MARINE CORPS BASE 29 PALMS, Calif. --
Charging through a veil of smoke, men in full combat gear sprint toward cries for help amidst a cacophony of explosions meant to simulate incoming artillery. The junior Marines and sailors of Company B, 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division, enter a set of storage cases stacked in the shape of a military compound and are quickly forced to come to simulate a military compound during a simulated mass casualty evacuation exercise, May 30, 2011, aboard Marine Corps Base 29 Palms, Calif.
As a pair of Marines clear the main entrance and move toward a figure on the ground, the underlying objective of the training comes screaming into focus – a man wearing their same uniform lies on the ground in a pool of red ink with his left leg disappearing where the kneecap should be.
The role players, several of them former service members, are there for one purpose, to force the Marines to overcome the shock and hesitation they may experience during a real-life encounter.
“We try to create the most realistic scenarios possible,” said Thomas Mortero, a role player during the training event. “We try to stress [the Marines] out so they make their mistakes here. If you hesitate just a few minutes or take too long with a tourniquet, it’s too late. It’s better to make those mistakes now.”
The training serves to build the confidence of Marines and sailors heading into their first deployment, so they go forward into combat able to provide immediate care to those in need, having made their mistakes at home rather than while deployed.
“It was definitely good training as far as [combat life saving] goes – the Marines definitely know their stuff,” said Navy Seaman Dusty Davis, a corpsman with 3rd platoon, Company B. “It was definitely a confidence booster for everyone, myself included – I know that if I go down I will be taken care of.”
“When it started, I saw a pattern where my Marines assessed the casualties and immediately jumped on the ones they could handle – if they had something they couldn’t, they’d call me,” continued Davis, who is preparing to go on his first deployment with Marines. “The whole [Enhanced Mojave Viper] experience is really good, especially for juniors coming through.”
The purpose of the training was to build the muscle memory of the Marines and sailors participating in the exercise so that when it happens for real they can rely on their instincts to get the job done.
“It gives them confidence and builds that first response instinct when they see that blood during training – it prepares them for things they might see,” said Staff Sgt. Anthony Polley, a platoon sergeant with Company B. “You always have shaky times, but they handled it well.”
As the training finished, the participants filed outside the compound, some covered in red dye and drenched in sweat, followed by the role players and the senior corpsmen who oversaw the training and offered constructive criticism where it was needed. However, the main objective of the exercise was achieved within the first few minutes – forcing the Marines and sailors to overcome their fears and hesitations and rely on their training, a lesson that may pay dividends in the future.