SOTG attends to details of II MEF warfighting

26 Oct 2005 | Sgt. Tracee L. Jackson

The typical unit in the Marine Corps goes through a traditional cycle starting with work-ups, deployment, and eventually some down time. At the Special Operations Training Group here, the cycle goes a little differently; the “work-up” switch is always on.

As most Marines aboard the base are preparing for the Marine Corps birthday celebration or gearing up for the winter season, SOTG keeps shots ringing through the air on a constant basis.

Staff Sgt. Jose Gutierrez works at SOTG as the assistant operations chief, and explained the unit’s high operational tempo means they put a lot of time on the range.

“Between myself and the (training) officers, we oversee all training on the compound with all units who are conducting training in our area,” he said, adding that he and his Marines work to de-conflict schedules between myriad units who are in the middle of annual qualifications, work-ups, or just in need of some extra trigger time.

As an example, during the week of October 25, SOTG sponsored three different training agendas for II Marine Expeditionary Force Marines: Dynamic Entry, Urban Sniping, and Security Element Training for Marines from 1st Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment and 2nd Force Reconnaissance.

No matter which range is going live with fire, the Marines know exactly why they’re there.

“We give the Marines the mindset of shooting in combat. They have to think on their feet and think on their own,” said Gunnery Sgt. Kenny Forbes, lead instructor of the Urban Sniper course. “They can take the skills they learn here and go back to their units in the fleet and teach other Marines.” He continued to explain each unit sends only a few Marines through an SOTG course, but the entire unit benefits when the schooled Marine passes the skills to Marines in their command.

Additional training is critical to any unit, he noted, because Marines need to be ready to face unpredictable circumstances. Skills learned at the SOTG include weapons manipulation and shooting at targets under circumstances not taught in a “straight-legged” infantry school.

Lance Cpl. Michael Mitchell, a rifleman with 1/8 Alpha Company and native of Rochester, N.Y., worked his way though Security Element Training, which teaches him and his unit the ins and outs of securing an area for infiltration or attacks.

“Here, we’re working with Force Recon on close combat marksmanship,” he said, “We’re not shooting like we regularly do, from the 300 or 500 yard line. We go from about 30 meters or closer.”

“Basically, this kind of marksmanship is used to clear houses,” he said.

Security is a buzzword on the SOTG compound, as it’s the basis of all operations. Once that groundwork is in place, the Marines expand their training to other battlefield specific skills, such as dynamic entering (breaching doors or blowing them out with explosives) or urban sniping.

Cpl. Frank Gravano, from Staten Island, N.Y. and a scout/sniper with 1/8, worked on his trade in a new environment, and said the Urban Sniper Course brings all elements into account to train him for battlefield success.

“We do all different types of shooting,” he said, “In an urban environment, you’re in a closer range, so we learn to set up different kinds of hides, and how to shoot from a high angle, through glass or windows, and in different temperatures.”

According to Sgt. Steven Goss, an Urban Sniper instructor, all the elements of a city life create new challenges for a combatant, and the course is designed to enable the Marines to function as a sniper in that environment.

It is commonly believed that the overall success of an operation depends solely on time spent tweaking and perfecting the specific skills of each combatant. SOTG provides the leadership and experience necessary to fine-tune a basic infantry unit into a highly effective combative force.