brief in their operations center – flak jackets and helmets bunched against the wall and rifles leaning against them. Some were drinking Mountain Dews and laughing and others were battling on the Sony Play Station. It was an average scene, save for the sergeant leaning in his chair practicing marching tunes on his clarinet. That’s because this isn’t any ordinary guard force the Marine Corps has trained for quick reaction emergencies, this is the 2nd Marine Division Band.
The Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, N.C.-based band, normally accustomed to the business of playing ceremonial military music for changes of command and the Marine Corps birthday ball, changed their focus more than a year ago when they found out they would become headquarters battalion’s main defense against insurgent attacks.
“These guys adapted really well,” said band master and staff non-commissioned officer of the guard force, Master Gunnery Sgt. Mark Michielsen. “And it all started with just a handful of them.”
The Marines walked in a patrol formation out the main gate and through some of the farming pastures lying just beyond the camp’s walls. They searched for possible insurgent fortifications, sniper positions and weapons caches.
As they waded through irrigations ditches and patrol neighborhoods, they also made a presence to let those who are watching know that the Marines have a close eye on everything around the camp.
About a year ago, five of the Marines were sent to specialized Security and Stabilization Operations training with the 1st Marine Division in California and the Enhanced Marksmanship Program. They learned how to shoot in close quarters combat style, maneuver in patrols and vehicle convoys and handle insurgent detainees. All of the training, according to Michielsen, has paid off.
“It provided a great foundation for the force as they were taught mission specific training for this area of operations,” he said. “If we hadn’t started well before we came out here, they would have been overwhelmed – especially since they had to come back and teach an entire battalion these skills.”
Not all of the members of the force are from the band. Some are augments from other units like artillery, communications and administration sections. The Marines who attended the mission-specific training taught the newcomers the same tactics and even instructed the entire headquarters battalion prior to deployment here earlier this year.
“They’re doing what they were recruited to do,” said Michielsen. “When these Marines get back to their jobs, they’ll be better prepared for what’s going on outside the walls of this camp. And they’ll have a better appreciation for who their jobs support – the infantry.”
But for now, they are “riflemen,” as they stride back to the camp with their automatic weapons. Their jobs as riflemen are as much a part of their lives as any of their original jobs were before; and though they may never step back into an active “rifleman’s” role, they will be better aware of what it means to be a Marine.
“Regardless of where they came from, they are living side by side, working together and they’re a family,” said Michielsen. “Now, I can’t remember who is a trombone player, who is a cannoneer and who worked behind a desk. They’re all now basic riflemen and warriors.”