MARINE CORPS AIR GROUND COMBAT CENTER 29 PALMS, Calif. -- Desert sand blows hard against the Marines face and his heart pounds in his chest. The triple-digit temperatures pull water out of him faster than he can consume it. He runs through a dry and jagged riverbed, machine gun rounds flying overhead and explosive blasts rocking the earth around him. Pfc. Levi R. Prewitt isn’t in Iraq. He is training at Marine Corps Base 29 Palms, Calif. taking part in his company’s attack at one of the Marine Corps most difficult ranges, Range 400.
Prewitt and his fellow Marines of Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 1st Marines, 1st Marine Division, conducted combined arms training here at Range 400, May 18, 2007, in preparation for deployment to Iraq.
Range 400 is utilized by deploying units to train rifle companies to attack fortified areas. It is possibly the most dynamic live-fire range in the Marine Corps. “400” is the one of very few ranges in the Marine Corps where overhead machine gun and rifle fire is authorized. Waivers also allow Marines to close within 250 meters of impacting 81mm mortar fire. At most ranges, 400 meters is the minimum safe distance. These waivers allow the most realistic training experience possible.
Prewitt and the rest of his squad members came to a quick halt among the dust and boulders. Throwing themselves against an embankment right before opening into another ravine, they check their surroundings and proceed around the next bend. Ahead is an enemy concertina wire obstacle. While other Marines prepared to breach the wire, Prewitt, 18, posts security. He explains that the range is “good training and helps everybody develop the skills every Marine needs.”
Fire, movement, teamwork and communication are the primary skills the Marines of Bravo develop at the range, said Prewitt. These skills are vital to mission accomplishment and the success of the Marine Corps rifle squad.
“Communication, whether over the radios or between squad members, keeps you informed about what the squad needs to be doing and what is going on around us,” said the Quawpaw, Okla., native, as he prepared to move again. “With the chaos around you and the constant noise, sometimes it’s really hard, but that’s why we train like this, to get used to it.”
The wire was breached by dropping sheets of wood on top of it, providing the Marines a bridge across. Weighed down by kevlar helmets, flak jackets, ammunition and weapons, the Marines press on once more. They rush over the rocks and boulders in their path as they make their way to a “table-top” terrain feature. This table-top is where the M-249 squad automatic-weapons (SAW) gunners will provide suppressive fire, allowing the other members of the squad to close on the target.
“(Range) 400 is meant to be really realistic, which is good,” explained Lance Cpl. Steven G. Ramirez, a rifleman with the company. “The way we work together will change and make us better, because we have gone through this course.”
Having bounded up the sides of the table-top, the squad’s SAW gunners aggressively laid down covering fire. The rest of the squad likewise provided covering fire as a lone Marine wielding an AT-4 sights in on a bunker and fires. Tires and sand fly into the air. It was a perfect shot: the target was destroyed.
“Out here you have someone watching your back by providing suppressive fire while you move, and when they need to move, you watch their back by providing suppressive fire,” said the 2006 Quapaw High School graduate. “That’s team work and communication working together.”
As debris is still falling, a whistle is blown and the call “Cease fire!” reverberates across the range.
Having destroyed the bunker, the range is complete. The Marines of Bravo Company begin their trek back across the craggy terrain that is Range 400. The day is a success.