MARINE CORPS AIR GROUND COMBAT CENTER TWENTYNINE PALMS, Calif -- 2008) -- Mojave Viper has been known for years as the premier pre-deployment desert training for U.S. Marines who deploy to Iraq.
Iraqi role players here have been responsible for much of the success. They constantly test Marines on the Iraqi culture and language to assure their progress in the war-torn country.
However, that wasn't as helpful for the Marines of 2nd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, who are scheduled to deploy to Afghanistan this spring.
So the training called for a change of face.
Mojave Viper recently added Afghan role players into training scenarios for the battalion, whose biggest challenge will most likely be the language barrier between Marines and Afghans.
“You cannot match the realism of having actual Afghans,” said 2nd Lt. Arthur E. Karrel, a platoon commander with Company F, 2/7.
There were "street vendors" serving flatbread, community members arguing and Afghan National Police patrolling the area.
Some Marines got lost in the scenarios.
“There were times that I had to snap out of it and tell myself I was in California,” said Lance Cpl. Phillip J. Smedley, 26, a motor transport operator from Stevensville, Mich.
Role players just wanted to provide the most realistic experience possible. They said it was the least they could do because the Marines deploy to defend America and Afghanistan.
“The way I see it, the role players help (Marines) to understand our culture and our people,” said Amiri Muhammad, 20, an Afghan role player.
Marines who have deployed to Iraq said the cultural differences between Iraqis and Afghans won't get in the way of their duties.
The cultures may seem to be similar, in the eyes of Sgt. Luis A. Espinoza, a squad leader with Company F, "because our mission is almost the same.” The language barrier will be the biggest challenge for Espinoza and other veterans of Iraq deployments.
“When I went to Iraq, I could almost hold a conversation [in Arabic]," said Espinosa, 33, from Houston, Texas. "Now I have to learn the new language, which is Pashto; [it's] a challenge, but a challenge I’m willing to take if I can help some people.”
Marine commanders have no doubt in their troops' abilities.
“Once we get in country, knowing that they’ve worked with Afghans before will be a huge boost of confidence,” said Karell, 29, of Arlington, Va.
Now that 2/7 Marines have finished Mojave Viper, they will become the first battalion-sized Marine unit to support the Afghan National Police in Afghanistan.