MCB Camp Pendleton, CA. - Pinned down in a covered position with enemy gunfire impacting overhead and the explosions of enemy mortars moving even closer, Marines in combat have one thing to rely on - each other.
Team building and unit cohesion is an integral part of the pre-deployment, Mojave Viper training evolution aboard Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center, Twentynine Palms, Calif., where infantry battalions focus their efforts on unit-driven operations and simulated combat environments to prepare their Marines for the trials ahead.
The specialized and in-depth training provided during this evolution is a step above the usual training provided.
“It is a big step but a natural one,” said 2nd Lt. John D. Branson, a platoon commander for B Company, 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment. “It is a built-in progression to the training.”
In an attempt to duplicate realistic combat experiences, the Marines focus on live-fire assaults, coordination of supporting fire and unit cohesion training.
Using the many ranges provided by the Tactical Training Exercise Control Group, known as the “Coyotes,” the battalions have been able to provide realistic combat situations to their Marines.
Marines assault bunkers, hills and urban towns in mock battles with a simulated enemy. The Marines use live ammunition in coordinated assaults, while "Coyotes" use artillery simulators and radio communication to affect the battle's progression.
“With all the noise and explosions, I think it really simulates that fog of war,” said Lance Cpl. Jorge L. Rivero, a team leader for A Company, 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment.
Many of the Marines who participated believe that using live rounds in the simulations provides the necessary element of danger for infantry Marines. Some of the combat tactics employed by Marines can only be demonstrated by the use of live ammunition.
“For an infantry platoon, geometry of fire is everything,” said Branson, a 23-year-old native of Washington, D.C., “You can practice with blanks all day long, but the Marines aren’t going to get it until you put live rounds down range and their buddies are running around them.”
The true combat environment also helps to build confidence on the battlefield, according to Lance Cpl. Michael J. Howard, a team leader for B Company, 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment.
The live ammunition, pop-up targets and elaborate entrenchments also add excitement and accomplishment to the training cycle.
“Anytime you can put rounds down range, it’s a good day,” said Sgt. Gilbert J. Hernandez, a machine gun section leader for B Company, 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment.
But the seriousness of the training is not lost on the Corps' warriors. With deployments looming for all who participate, the Marines recognize the training as important, effective and necessary.
“The way we perform out here is the way we will perform in Ramadi, and the Marines know that,” Branson said.