MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE N.C. -- The last moments of silence faded, as four helicopters approached and circled their area of operation before making a swift landing outside the Military Operations in Urban Terrain facility March 6.
Two CH-53E Super Stallions touched down onto the open terrain outside of MOUT town, stirring up a thick storm of sand and dust that concealed the Marines’ identity and direction of movement. The two squads of Battalion Landing Team 3rd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit, exited the first two helicopters and charged toward the outer buildings.
Before the dust storm cleared, the Super Stallions took to the air and made way for two CH-46 Sea Knights to drop-in another pair of squads.
The Marines were in. MOUT town was then infiltrated and the objective was on. This was the team’s first helo raid of their four-raid exercise.
Last week, the team’s mission was studied and performed through practical applications. They executed their first raid of the week at full speed, with strategically placed actors staged as neutral townspeople or enemy aggressors.
“The four elements of the team are made up of assault, support, security and headquarters,” said Sgt. James Keller, a raid instructor with Special Operations Training Group, II Marine Expeditionary Force. “The main objective of the team was for the assault and support elements to capture a high value individual and get him safely back to the headquarters element.”
Raid instructors of SOTG assigned positions to oversee the exercise, enforce rules and name the killed or wounded who needed to be returned to the casualty collection point after the mission was completed.
Marines were armed with M-16A2 and M-4 service rifles, modified to fire simulated paint rounds that strike an enemy with eminent force, marking a hit on their body, taking them “out of play”. Enemy role-players were scattered throughout the town, armed with modified M-16 and AK-47 rifles.
Role-playing townsmen filled the scenes as a distraction to the Marines to create a realistic environment, where their awareness must be substantially higher in a combat situation.
The headquarters element kept constant communication with the element leaders. They coordinated a strategy to move the Marines along the left side of the main road. With skilled and covert maneuvering, they cleared each building until they reached the objective, with an eye on every open angle.
“During the mission, the assault element also encountered a weapons cache, made up of rocket-propelled grenades, an AK-47 and bomb making material, which had to be photo-documented, then destroyed,” Keller said.
Upon entering the objective building, they knew the HVI was protected. The assault element forced their way in, while the support element provided fire on the building. The security element’s job was to isolate the perimeter.
Aggressive commands and shots rang throughout the building, as what a bystander would only be able to describe as mass confusion, but the teams used brute force to enter the building with a solid intent. They moved in on the enemy role-players and secured the area, inside and out.
The Marines eliminated the aggressors, apprehended their HVI and their headquarters moved the entire team back out of the landing zone to review the mission.
The entire exercise was performed with quickness and precision, lasting roughly an hour. The team then gathered outside the landing zone to debrief the exercise.
The Sea Knights returned to the landing zone to retrieve the Marines, who carried their simulated casualties onboard. Sand and dirt blew out the area’s visibility, and the Marines disappeared into the helicopters as fast as they arrived. The birds took off into the clear sky, and silence fell over MOUT town once again.
Keller described the focal point of this training in the design and execution raid operations, not just urban warfare.
“Teams conduct these exercises so they can be experienced in raid operations for pre-deployment training, but not just for Iraq,” Keller said. “Exercises like this make a Marine Expeditionary Unit capable of performing special operations like this anywhere in the world, at anytime.”