CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. -- In the dead of night and a half mile away into enemy territory, a lightly-equipped fire team wearing with night vision goggles and toting shovels approach a highly-trafficked road. While one member of the team carefully digs up a small section of turf, the rest of the team provides security with a wary eye.
Finishing the shallow hole, the Marine inserts a small green box with a wire thin antenna sticking out of the side. He then refills the hole, and along with his comrades, slithers away to their next position 100 yards away where they repeat the drill. In their wake, the only sign of their presence, hidden to even the most astute observer, is a wire-thin antenna hidden among the grass.
This is the world of the 22d Marine Expeditionary Unit's (MEU's) Sensor Control and Management Platoon (SCAMP) as they hone their skills during a training exercise in the woods of Camp Lejeune. As one of the Corps' smallest and least-known occupations, there are only around 75 SCAMP Marines in the entire Corps, with a platoon of 25 in each of the three divisions.
"We have three different missions," said Sgt. James Mayes, SCAMP noncommissioned officer, of Seattle, Washington. "Intelligence, perimeter security, and on call targets."
The intelligence mission provides the MEU with early warning about enemy activity. Perimeter security helps keeps the bad guys out of the unit"s immediate vicinity. Lastly, since SCAMP knows where the sensors are located, they can be used give a location on a call for fire from artillery or an air strike.
The Marines from SCAMP are drawn from the infantry, but because of the rarity of the unit, most of them don"t know about the billet until they are reassigned.
"I spent four and a half years in the infantry and I had no idea where I was going to when I was ordered to SCAMP," said Mayes. "Nobody knows about it."
The sensors SCMP uses come in a wide variety of different types and delivery systems. Some detect seismic waves made by passing troops and vehicles and others detect minute changes in the air temperature made by passing enemy. In urban terrain, laser tripwires transmit their readings back to the rear, while others measure disturbances in naturally occurring magnetic fields. Thermal sensors give the SCAMP Marines a "Predator"-like vision of the area they are monitoring.
Most of the sensors a delivered on-site by a SCAMP Marine attached to a reconnaissance patrol or sniper team, though occasionally they may deliver the sensors as a unit. While ground delivery is one way for SCAMP to deploy their sensors, they also employ sensors delivered by aircraft.
Though usually not guarding the perimeter, the grunts of SCAMP tend to end up closer to the enemy than may be comfortable. "If we're out on an intelligence insertion we got to be closer to where the enemy is," said Mayes.
Getting up close and personal without getting caught means keeping up with not only with their original infantry and sensor training, but also with advanced skills.
"It's a lot of good training," said Lance Cpl. Charles Privett, a member of the 22d MEU SCAMP team from Dayton, Ohio, commenting on some of his additional training. "For example, we got to go to Survival, Evasion, Rescue and Escape (SERE) school."
Because of the speed of modern warfare, SCAMP's mission is being altered. According to Privett, the rapid advance of forces, as in the case of Operation IRAQI FREEDOM, may preclude the need or utility of delivering the sensors by hand, air delivered sensors may be the wave of the future.
"We don't get much play time in these lightning wars. With air-delivered sensors, we can keep ahead of the main body."
Staying ahead of the enemy is SCAMP's game. Enemy patrols had better keep a sharp eye out, because SCAMP is keeping one on them.
For more information on the organization, mission and status of the 22d MEU, visit the unit's website at www.22meu.usmc.mil.