MARINE CORPS AIR GROUND COMBAT CENTER TWENTYNINNE PALMS, Calif. -- In the small, dusty desert village of Wadi Al Sahara, a foot patrol snakes the streets under watchful eyes. The group of 10 looks around anxiously as they pass numerous threatening windows, doors and blind corners.
The repetitive drumming of machine gun fire can be heard in the distance, while Arabic voices float on the wind. They know they are not alone. Suddenly, chaos erupts.
An improvised explosive device blasts to their left. Another deafening explosion to their right reverberates through their bodies. The sound of gunfire becomes more intense as they press on through the tight, narrow allies.
Finally, a clearing, but a rocket propelled grenade nearly misses them, impacting nearby. Bloodied victims of a firefight scream and fall near them while a vehicle-bourne IED detonates in a ball of flame.
Then suddenly it ends. The chaos subsides. This battlefield was actually held at the Combat Center’s Range 200 training area and was the culmination of a specially designed tour for 84 guests who took part in the IED Awareness Day rehearsal April 20.
“For the rehearsal day, we invited friends and family, directorates, retirees, as well as local dignitaries, Marines and spouses to come out,” said Lt. Col. Raymond Liddy, G-3, who served as the action officer for the event.
Both the rehearsal day and the two event days included a full schedule. Visitors were broken in to four groups named after Iraqi cities and rotated through different stations during the tour.
Before splitting up, all were greeted by Brig. Gen. Douglas M. Stone, Combat Center commanding general, and received information on IEDs as well as desert safety.
The stations included a guided walkthrough of a static display of IEDs by Explosive Ordnance Disposal Marines, an MRE (meal ready to eat) lunch and the Virtual Combat Convoy Trainer, where Marines go on a simulated vehicle convoy and learn to react to various threats.
The “live fire” portion of the training had visitors in flak jackets and helmets riding through the Prospect training area and Range 205 in the back of seven-ton trucks while a tank cleared a path for the convoy as Marines took out silhouette targets with small arms fire.
Guests were also greeted with a blast as a live demonstration of a daisy chain of 155mm artillery shells were detonated hundreds of meters away. They were also given the opportunity to feel the blast of a single 155mm round from behind a sand wall which was exploded only 80 meters away from the group.
The final event was the IED Lane at Range 200 where the tour groups walked through the “city” and saw how intense close-quarters patrols can be with an added IED threat.
“The rehearsal day was a success,” said Liddy, who reviewed much of the feedback received from guests that day. “We had everyone provide feedback about their time with us and overall it was good criticism. The rehearsal also gave us the ability to finesse our timeline down and make sure things ran smoothly.”
The actual IED Awareness Days, which took place Tuesday and Thursday, featured an identical schedule for a crowd of 140 and 75 people, respectively. These days were geared at helping to develop new ways to battle the IED threat by getting advice and new ideas from major industries, said Liddy.
Representatives from a broad spectrum of companies came to the Combat Center for those two days to observe the IED threat environment first hand and in turn, give suggestions on what their company, or the Department in Defense itself, could do to help defeat IEDs, perhaps the biggest threat to coalition forces in Iraq.
Ideas from each IED Awareness Day will be submitted to the Joint IED Defeat Task Force, which helps devise new strategies and adapt new technologies to battle the ever-changing threat, said Liddy.
“A lot of these people have never been to the desert, never been aboard a military base, have never seen Marines train and don’t know what an up-armored Humvee looks like,” he said.
“This gives them an opportunity to come down and learn about the IED threat environment.”
Liddy said the Combat Center’s unique role in training Marine units with Mojave Viper predeployment training gives them the opportunity to fully immerse someone into that environment.
“I hope that it does two things – gives a better understanding and better motivates companies to help with IEDs and gives those not currently involved with defense an overview and understanding as well as motivates them,” he said.
For a few participants who are spouses of Combat Center Marines, the exposure to the realities of Iraq’s dangers were not entirely comforting.
“I thought today was incredible,” said Amy Rafferty, whose husband is a “Coyote” controller for Mojave Viper assigned to the Tactical Training Exercise Control Group. “It was extremely informative, and it gave me a greater understanding of my husband’s job.
“What left the biggest impression on me would be the IED lane,” said Rafferty. “It’s scary to think they are just trying do their daily business and there are so many things that could be an IED. I feel more caution should be put out to wives because it may be too much information for them. Ignorance is bliss sometimes.”
Although the realism may be intense, this accurate portrayal of conditions in Iraq is necessary for Marines to train, as well as give guests participating in the IED Awareness Day a realistic view so they can better help to defeat the IED threat and save lives.