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For Headquarters Company, training is continuous

21 Feb 2006 | 1st Lt. Nathan Braden

Navy Seaman Apprentice Bradley L. Jones has one good reason for getting better at handling his rifle in Iraq.

“I will protect my patients at all costs.”

Jones, 22, a hospital corpsman assigned to Regimental Combat Team 5, was among a group of 36 Marines from Headquarters Company who took the field recently to conduct live-fire enhanced marksmanship training here, Feb. 21.  They were learning to be better gunfighters.

“At Field Medical Service School we only received basic training on the M-16, just the fundamentals and the safety rules,” said Jones, from St. Louis, Mo., on his first deployment to Iraq.  “It was not the tactical, combat-type training that we learned today.” 

Marines used the range time to reassert the combat-warrior mindset. 

“The main goal of the range was to allow Marines an opportunity to reconfirm their [battle sights],” said Staff Sgt. Matthew B. Keith, 36, the company gunnery sergeant for Headquarters Company.  “But, since we had the range reserved we decided to take the opportunity for Marines to practice their Gunfighter skills.”

“Gunfighter” is the title of the company’s enhanced marksmanship training program.  The focus of the course is to prepare Marines for “the close fight,” or identifying and engaging targets within 50 meters. 

“The enemy in Iraq is not usually massed in formations out in the open,” said 1st Lt Colin Browning, 25, from Thief River Falls, Minn. and Headquarters Company’s executive officer.  “The enemy is found in back alleys and back rooms, where the Marines will only have a split-second to react upon contact.”  

One of the main elements of the Gunfighter program is the repetitive nature of the training.  The purpose of conducting drills over and over is to train Marines to respond with “muscle memory.”  Muscle memory allows a Marine to immediately launch into action in a given situation without having to stop and think about his next move.

“Operating your weapon should be like driving your car,” said Cpl. Damien P. Betrolo, 21, a radio technician and Gunfighter Instructor for RCT-5.  “A Marine should be able to remediate a malfunction as effortlessly as switching on his turning signal.  If he has to hesitate to think about what to do next, he will pause and that hesitation could cost him his life.”

At least one Marine in the company felt the training allowed him to hone skills which he doesn’t get a chance to focus on with his primary military occupational specialty.

Pfc. Daniel S. Mast, 21, a communications technician for RCT-5 was all grins coming off the range.

“We don’t get a lot of time shooting because we’re focused on communications,” said Mast, from Jackson, Mich. on his first deployment to Iraq.  “But, I feel more confident now that I’ll be able to hit what I need to.”

The marksmanship training was conducted by several noncommissioned officers from the company who underwent a “train-the-trainer” course at Camp Pendleton before the company deployed.  The idea behind the course was to prepare a cadre of Marines available to pass on their skills and knowledge in gun fighting to the rest of the company throughout the deployment.

“A headquarters company is comprised of Marines with specific occupational specialties working together to support the infantry battalions, but their basic rifleman skills cannot be ignored,” said Keith, from Houston.  “By having Gunfighter instructors within the company we are able to conduct sustainment training with Marines from the company, like we did today.”

In addition to sustained marksmanship training, the company rehearsed proper convoy tactics, including a convoy brief, loading and unloading rehearsals and actions during a security halt.  

“We could have just rolled out there and made it easy, but that would have been a missed opportunity to train,” Keith said.  “Plus, we wanted to stress to the Marines that there are no passengers in our convoys, only dismounts.”

A dismount is a Marine trained to exit a vehicle and maneuver against the enemy on foot.  Historically, dismounts are infantry Marines who ride into combat on vehicles. 

However, the situation in Iraq – where roadside ambushes are a common enemy tactic – calls for any Marine to take up the infantry role.  Marines on each Headquarters Company convoy are trained and prepared to fight their way out of an ambush by returning accurate fire and maneuvering against the enemy.  

“We learned how to exit a vehicle and set security and those are things I’ll definitely have to deal with over here,” Mast said.

Realistic training is absolutely vital in preparing Marines to go into harm’s way and the instructors from RCT-5 take a personal interest in ensuring the Marines receive quality training.

“I feel like I may have saved a Marine’s life today,” said Bertrolo, from Portland, Ore.  “If I did a good job instructing then it could make the difference between wither a Marine reacts and lives, or hesitates and dies.”

Headquarters Company is scheduled to remain deployed to the Al Anbar Province until early 2007.