MARINE CORPS AIR GROUND COMBAT CENTER TWENTYNINE PALMS, Calif. -- Marines from 3rd Light Armored Reconnaissance, the "Wolfpack," conducted Stability and Support Operations throughout the month of May to simulate the combat situations they encountered and might encounter again in Iraq.
The battalion returned from Operation Iraqi Freedom 1 in June 2003. Charlie Company, 3rd LAR, was in Okinawa during OIF 1 and was attached to Combat Assault Battalion, 3rd Marine Division, on Marine Corps Base Camp Butler, Okinawa, Japan. 3rd LAR returned to the Combat Center early May and almost immediately returned to training.
While in Camp Butler, the company conducted several fire and maneuver training exercises to reproduce combat conditions in Iraq. Marines participated in training designed to keep them familiarized with their weapons.
The Wolfpack performed urban training in vicinity of main side, old Marine Palms housing, Camp Wilson and the connecting hardball roads. The training was non-live-fire with small arms blanks, pyrotechnics, light-armored vehicles, 7-ton trucks and HMMWVs. The training consisted of mounted and dismounted urban patrols, convoy operations, vehicle control checkpoints and firm base operations. An opposing force wearing Arab garb was utilized while participants executed ambushes and other scenario play.
Training aboard the Combat Center simulated unique challenges and trained Marines to operate in a permissive environment where some of the local populace was hostile as well as interact with and establish rapport with local officials and townspeople. Role players staged riots, behaved suspiciously and posed as media to exercise the Marines' ability to react quickly and appropriately to potentially dangerous situations.
Since their return from OIF 1, 3rd LAR has trained and prepared for combat situations troops are currently encountering in Iraq.
"Our training is based on the [1st Marine Division] pre-deployment guidance, and consideration is given to employing the lessons learned from the observations similar Marine units are experiencing in-theater right now," explained Capt. Benjamin K. Hutchins, air officer, Headquarters and Service Company.
One such scenario led Marines to a mock gas station in which the owner raised the prices of fuel but gave special treatment to his extended family. The townspeople, angry and on edge, refused to pay more than $8 for a gallon of gas and were minutes away from rioting.
To calm the storm, Staff Sgt. James S. Lizarraga, rifle team leader, Headquarters and Service Company, acted as mediator to the feuding parties while his squad maintained perimeter security.
"The firm base received notice of the situation here, and we were briefed on it," explained Lizarraga. "We came into the gas station to check to see how much the gas cost here. The civilians are complaining the owner is charging too high for fuel so we're going to try to put the situation under control and possibly resolve it."
In an effort to stop the arguing, Lizarraga went back and forth to make a deal with the gas station owner that would be acceptable by the townspeople, each time marking their business with a welcoming embrace.
"We're not training troops to be friendly; we are training troops to respect, know and understand the Iraqi people and their culture," said Hutchins. "We train and will operate in Iraq under the guidance of the [1st Marine Division] ethos, 'No better friend, No worse enemy.'"
"My dealing with the Iraqi civilians is if you treat them with respect they'll honor that, and they'll slowly regain trust to get them to work together," said Lizarraga. "We still have to have their confidence. If we can handle it we'll go out and handle it ourselves."
"In some situations we might have to execute civil disturbance operations to protect Iraqi and coalition interests," said Hutchins. "The Iraqi government may be involved in a decision that would be made by a higher authority. For our training purposes we need to train to meet every possible scenario that we might face once in theater."