FORT PICKETT, Va --
Explosions rock buildings, Iraqis rush into the streets and insurgents rattle off shots from the safety of houses. As hard and fast as the rocket propelled grenades cascading around them, it hits the Marines, this isn’t just another day at the range. Be it when they pull a victim squirting blood and missing both legs from a flaming vehicle or rescue a bloodied and bruised Marine hostage, this is a different kind of training.
For the Marines of the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit here undergoing the Realistic Urban Training segment of their pre-deployment work, the ‘realistic’ aspect is a step-up from previous exercises.
To this point in training, Marines have been students of warfare. Under the direction of Special Operations Training Group, II Marine Expeditionary Force, they honed their skill at conducting quick, focused attacks known as raids. Now they put those skills to the test with help from Stu Segal Productions, a Hollywood based special-effects company that provided the explosions, settings and actors to create the realistic training venue.
“What we got from the SOTG guys, the how to stuff, clearing the rooms stuff, hitting the building, stuff like that, they are on top of their game,” said Cpl. Steven Williams, squad leader, Battalion Landing Team 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment.
From the familiar confines of North Carolina, SOTG and the 24th MEU came to the Virginia training grounds and introduced another aspect to the Marines… reality.
“It’s really real. The actors are Iraqi and they speak their native language,” said Sgt. Travis Hutchinson, raids instructor, SOTG. “They have rocket propelled grenades coming down louder than hell. You have IEDs blowing up around them scarring them.”
The professional role-players, which include amputees, and pyrotechnic displays, threw a wrench into the best laid plans.
“You round a corner and there’s a freaking arm that’s gone and you got someone covered in blood,” recalled Williams. “I saw a guy get out of a (exploded) vehicle the other day, he didn’t have any legs and there was blood spurting everywhere. It kind of freaked me out.”
Beyond the gruesome nature of the battlefield, the native Iraqi role-players add yet another twist in the complicated web of war.
“Not only does it make it more real, but it actually helps you with the culture and how you deal with it,” said Pfc. Jesse Flynn, team leader, BLT 1/6. “There was one point where we were in a building and we were talking to civilians. We had to use the little Arabic we know to communicate with them and try to let them know we needed to use their house and we were not there to harm them.”
For even the most junior Marine, the amount of decision making required for a successful mission has increased dramatically since those first raids.
“The raid at the SOTG courses, there weren’t shoot or no shoot situations,” explained Flynn. “We went into a building today and there were women. You see them coming down the hallway and you have to control yourself and not shoot them. You have to be able to move them and get them out of the way and continue to clear the house.”
Unlike the strict, linear syllabus of the SOTG courses, here small units use the role-players and special effects to focus on their own needs.
“We are not actually telling them what to do. We are putting it on key leaders to make sure they are focusing on what they need to do, whether that is reaction to an IED, to an RPG or a multiple building insurgency attack,” explained Hutchinson.
Training Marines to silence instinctual reactions of shock to seeing another human with such traumatic injuries and focus on their mission to eliminate the threat and treat the wounded is not easily accomplished and is indeed a special affect. “Hollywood Marine” has been redefined.