MARINE CORPS AIR GROUND COMBAT CENTER TWENTYNINE PALMS, Calif --
The Iraq that Marines and sailors of 1st Light Reconnaissance Battalion, 1st Marine Division encountered during their last deployment has changed. As they prepare to go back, those changes have found their way into training here at Mojave Viper.
“The nature of the Marine Corps has always been to adapt, improvise and overcome. You have to keep up with the situation on the ground,” said Petty Officer 1st Class Fernando A. Lebrado, a civil affairs specialist with Detachment B, Maritime Civil Affairs in Yorktown, Va. “Any combatant commander who doesn’t take civil affairs into consideration is destined to fail.”
While Marines train to assist the Iraqi government and police in establishing and maintaining a viable infrastructure, civil military operations have become the battalion’s main effort, said Maj. Jon A. Custis, the incoming executive officer for 1st LAR. “It’s important for us to remain constant professionals. Each Marine needs to understand their role in helping the civil affairs group.”
Understanding that mission isn’t unique to just the battalion’s leadership either, explained Labrada.
“1st LAR has been outstanding. They really believe in the civil affairs mission, and that’s everyone; from the commanding officer down to the most junior Marine. Some people say ‘leave civil affairs to the experts,’ but my philosophy is that even the 18-year-old Marine fresh from boot camp can positively effect the battle space by being culturally sensitive and recognizing the situations of the people he meets,” said Labrada, 42, from Miami. “The footprint that professionalism leaves will help us create a friendship with Iraq and not an insurgent recruiting pool.”
To help Marines become proficient in civil affairs, the staff at Mojave Viper has created a training package that gives the unit results of their actions in real time.
“I would compare this training to a flight simulator where if you don’t do your job right, you’re going to crash,” Labrada said. “For instance, if you don’t do well during the planning and coordination of different projects, you will see those results immediately in the village.”
Although after-action briefs can give commanders tips on their progress during the training, there is no better indication of that progress than the realistic reactions of the Iraqi population right in front of them, explained Custis, 39, from Cumberland, N.J. “The behavior and deportment of the Iraqis is very realistic. The best tool the commander has is to work closely with his linguist and pick up on even the non-verbal queues.”
No one can deny that Marines of 1st LAR have the ability to meet the challenges of combat operations. But during this deployment to Iraq later this year they will have a sharp skill set to help them assist the changing situation thanks to training here.
“As a combat veteran of (Operation Iraqi Freedom) 2, I remember a much different situation. Here at Mojave Viper the training was obviously much more kinetic,” Labrada said. “I am happy to say that the flexibility we have here allows us to take information from in theater and put it directly into the training here at Mojave Viper.”