VICTORVILLE, Calif. -- A ghost town of lifeless streets and abandoned government houses recently roared back to life with the rumble of tracked and light armored vehicles while the pulse of helicopter rotor blades cut the air above the rooftops.
The 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit, deep in the heart of its six-month work-up cycle, moved into the former George Air Force Base for two-weeks of Training in a Realistic Urban Environment exercise in preparation of its lurking six-month deployment to the Western Pacific region later this year.
Similar training was conducted by the 15th MEU prior to past deployments, however, this exercise is significant because it’s the first time the entire Marine Air Ground Task Force has done the exercise together, according to Major Robert P. Salasko, the assistant operations officer for the 15th MEU.
“TRUE helps us by enhancing our direct action capabilities in urban environments through realistic exercises, and it affords us the opportunity to analyze our actions on the enemy,” said Salasko. With an abundance of abandon houses and subdivisions, along with barracks to billet Marines and Sailors, the former Air Force base provided the 15th MEU with an ideal urban training environment.
TRUE generally encompasses three Situational Training Exercises or STXs that test the Maritime Special Purpose Force’s ability to perform direct action raids. However for this exercise, the I Marine Expeditionary Force’s G-7 also included Security And Stabilization Operation training to prepare everyone for operations being conducted in Iraq and surrounding regions.
To make the training as realistic as possible, Marines from Special Operations Training group and hired role players dressed in traditional Arab clothes while they acted out different operational scenarios.
With all the challenges presented to the Marines so far, many of these warriors say the most difficult challenge so far is just dealing with the heat. Some Marines take it all in stride knowing that every little bit helps. “Training is training,” said Sergeant Poncileo Liberato, a 27-year-old Los Angeles native and a member of Weapons Company, Battalion Landing Team 1/1.
Adding to the realism, Marines and role players used “simmunitions,” which is a paintball like bullet that splatters upon impact helping the Marines determine the accuracy of their shooting. “The simmunitions help us see if everyone is up to par,” said Liberato. “This is the best, realistic training we have done so far.”
At each of the “hit” sites, SOTG Marines work as controllers to monitor actions taken during the event. When a Marine is hit with a simmunition round, a controller will determine whether the shot was fatal, or just a superficial wound. When a Marine goes down, the rest of his team takes proper actions to either treat or medically evacuate him. For life-threatening injuries, the Marine will be evacuated by helicopter to an alternate site for treatment by a trauma unit.
To enhance realism, a production studio put fake wounds or moulage on role-players. The studio dressed up the wounds similar to movies, giving them a realistic appearance, which allows Marines and medical personnel to practice their first-aid skills.
“The unpredictability of incoming injuries may be the most frustrating part of each hit, but it is also the most accurate representation of what we will be facing overseas,” said Hospital Corpsman 2nd Class (FMF) Jesse Arzate, who has been with the MEU for two years. “Each event gives us practice at adapting to any situation, and tests our versatility and the skills of all the Corpsman.”
In addition to standard debriefs, other measures were taken to try and ensure that each participant learns from the training exercises. “With the help of public affairs Marines photographing and video taping the events, we are more able to see where we are deficient with each exercise,” said Salasko. “Between the documentation and input from the SOTG Marines, we are able to give critical, brutally honest debriefs and after action reports to emphasize all the points that need work.”
“We aren’t necessarily performing any more training than we did last year, but we are doing more effective training than in the past,” said Salasko. “The most challenging aspect of the exercise is integrating all elements of the MEU for one specific mission.”
In past TRUEs, training was centered around the Maritime Special Purpose Force. Now all four elements of the MEU, the Command Element, MEU Service Support Group, Battalion Landing Team, and the Aviation Combat Element, are all working together, the same way they will when they deploy later this year.
“The 15th MEU received lots of support to make TRUE as realistic as possible,” according to Salasko. “SOTG recruited around 100 role-players, some of which have real experience with dealing with locals while in a foreign country.”