CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. --
It was a scene many seasoned Marines have experienced during past Operation Iraqi Freedom rotations and one that young Marines have only heard about; a rifle squad patrolling through a marketplace in Iraq. As the squad rounds a corner a rocket propelled grenade flies down an alley-way and explodes as the shouts of Marines yelling commands mixes with the cries of Iraqis seeking cover.
However, this was not Iraq nor was it a Hollywood set, this action took place in Camp Pendleton’s Infantry Immersion Trainer (ITT), Jan. 30, 2008.
The Marines who took part in the training, Echo Company, Battalion Landing Team 2/5, 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit, spent the day in the IIT using state-of-the art technology like interactive movie projections and smell inoculators to prepare for their upcoming deployment.
The Marine Corps hopes the 2.5 million dollar, 32,000 square foot facility, will provide realistic training for any type of environment a unit could one day deploy to, according to Sgt. William Jones, a coordinator with the IIT.
“It basically immerses the Marine into Iraq or whatever theater he is going into through mixed-reality technology and has role players and actors [portraying locals and an opposing forces]. The technology provides the opportunity to make ethical and moral decisions, while the actors provide an interaction with local populous,” said Jones.
The training provides an opportunity for units to take textbook tactics and apply them to a realistic simulation in an effort to see how they execute prior to being evaluated during training like Mojave Viper. The hope is to put the Marines -- especially the newer Marines -- in the ITT and try to give them something worse than in Iraq or another combat zone so when deployed they are ready for any situation, added Jones.
The ITT provides small unit leaders the chance to evaluate Marines who are new to the unit while further refining leadership skills of those experienced leaders. The Marines also get the chance to interact with actual Iraqi people who simulate role players in an effort to bring cultural awareness to the forefront of their minds.
“The training is good because it gives you a lot of friction points and as a leader you need to put yourself there. It also gets your Marines used to the chaos. When people are shooting back at them they may lose their mind right now, but as the training goes on they get better and learn how to deal with any situation,” said Sgt. Anthony Weaver, a squad leader with 1st platoon, Echo Company.
“I think this training is the closest we’ll get to real life. I would take my squad through this training a lot of times if I could,” said Weaver a 23 year-old native of Colfax, Calif.
For newer Marines the IIT provides realistic training in an effort to prevent Marines from hesitating during combat. Pyrotechnics and M-16s specially equipped to shoot simulated paintball bullets provide all the special effects needed to accelerate the heart rates of the participants.“When the RPG flew over my head I kind of froze up because I’ve never seen a big fire ball fly at my head. This training gives me confidence in my team leaders and squad leaders because when we froze up they kicked us in the butt and told us to get it on,” said Pfc. William Whitsett, a rifleman with Echo Company.
“All the other trainers don’t give you butterflies like this one did. I hope we come out here at least a couple of more times,” added Whitsett, a 21 year-old native of Coos Bay, Ore.
The Camp Pendleton, Calif., based 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit is comprised of roughly 2,200 Marines and Sailors and is task organized to be a forward deployed quick response force, capable of accomplishing numerous missions around the globe. The 15th MEU is currently in its pre-deployment training phase for an impending deployment in the summer of 2008.