MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. -- Sequestered within the isolated pseudo-urban world of Combat Town, the Marines and sailors of Battalion Landing Team, 3rd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, have been training in urban assault and Military Operations in Urban Terrain recently.
"Our mission is to teach you the fundamentals, and then create more and more chaos to test your actual performance," said 1st Lt. Brent Jones, a Marine Corps Special Operations Training Group instructor.
The two-week course began with fundamental classes on building clearing, mechanical and explosive breaching, and a range of urban operations including hostage rescue. The training reached culmination with a week of full-fledged day and nighttime helicopter-borne raid operations salted with live 9mm paint-filled simulation ammunition and role-playing rebel terrorists.
"This is as real as it's going to get without going to combat," said two-time Operation Iraqi Freedom veteran infantryman Lance Cpl. Dennis R. Albaugh, of Wheeling, W.V., a team-leader with 1st Platoon.
Albaugh said the Marines have been taking the training more seriously since the introduction of the pain-inducing 9mm simulation ammunition. The Marines donned protective masks and gloves, but the rounds still left a mark on impact.
"With sim rounds, you know when you get hit, and then we have to react as if the individual were actually shot," said Lance Cpl. Cade W. Eastman, a 1st Platoon team-leader from Lake Charles, La.
Private First Class Lantz W. Atkins became one such "casualty", and it gave the new Marine a dismal glimpse into the reality of a combat casualty.
"It felt as real as it possibly could, and it didn't feel good," said the Greenville, S.C., native. "You see all your buddies around you taking care of business and you can't do a thing about it. The doc keeps checking on you, and you're left feeling helpless."
The infantryman said that the real pain was realizing the impact of a casualty on mission success.
"When the litter-bearers actually carry you back to the helicopter, you know that you're taking four Marines away from the fight -- that's the worst part," said Atkins.
Marines like Albaugh, Eastman, and Pfc. Dominic Griggs all bring hard-won experience to the younger Marines of Company I. Their last deployment took them to the rough streets of Ramadi, Iraq, so Griggs and the other veterans understand the importance of this training.
"The op-tempo is very fast and it's hard on our families, but what's important is that we only have six months to get these Marines ready for real combat," said Griggs.
"They're like sponges, and they're picking this up very quickly," said the 2nd platoon team-leader. "They listen when we tell them, 'we've been to Ramadi, and we've done this.' Most of the Marines join because they want to shoot guns and blow stuff up, but now they're learning that things happen, and some of us don't come back."
The Marines and sailors of Co. I, BLT 3/8, completed the course Friday, March 9, 2007, and are currently training for another rapidly approaching deployment. They are scheduled to deploy as the Ground Combat Element for the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit later this year. To stay up to date on the training and missions of BLT 3/8, visit the MEU's website at www.22meu.usmc.mil.