News: Infantrymen work hand in hand with Afghans during counterinsurgency exercise
Story by Cpl. Joseph Scanlan
MARINE CORPS AIR GROUND COMBAT CENTER TWENTYNINE PALMS, Calif. – On a range that could easily be mistaken for a city from a distance, Marines and Afghan role-players clear door to door under small arms fire in one of the largest urban training facilities in the Marine Corps.
For the final event of 1st Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment’s Mission Rehearsal Exercise, the battalion conducted a counterinsurgency exercise where Afghan role-players took the lead during patrols, mine sweeping and room clearing, Dec. 10.
The $140 million urban warfare training facility consists of more than 1,000 buildings and is divided into four sectors. The buildings replicate what can be found in an urban town to include gas stations, factories, one story complexes, marketplaces and multiple story buildings.
“Try to imagine trying to patrol through downtown San Diego,” said one Marine on the drive to the range. “There are hundreds of buildings and people walking around everywhere and you need to spot out the bad guys.”
One of the obstacles the infantrymen faced was the size of the range. There as buildings and role-players in every direction and a threat could be hiding behind any corner.
“The larger the space, the harder it is to influence the area,” said 1st Lt. Kurt Hoenig, a platoon commander with Bravo Co. “If someone can imagine trying to run a battalion through downtown Dallas and not expect people to hide behind buildings and stuff, it’s unrealistic.”
Numerous role-players gave the training a unique dimension. Interpreters, city dwellers and local national soldiers immersed the Marines in one of the most realistic scenarios of their predeployment training.
As Marines pull out of Afghanistan, more of the responsibilities have turned over to the Afghanistan National Army and the Marines are now a support asset. Marines are now expected to teach Afghan soldiers to defend themselves without coalition military support. To do this, Marines have the soldiers lead them.
“This is very eye-opening for the junior Marines,” said Sgt. Michael Nibler, a squad leader with Bravo Co. and a native of Seattle. “Throughout their basic training in the Marine Corps, this isn’t something that’s heavily covered, but is a huge mission in Afghanistan right now. This training is a big learning curve and it’s also a good opportunity to take away a lot of things we can use during our deployment.”
During the exercise, the infantrymen and role-players conducted security patrols through the urban town, spoke with villagers and worked toward developing a better relationship with the community to rid the town of insurgents.
“Throughout history the Marine Corps has clearly proven when it comes to amphibious assaults, deep strike capability and maneuver coordination of ground and air elements, we’ve got it,” said Hoenig, a native of Dallas. “The challenge today is the enemy realizes that if they just blend into the local population, they’re able to hide from all those amazing resources. In fact, they are able to turn the local nationals that we are trying to help, those people that were trying to offer a better standard of living, against us.”
To counter this, Marines adapt and train to recognize the warning signs of an insurgent attack. Everything from a man talking on his cellphone, someone frantically rushing away or even an area being quieter than usual could all be signs of a coming attack.
Recently a handful of Marines in the battalion were given the opportunity to attend a Pashtu language course at San Diego State University. Pashtu is the main languages spoken in Helmand province, Afghanistan and by having some Marines who understand the language, they will have to rely less on Afghan interpreters. The exercise was one of the rare opportunities when the Marines were able to utilize their newly obtained language skills with actual Afghan natives during a training scenario.
Bravo Co. conducted numerous patrols during the day and night and encountered several scenarios likely to happen in a combat environment. Marines can save numerous lives when the battalion is in country by gaining an understanding of the culture in Afghanistan, discovering improvised explosive devices and recognizing hostile threats during training,
After the long day of training, the exercise was completed and ultimately everyone took away a vast amount of knowledge. This was the final exercise during the battalion’s 10-day MRX. The MRX is designed to evaluate and prepare the battalion for their Integrated Training Exercise before their deployment to Afghanistan this spring.