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Down to the wire: Hawaii-based Marines conduct training before heading to Iraq

13 Mar 2006 | Sgt. Monroe F. Seigle

Just days before boarding planes and saying final ‘good-byes’ to family members, Marines from the Hawaii-based 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, also known as “America’s Battalion,” conducted life-saving combat training to further prepare them for deployment to Iraq.The Marines, who will spend the next seven months operating with and training Iraqi soldiers to eventually conduct operations independently, spent a day practicing Tactical Recovery of Aircraft and Personnel, or “T.R.A.P.,” training March 8. In Iraq, the battalion will be operating in western Al Anbar Province, near the Syrian border, which was a hotbed of insurgent activity until Marines from Camp Lejeune, N.C., spent months clearing the region of anti-Iraqi forces.The Marines from Hawaii plan on keeping it that way, and have prepared for even the most unexpected of combat-related situations, such as rescuing friendly forces whose aircraft goes down. “We are going to be responsible for T.R.A.P. missions that might come up (in Iraq),” said Pfc. David Hughes, a T.O.W. gunner (tube-launched, optically-tracked, wire-guided missile system) with the battalion’s Weapons Co. “We can use this training to save the life of anyone that is lost in Iraq and needs to be evacuated.” The T.R.A.P. mission gained Corps-wide attention after Marines with the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit, Special Operations Capable, or MEU (SOC), was able to rescue Air Force Capt. Scott O’Grady in June, 1995. O’Grady’s F-16 fighter jet was shot down over Bosnia and he was forced to hide for six days before being able to make radio contact with friendly units. A Marine Corps T.R.A.P. contingent was deployed an hour after receiving orders, and successfully rescued O’Grady from hostile territory.The training is designed to practice the recovery of missing personnel, such as a downed pilot, in a combat situation. Part of a T.R.A.P. team is used to provide security in an established landing zone, while the other half conducts the actual search and rescue mission. The Marines’ training mission March 8 was to locate a downed helicopter pilot off the Marines’ base here. In the scenario, the pilot was located away from where his helicopter crashed, and the Marines had to quickly locate and rescue the pilot before being detected by simulated enemy forces.“The T.R.A.P. mission today enabled the Marines to utilize other infantry training in conjunction with rescuing the downed pilot,” said Staff Sgt. Jason Veach, platoon sergeant for the Mobile Assault Platoon in Weapons Company. “Many things can go wrong in a mission like this one, so the Marines must be prepared for anything.” In January, the Marines from “America’s Battalion” endured grueling field training to include patrolling exercises, where Marines searched hostile terrain for enemy forces. In addition to training to save lives, the pre-deployment T.R.A.P. training also gave the Marines some time to tighten up their “contact drills” – reactionary drills, an exercise where the Marines must quickly get into an offensive position and return fire against an aggressor. The faster they react to a potential life or death situation in Iraq, the better their chances for survival, as well as that of the person they are rescuing on a T.R.A.P. mission. “A T.R.A.P. training mission is one that practice makes perfect,” said Veach. “Repetitive action builds confidence in all the Marines.” When the Marines landed in the training area, they quickly moved into an abandoned building and located the pilot. Once they located the pilot, the Marines evaluated his condition and quickly moved him out of hostile territory. Petty Officer 2nd Class James Wright, a Navy hospital corpsman attached to Weapons Company, said the primary assessment of the patient should only take two minutes because the situation can become hostile. “I have stressed to the Marines they always need to remember ‘life over limb,’” said Wright, who added that communication is vital to these types of operations. “Sometimes I might not even need to assist the person being rescued, but if he does, the more I know about him the better I can assist him.” Hughes, who is one of more than 23,000 Marines and sailors deploying to Iraq with the Camp Pendleton, Calif.-based I Marine Expeditionary Force, has conducted several mock T.R.A.P. missions and believes the training could make the difference between a successful, life-saving rescue, and a disastrous, unsuccessful mission. “We can see what mistakes we are making and correct them before we go to combat,” said Hughes. “This is also a chance for some of the new guys to step up and take charge while the non-commissioned officers evaluate them.”The battalion’s deployment to Iraq is part of a regularly scheduled rotation of U.S. forces in Al Anbar province. More than 30,000 Marine and sailors of the Camp Pendleton, Calif.-based I Marine Expeditionary Force are replacing the Camp Lejeune, N.C.-based II MEF.