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Darkhorse freshen up combat ethics

18 Jun 2006 | Cpl. Mark Sixbey

Marines in Iraq are getting back to the basics by studying combat ethics to aid in their fight against terrorism in Iraq.

Marines and sailors from Headquarters and Support Company, 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, attended a refresher class on core values and combat ethics at the Habbaniyah Chapel June 16.

The class marked the near-completion of an order issued by the Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. Michael W. Hagee who directed that all Marines receive the class.

“Right now we’re about 90 percent,” said Capt. Sean Brian Patton, the battalion’s staff judge advocate. “We have a lot of different cat-and-dog units running around in the field with a lot of stuff going on, but we will have 100 percent done by June 30th in accordance with the commandant’s guidance, but we’re not quite there yet.”

The Darkhorse battalion arrived in Iraq in January and patrolled an area near Fallujah for five months. Recently, though, the battalion moved west to Habbaniyah, which is a more volatile area with a more organized insurgency.

“We’re refreshing our skills,” said Lt. Col. Patrick G. Looney, the battalion’s commander. “This is a more dangerous area of operation, so the chances are a lot more likely we could go kinetic.”

Essentially, that means there is a greater likelihood for a shooting match in Habbaniyah. In other areas the battalion worked, they were likely to defuse situations through planned signals to show Marine intentions. Here, though, they know they face insurgents who will attack anyway. That means the Marines have to be even more vigilant to ensure civilians are safeguarded while insurgents are destroyed.

The battalion puts those skills to use nearly every day to accomplish a mission that involves not only engaging the enemy, but making allies with law-abiding Iraqis, Patton explained. To do this, Marines must not only “talk the talk, but walk the walk.

“We have a complex, multi-tiered mission, perhaps one of the most complex situations the United States has ever had to deal with,” said Patton, 31, from Allentown, Pa. “We want to lay the groundwork for the rules again to make sure all the Marines have the same baseline.”

Although the battalion has conducted several classes in Iraq regarding proper use of force, this wave of training comes at an important time as the battalion approaches the end of its seven-month deployment.

“Like we say, the most dangerous months are the first and last,” Patton said. “The first month, you don’t really know what’s going on. The last month, everybody’s thinking of home.”

The class required Marines to discuss dozens of real-life scenarios to include how to determine the presence of hostile actions or hostile intent and respond appropriately. 

The scenarios are derived from actual events, many from the Darkhorse battalion.

“I think it was very informative,” said Lance Cpl. Jason Willis, a motor transport operator with Trucks Platoon, Headquarters and Support Company. “There were a few situations that I was not aware of. Some of them I’ve seen myself or some of the other guys I know have seen them. It will help us make the right decision, because there’s still stuff going on.”

While Marines aren’t necessarily complacent toward the end, anyone who has deployed knows it’s easier to be distracted after six months in Iraq. 

“Everybody’s thinking about what they’ll be doing on leave and what their girlfriend will be wearing when they get off the plane,” Patton said. “We have to get them to snap back, make them realize they’re still in Iraq, and they still have to go outside the wire for another month.  Reinforcing these rules helps them keep their minds on their job and they still have a job to do and a lot is expected of them.”

Willis agreed.

“There’s still some time left and we need to be out there on top of our game,” said the 23-year-old from Lakeland, Fla. “We can’t get too relaxed now, especially getting so close to going home.“