MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. – The constant physical and mental stresses of operating in a combat zone can put a tremendous strain on an individual’s body and take a drastic toll if one does not prepare for it.
The Mobile Immersion Trainer aboard Camp DeLuz is one of the facilities here that provides a constant stress upon Marines and forces them to have a continuous heightened level of awareness. Similar to the Infantry Immersion Trainer, the facility simulates an urban combat environment and tests Marines on numerous situations they are likely to encounter while deployed. The training utilizes Afghan role-players who have served with servicemembers overseas as interpreters and special effects moulage on simulated casualties to give Marines the closest training to reality as possible.
In preparation for their upcoming deployment to Afghanistan this winter, the Marines of Tango Battery, 5th Battalion, 11th Marine Regiment, trained to leave their comfort zones to overcome the stresses and fears of combat environments. The MIT replicates combat zones in a unique and in-depth way other field exercises do not.
Throughout the morning, the battery simulated operating out of a base and posted security while mock insurgents attempted to breach the area and formed riots. Afghan role-players continuously pestered the Marines, adding stress to the training.
“We have a tendency to be a bit removed from the big bases because we shoot large projectiles in the air,” said Staff Sgt. Christian Cornelius, an assistant operations chief with Tango Battery. “Since we find ourselves in remote locations, we are responsible for our own internal security. We are a high-value target so we have to know how to protect ourselves.”
The battalion is home to the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System. The HIMARS is a rocket launcher mounted on an Army Medium Tactical Vehicle truck frame. Each launcher can house up to six rockets with a maximum range of 300 kilometers.
“HIMARS has become a very valued asset in Afghanistan, especially in the counterinsurgency kind of environment we’re currently operating in,” said Cornelius, a native of Nashville, Tenn. “We have precision guided munitions and have a very fast response time with an on target, on time and accurate record.”
After posting security throughout the morning, the artillerymen conducted a logistics patrol during the afternoon. Their mission was simple, to deliver supplies to an objective point and return back to base, but it turned out to be much more. Marines were constantly alert for improvised explosive devices on and around their patrol route. A vehicle mechanically broke down early into the patrol. The patrol was regularly halted while ground units searched nearby areas for enemy role-players, but the Marines eventually reached their objective and headed back to base.
Suddenly the middle vehicle of the convoy struck a simulated IED and was smothered in smoke. Two simulated casualties of the blast needed immediate medical treatment as mock insurgents began to ambush the convoy.
“There’s always that moment of shock when an IED goes off because it’s a lot louder than you expect,” said 1st Lt. Justin Bauke, an assistant fire plans officer with Tango Battery and a native of Yuma, Colo. “It really brings it home when you see Marines on the ground that are presented to be all bloodied up, and they have to take care of them and do the correct things while taking small-arms fire.”
Small unit leadership instantly kicked in, and it was soon over for the enemy role-players. Noncommissioned officers immediately began shouting commands to direct Marines where to move and what to do. Instant obedience to orders has been instilled in Marines since boot camp, and in certain situations can mean the difference of life or death. For Tango Battery, it was a major contributing factor to successfully completing the MIT.
Marines engaged the ambushing insurgents from vehicles while others rushed uphill toward them. A couple Marines, and the platoon corpsman, stayed back to load the casualties onto the safety vehicle and provide immediate medical aid. Shortly after, the mock insurgents were defeated and the Marines continued their mounted patrol back to base.
Kasey Erokhin, co-owner of KBZ FX special effects medical training support system, made the simulated casualties nearly a reality with the makeup and moulage she used. Visually seeing casualties with burnt flesh and broken bones mentally struck the Marines and made the exercise even more beneficial. The makeup used was similar to what is currently used in Hollywood films.
“It’s truly an honor and privilege to work with the men and women serving in our country,” said Erokhin, a native of Boston. “We believe that moulage plays a great importance in preparing our troops for what’s to come in the medical sense. The training provides a shock value that has the ability to save more lives at the end of the day, and that’s what is most important to us.”
Exhausted and wearied, the convoy returned to base and the Marines received an after action brief on their performance throughout the exercise. Ultimately everyone, especially the junior Marines, finished the training as more combat-prepared warriors. The Marines were all given a well-deserved night of rest to unwind and relax before returning to their vigorous predeployment training again.