MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. -- Shots rang out through the simmering summer heat. Improvised explosive devices were called in over the radio. Tanks rolled down the dirt roads in search of insurgent activity.
The Marines and sailors of 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division, took on pre-deployment training with an intense focus as they toughed it out in the field during a ten-day training evolution called Exercise Practical Bastard, June
From the rifle range to the Military Operations in Urban Terrain training facility, the companies of 3rd Bn., 2nd Marines, rotated through an all-encompassing schedule, teaching survival skills vital to their upcoming deployment to Iraq.
“The learning curve was exceptionally steep for the new Marines who have no experience in Iraq,” said Lt. Col. Peter B. Baumgarten, the battalion commander. “The most important aspect of the training was the development of the mindset and attitude to operate in a counterinsurgency environment. The tactics, techniques and procedures we learned will continue to develop the more we train, but mindset and attitude require equal attention.”
The Marines of Company I trudged down a narrow forest passage with their senses heightened and alert. A thin copper wire dangled inches above the terrain. The point man executed a hand signal to alert his platoon of a possible IED.
An Explosives Ordinance Disposal technician used each simulated device along the “IED lane” as a point of instruction. The EOD Marines elaborated on the characteristics of many of the IEDs found in Iraq and discussed key indicators and ways to detect these modern threats.
Close by at Stone Bay rifle range, Company L executed firing drills from varying distances and stances until late into the night.
“Fire, Fire, Fire, Misfire,” repeated Pfc. William Steffy, a squad automatic weapon gunner with Company L, while going through countless misfire and barrel change drills on the M240G medium machinegun with a group of Marines.
Drilling or instruction filled any downtime between firing, with each moment being utilized as an opportunity to train.
Company K was busy during their rotation at the MOUT training facility. Role players dressed as Iraqi citizens roamed the streets of the simulated town, as squads patrolled for possible IEDs and insurgent activity. The ground trembled as M1A1 Abrams Tanks were integrated into the patrol.
“It’s set up to be as realistic as possible,” said Lance Cpl. Jon Michael Morgan, a SAW gunner with Company K. “We’re learning the way to react to these people in their environment. You don’t want to make them angry. You want them to help you.”
The culminating event was a 36-hour operation incorporating all the skills learned and practiced during the course of the exercise. The warriors of 3rd Bn., 2nd Marines, resided amongst a role-playing local populace, attempting to win the hearts and minds of the people, while still being on the alert for any possible scenario.
“We’re rolling into a city and treating the people with dignity and respect, even if we think some are (insurgents),” said Cpl. Stephen Negri, a squad leader with Company K. “(The new Marines) need to know that they’re going to get close to these people. There’s no way around it.”
The battalion’s goal was to come as close as possible to simulating what these Marines will be doing when they get to Iraq and not just focus on combating an enemy.
“Killing insurgents is not enough to win,” said Baumgarten. “We must also change the conditions that allow the insurgents to recruit and receive support from the populace. This is central to the approach that is seeing real results in Al Anbar Province, (Iraq), over the last several months.”
Exercise Practical Bastard, though long and arduous, taught the Marines and sailors of 3rd Bn., 2nd Marines, invaluable lessons that will undoubtedly give them a firm staging ground for their upcoming deployment to Iraq.
“The Marines held up to the bitter end but were no doubt worn to the bone by the end of the exercise,” said Baumgarten. “We got great training across a wide spectrum of skills, while significantly enhancing the cohesion and morale of the battalion. It doesn’t get much better than that.”