CAMP VIRGINIA, Kuwait -- As the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit prepares to move up north, one thing that has been on the mind of all the unit's commanders has been convoy operations.
With that in mind, Marines from each of the MEU's major subordinate elements has spent a lot of time and effort making sure their vehicles and Marines are prepared to face the dangers involved with conducting convoys in Iraq.
One of the units, MEU Service Support Group 24, completed a three-day convoy operations training package, which culminated with a live-fire exercise at Range Eight here July 13.
"Convoys are the most dangerous thing going up north," said Lt. Col. Vincent Coglianese, 44, a Spring Lake, N.J., native and commanding officer of MSSG-24. "We have known for months that we would be deploying to [the U.S. Central Command Area of Operations] and that convoys would be a challenge, so we dedicated a lot of time towards them."
Prior to conducting this exercise the leathernecks of MSSG-24 spent several days preparing their vehicles for the many dangers they will face in Iraq. Armor and bulletproof windshields were installed on all the vehicles as well as added gun mounts in the bed of humvees and bars protruding from the front of the vehicle to give gunners protection from decapitation and other facial and head injuries.
"Before these guys had no protection," said Coglianese. "This armor builds their confidence and makes them more prepared."
The vehicle operators seemed very pleased with the modifications made to their trucks. "The new armor definitely gives us more of a warm fuzzy," said Lance Cpl. Michael Marshall, 20, a Hudson Falls, N.Y., native and motor transport operator. "Not only does it boost our morale it is also a time saver. Now we don't have to spend so much time putting sand bags in our vehicles."
Once the vehicles were ready to roll, the "Super G" Marines packed up for their three-day course and headed out to Range Eight.
During their time on the range, the warriors of MSSG-24 went over tactical convoy tactics and procedures. They received classes on how to use global positioning systems and practiced several aspects of marksmanship including close quarters shooting techniques and crew-served weapons employment from atop their vehicles.
They also spent time working on vehicle recovery procedures and what to do in case a vehicle breaks down.
But along with the classroom work, a large portion of the training was dedicated to immediate action drills.
These drills allow them to practice reacting to different combat scenarios such as what do if the convoy is ambushed from the left or right, and what to do in case of a sniper or if someone fires a rocket-propelled grenade at the convoy.
They also went over what to do in the instance of an improvised explosive device.
The drills came into play later in the training when the unit conducted its live-fire portion of the course.
"During our live-fire, we engaged targets of opportunity, this is something we don't get to do back at Camp Lejeune," said Capt. Eric Adams, 30, a Greenville, Mich., native and Transportation Support Detachment commander. "Normally we just roll up to a berm and start shooting over the top."
The targets of opportunity include pop-up targets along the roadside that would force the Marines to react during the different scenarios.
Adams also said this was the first time many of the Marines had the opportunity to shoot from a moving vehicle, a skill that is difficult to hone.
"It's quite a challenge to hit targets from a vehicle on the move," said Adams. "It is tough to shoot when you are bouncing up and down over rough terrain."
But the attitude of the Marines during the training was very positive.
"This training was beneficial to everyone," said Marshall. "We have been able to get a lot closer to each other out here. That helps you learn to trust everyone and be more comfortable with them."
The camaraderie built during this exercise may be another tool that keeps these Marines safe as they work to complete their missions of providing combat service support to the rest of the 24th MEU.
"Because we have spent a lot more time conducting convoy training, IA drills and live-fires, we are a lot more prepared this time around, as opposed to when we were here last year," said Pvt. Kenneth Stahl, 21, a Tiffin, Ohio, native and motor transport operator.