News: New urban training facility ready for action
Story by Michael DiCicco
MARINE CORPS BASE QUANTICO, Va. - There’s a ghost town on the west side of Marine Corps Base Quantico.
Along Tokyo Road sits a jumbled, 163-building complex on a network of gravel roads. Many of the one- to three-story structures are poker-faced, displaying only the thin outlines of closed doors and shuttered windows. One corner of the town, however, shows signs of life: carts laden with candles or cheese wheels sit in front of closed-down shops. Inside dwellings, bedding shows indications of recent use; place settings of plates and silverware give the appearance that a meal was finished just before the residents vanished.
This is the base’s new urban training center, a 19-acre training ground where Marines can run patrols and soon will be able to conduct full battle simulations, with multiple units running separate exercises. As it is outfitted more fully, it will be very much alive more often than not.
“The most commonly requested and occupied training area on this base, for years, has been the MOUT,” said Training Support Center head Joe Dennison, referring to the Military Operations on Urban Terrain facility off MCB-5. That facility consists of just 12 buildings, outfitted with sensors for use with the Instrumented-Tactical Engagement Simulation System. In the future, selected buildings in the new UTC will be similarly equipped, and Training Support expects to program frequent exercises there, taking scheduling pressure off the MOUT.
Unlike the MOUT buildings, the “buildings” that populate the UTC are actually made from hundreds of shipping containers with doors and windows cut in them.
“If you wanted to, you could rearrange this facility in the future to represent a different environment,” said Noel Leon, operations officer for the Training Support Center, although he added that this would be too daunting a task to be carried out on a whim.
The town is broken into three zones, with the buildings painted a different color in each area. Leon said the idea is that three platoons can train simultaneously. Each zone includes a mosque and a police station, as these are buildings that are taken into special consideration during urban fighting in Afghanistan. A cemetery on the edge of town can also add a wrinkle to combat strategy.
Only the brown buildings in Zone C are outfitted with “atmospherics” — the tables displaying wares in the marketplace, pile of tires and two gas pumps outside the auto repair shop, hundreds of tools filling the workbenches inside, the occasional goats or chickens outside residences and thousands of other details that give it the feel of an actual Afghan village.
Just up the road from the UTC is a small cluster of buildings, formerly known as the “mini-MOUT,” that is now considered Zone D and will be used for “non-kinetic” training, such as civil affairs exercises.
Construction of the UTC started in February of last year and was more or less completed in December. It was first used for training in late January but was then closed while the atmospherics were installed. Also, dirt roads that became impassable in the rain made the complex difficult to use, but gravel was just laid on the roads and the facility reopened in the first week of August.
Capt. Charles Broun, a primary instructor for TBS’s MOUT training package, said the biggest advantage of the new UTC is its size. “As far as urban patrolling, it’s a much larger area, so students can get into the center of it and be immersed,” he said, adding that he likes having three training areas that can be combined into one.
The Basic School is Training Support’s most frequent customer and had input into the facility’s design.
Previously, the school’s patrolling exercises were held at the FBI’s Hogan’s Alley training area and had to be scheduled around the FBI’s activities, usually on weekends.
For any exercise, Broun said, the size of the facility makes it more realistic and flexible than anything previously available on base. For example, rather than having Marines encounter an improvised explosive device just a few yards after disposing of a sniper and half a block before coming across a civilian crisis, scenarios can be spread out, making the exercise more realistic and giving the Marines more opportunity for profiling and assessing the population.
And, he said, rather than running a preplanned route, “They can move into the UTC and execute the plan they think is best, just like they would in real life.”
The Basic School is already using the facility to run patrols, and once it’s outfitted for combat simulations, it will be used in the school’s culminating Eight-Day War exercise.
Leon said it will also host the Infantry Officers’ Course’s small wars training package, which Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, Calif., no longer supports. The area that used to be used for that exercise at Twentynine Palms included more than 100 buildings, he said. “There was no way we would be able to support that without the UTC.”
“The reason you need all those buildings for small-wars training is, you have to teach the lieutenants to isolate the enemy, and if you’ve only got six buildings, it’s pretty easy to isolate them,” Dennison said.
The UTC has been a long time coming.
“The initial design was me playing with PowerPoint and a bunch of little squares,” Leon said. That was in 2006. Later, then-range complex development manager Jim Cook worked with Range Control and The Basic School to work out the final design, Leon said, adding that Cook observed urban training facilities throughout the Department of Defense, actual third-world locations and even similar foreign training areas to refine the plan.
The work was carried out by contractor Parsons Corporation with subcontractor Allied Container Systems, and the atmospherics were provided by Strategic Operations Inc.
Leon said all the Marine units that had come out to preview the facility were anxious to schedule training there, and federal law enforcement, Marine Barracks Washington, D.C., and most other units that train at Quantico have also expressed interest in using the UTC.
“Everyone thinks it’s fantastic,” he said.