MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. -- On any given day, lone American sniper teams keep watch over the streets of Iraq through the scopes of precision weapons. If discovered, they must evade and escape the enemy to return to safety. During the three-week Urban Assault Course offered by the Special Operations Training Group, teams of Marines, soldiers and Special Weapons and Tactics team snipers refined these skills in urban warfare.
"There's no way to prepare to go into a house when there are armed men inside waiting for you, but this is close as we can make it," said Sgt. Kenneth R. Burdine, an SOTG instructor assigned to the course.
The realities of combat were instilled during the Team-Urban Assault course of fire. The Marines began with a brisk two-mile run and used M4 assault rifles, M9 pistols, and precision-fired weapon work during a team-coordinated movement through Dodge City, said Burdine.
Dodge City is the name given to a strip of land aboard Camp Lejeune that resembles a life-size carnival shooting gallery. In this game, painted steel targets peek from within dark windows and wait behind false walls.
"It forces them to communicate," said Sgt. Russell E. Scott, another SOTG instructor. "We make them question themselves - 'who's the lead man, who's the bolt man?'"
The teams bounded between checkpoints, covering eachothers' movement with fire and used their assault rifles and pistols to drop targets as quickly as the instructors could call them out.
"We emphasize the Combat Triad. Shoot, move, communicate," said Scott, an Operation Iraqi Freedom veteran. "You always have to have at least two of the three elements."
The counter-weighted steel targets gave the teams instant feedback, as each well-placed shot dropped the steel silhouettes instantly.
"This is a true test of one's ability to get one's weapon ready in a fight," said a participating Marine sniper from Haslet, Texas. "I've definitely improved my engagement and reaction times."
The teams conquered three-story towers to engage distant targets with sniper rifles like the 7.62 mm M40-A3. The course was graded on time and the participants' abilities to engage multiple targets accurately with a bolt-action rifle.
"Running around gets your heart rate up, and it definitely gets harder to hold the cross hairs steady," said a Marine sniper from Ashtabula, Ohio.
In addition to assigning targets to their focused students, the instructors dug deep to create as much controlled chaos as possible.
"We act as stress inducers," said Scott. "The reason we do that is because, if we don't continue to challenge these guys, they will become stagnant. We're always making the course longer and giving them more targets. We make them improve by challenging them."
Joining the shooters was Lt. Louis Meredith, from the Aiken County Sheriff's Department in Augusta, Georgia. The former Marine was happy to share his experiences with the class.
"In Iraq, there is so much urban war being waged, and this is what our SWAT team does: state-side urban warfare," said Meredith. "A lot of the techniques that our snipers use on the streets of Baghdad are the same that we use in Augusta, Ga. It's unbelievable."
The combination of the instructors, the experience and the facilities were an invaluable learning tool, said Meredith.
"We're able to find out what you guys run into day-to-day, and we are able to share our own experiences," said Meredith. "Regardless, it's good to be around Marines again, it's something that gets into you blood."
Scott and Burdine, both OIF veterans, brought their hard-won experience back to the classroom.
"They're very knowledgeable about what's happening in Iraq, so they tailor the class to what is actually happening right now," said the Marine sniper from Texas.
Many of the students will employ skills learned in this course during the upcoming months. Many will soon fly to Iraq, some will float around the globe with Battalion Landing Team, 3rd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, which will deploy as the Ground Combat Element of the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit later this year. Others will simply drive back to their state-side areas of responsibility.
Whether engaging insurgents or criminals, home or abroad, the students of the Urban Assault Course will bring the long arm of American law to her enemies.