CRAWFORDSVILLE, Ark. --
Run ragged and sleep deprived, several Marines rush through the shredded metal door, dust and debris drifting around them, the deafening blast still echoing down the halls. They lob something into a room in front of them. The doorway explodes with light and noise. Following so quickly they trample over the sparks of the flash bang, a group of Marines pepper and splatter two role-played insurgents with paint bullets before they can regain their wits.
A chorus of bangs and luminous bursts ring throughout the building as half a dozen more role players are eliminated or subdued. With the threat effectively crushed in minutes, the Marines recheck each room and search for intelligence before escorting their captives out of the building.
Once back in the classroom, several Tier 1 Group instructors critique the performance of the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit’s force reconnaissance platoon.
“Really good aggression, guys,” says one instructor. “You came in hard and fast, effectively used your flash bangs; the role players hardly had time to react.”
“You really dug your corners,” says another. “It’s awesome to see you take and use our instruction so quickly. Every time we give you some critiques, we can clearly see you applying them in the next session.”
These words came at the end of the platoon’s advanced 18-day course at T1G’s training facility in Crawfordsville, Ark., June 30.
Twenty-seven Marines completed more than 200 hours of training covering a number of different skill sets.
“For it being a multi-discipline course covering seven different disciplines, they did great,” said Rob French, the Marines’ lead instructor for the course and a former member of the Marines’ original unit, Force Reconnaissance Company, 2nd Reconnaissance Battalion. “We crammed weeks’, probably months’ worth of courses into 18 days and, despite that, they still did really well.”
The training included advanced pistol, rifle and sniper ranges; tactical on- and off-road driving; breaching techniques; close quarters combat; and personal security details. The breaching portion of the course focused on shipboard breaching to better prepare the Marines for MEU operations at sea.
Each exercise was held on T1G’s 777-acre training area, which includes multiple firing ranges, mock towns, live-fire houses, off-road tracks and sniper towers.
“We came to T1G to validate our standard operating procedures and increase our overall proficiency,” said Capt. Alex Usztics, 22nd MEU force reconnaissance platoon commander and native of Dauphin, Penn. “With a very senior platoon like ours, it can be hard to challenge them, but this staff at T1G really did it.”
The Marines’ culminating event, the best and most challenging for several in the platoon, kept the Marines training through the night, conducting back-to-back live-fire house clearings. Many of these used paint ammunition and armed role players, while some used live rounds and paper targets. Most of the drills required the Marines to use either night-vision goggles and infrared lasers or flash lights.
After receiving their mission, the platoon sergeant and team leaders briefed the Marines’ on their scheme of maneuver and the Marines headed out, either silently entering the building or breaching it with explosive charges.
Once the building was cleared, the Marines would head back and await their next scenario, usually only waiting 10 or 15 minutes. During this time, the T1G staff would reset the live-fire house, reorganize the furniture, close off rooms, create new doors and windows, replace the outer door that was blown to shreds during their breach, and position the role players or paper targets for the next drill.
“We started at 6 p.m. with modified pistol and rifle qualifications and went right into close quarters training straight through the night until after noon,” said Staff Sgt. Derek Pflugradt, force reconnaissance platoon team two leader, and native of Gower, Mo. “That was actually really good because it forced our Marines outside their comfort zones and really hammered home the procedures and techniques we’ve learned here.”
One mission early in the morning had the teams enter one house only to move to the next to find their targets, while another had them clear the house and then run in full combat gear to a mock town several hundred yards away. There, the Marines fought another role-played insurgent threat and dealt with uncooperative locals.
However, the course was not as rigid as it may seem. The T1G staff made modifications to several of their scenarios at the request of the platoon’s leadership.
“The flexibility of the T1G staff to tailor the training to our needs and shortcomings was amazing,” said Pflugradt. “If we wanted something specific or something a little different from an exercise, they’d adjust it for us. If guys requested to stay late to work on demolitions, they helped and would instruct us further on charges and demo construction into the night. The staff went above and beyond to support us and our needs.”
According to Pflugradt, the most important part of coming to this course was the chance for the Marines to refine their close quarters procedures before attending an upcoming six-week Special Operations Training Group course later in the predeployment training program.
Another benefit of the training was the staff members themselves. Most of the instructors have extensive special operations or reconnaissance experience, including Navy SEALs, Green Berets, and Marine force reconnaissance.
“We’re not just learning the Marine Corps way to do things, we’re learning the SEAL and the Army spec ops ways too,” said Pflugradt.