MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. -- “The enemy has AK-47s, RPGs and RPKs, the typical equipment they’ve had every night,” said Sgt. Don R. Albarado, of New Orleans, La., during a pre-mission brief, March 30. “Basically, what we’re going to do is move to our (objective rally point), which is TLZ Condor, and from there we will go foot mobile. Tell your Marines to plan on getting their feet wet because we’re going straight across the creek; if it’s six feet deep, it’s six feet deep.”
Albarado and the rest of Kilo Co., Battalion Landing Team 3rd Bn., 8th Marines, overcame many such obstacles during their recent raid week. Following a week of hands-on instruction from the Special Operations Training Group, they put their skills to the test and ransacked weapons caches, razed IED laboratories, and rescued hostages during the four-raid training evolution. Though the Marines faced obstacles like strength-sapping cold, swarming swamps and a constant (simulated) enemy threat, the training paid big dividends in combat experience.
“You can only plan so far ahead, and get things as smooth as possible during rehearsals,” said Lance Cpl. Chris M. Hudak, a 3rd platoon team-leader. “When you actually get there and run the operation, wrenches are always thrown into the system. That’s when the Marine has to think for himself and use initiative based tactics to adapt to the situation. The most important thing out here is thinking on your feet.”
Hudak served as an infantryman during 3/8’s last deployment to Ramadi, Iraq. He brings first-hand experience to the Marines in his charge.
“The more chaos we throw at them now, the better they’ll handle pressure when it counts,” said Hudak. “The more and more we do this, the more and more they think for themselves and better handle these situations. It was good training for the Marines out here, especially for the new Marines who haven’t deployed yet.”
The company is facing and meeting the challenge of training many new Marines head on, said Lance Cpl. Anthony J. Grasso, another team-leader from 3rd platoon. The training has been tough at times, but he has seen major improvements in his Marines.
“The majority of our platoon was a boot-drop from SOI, and we only have a few senior guys on deck,” said Grasso, a native of Hackestown, N.J. “When we first came out here, the new guys didn’t really know what they were doing. As soon as they had a couple classes with SOTG, we could tell that they were actually doing what they learned. They got locked on pretty quicky.”
Along with the challenge of teaching new Marines how to conduct themselves in a combat environment, Grasso said he has also been faced with the challenge of motivating his Marines through the tough training.
“It’s definitely tougher being a team-leader for a bunch of new guys who didn’t know how to do anything as opposed to guys who have done room clearing and already knew what was expected of them,” said Grasso. “It’s a little bit easier being a team-leader for experienced guys, but it was a good opportunity to create ways to try and find ways to teach the new guys, to actually reach them and allow them to absorb the knowledge and use it properly.”
The two-time Operation Iraqi Freedom veteran has fought in Ramadi, and Nasir WaAlSalaam, Iraq, and is familiar with the element of boredom, he said. Though some parts of the evolution required repetitive tasks, he used his experience to motivate and help his Marines take advantage of the exercise.
“You have to find ways to increase motivation, for example, last week at MOUT town we were working on room clearing, and we kept clearing the same house over and over again,” said Grasso “We noticed that some of our guys were yelling out, ‘stairs,’ before they even got into the building. We realized that they were getting bored so we created new situations. We started throwing curve-balls at them. Once they were inside, we would tell them that they had the wrong target, and that made them pay attention. Immediately we could tell that it worked, because they would sprint across the street, clear rooms and use the techniques properly. It changed it up for them, and made it new again.”
Lance Cpl. Brodey W. Vann, a squad-leader with 1st platoon, agreed that the training has radically improved the new Marines’ performances. Vann attributes much of the improvement to the use of 9 mm marking ammunition used in the Marine Corps’ version of a high-speed paintball match.
“Sim rounds are the best tool we have for training,” said Vann, a Pinellas Park, Fla., native. “They say that the first guys in a building account for %60 to %70 of the casualties, and with the sim rounds, you can actually see who becomes a casualty. It’s important training for the squad-leaders on down, because if a squad-leader goes down, the team-leaders need to know when to step up and take control. The same goes for the team-leaders, the younger guys also have to be able to step up when the need to, and they’re definitely becoming more confident and stepping up to the challenge.”
The Marines and sailors of BLT 3/8 are currently preparing for the upcoming challenge of a deployment with the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit, where they will serve as the Ground Combat Element. Kilo Co. acts as the motorized raid force of the BLT. To stay informed on their upcoming training and missions, visit the MEU’s website at www.22meu.usmc.mil.