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Afghanistan-bound Marines sharpen warfighting skills

4 Aug 2009 | Lance Cpl. Benjamin Crilly

The Marines cautiously patrolled the improvised explosive device-laden road, knowing that every step taken could set off a lethal explosion.

The squad patrolled along a guard rail defining the left side of the cracked, well-traveled road, as a rock-scattered burm towered over the right side. Every Marine scanned for any signs of an IED.

BOOM! An explosion erupted from the burm. Two Marines down.

The Marines reacted quickly, providing security for the litter team and moving swiftly into place, dragging casualties out of the kill zone.

Fortunately, for more than 100 Marines and sailors of Headquarters Company, 7th Marine Regiment, this simulated attack was only part of the regiment’s basic pre-deployment training, July 31 - Aug. 3.

The training, dubbed “Warrior Week,” familiarized the Marines with the equipment and skills they will use while conducting mechanized, combined-arms operations and other expeditionary operations in order to support theater engagement plans and contingency operations.

After participating in a class, the Marines conducted IED patrol training. The practical application incorporated a variety of indicators and designs to give Marines the ability to locate the explosives during their upcoming and future deployments.  

“You cannot simulate the real thing,” said Staff Sgt. Daniel Rincon, the platoon sergeant for operations and training, Headquarters Company, 7th Marine Regiment. “But this is as close as you can get.”

Combat-hardened Marines trained alongside the less experienced Marines, sharing experiences and knowledge from both Afghanistan and Iraq.

“(Warrior Week) allows young Marines who have never experienced it, to get an idea of a real-life scenario and how to react if put in it,” said Rincon, 27, from Los Angeles. “(All Marines) should take this training seriously.”

With ongoing coalition operations in Afghanistan, these Marines may face both remote-control and pressure-plate IEDs, and must be able to respond accordingly.

In addition to IED training, Marines participated in a High Mobility Multi-Wheeled Vehicle Egress Assistance Trainer, known as HEAT, simulating a humvee rollover, and teaches Marines how to properly escape the disabled vehicle.

Mirroring the chassis of a humvee, the trainer showed students what a vehicle rollover would be like, and how to properly react. Each Marine completed four exits, including aiding casualties and in-water exits.

The HEAT training was a first for some of the Marines, who have actually experienced a rollover in the combat zone.

“We almost rolled into a lake in Iraq,” said 21-year-old Cpl. Jacque R. Eby, 21, an intelligence analyst with Headquarters Company, 7th Marine Regiment, who served with 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2008.  “I haven’t had this training before, and now I feel that if I were in the same situation, we would have been able to evacuate quicker.”

Following the HEAT training, the Marines and sailors completed the gas chamber portion of Warrior Week.

With the burning sensation of the crystalline gas on the back of their necks and hands, the Marines performed “don-and-clear” drills to ensure proper fit and use of their gas masks.

Staff Sgt. James D. Deselms, the chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear chief for Headquarters Company, 7th Marine Regiment, explained a gas chamber is designed to instill confidence in the protective equipment.

“While we aren’t using CBRN training as much as we were in Iraq, the threat is still there,” said Deselms, 29, from Phoenix. “It’s about being prepared (for an attack) and the confidence behind (the mask).”

The week also included live-fire weapons training with the M-16A4 service rifle, M-203 grenade launcher, AT-4 rocket launcher and fragmentation grenades.

“I would feel much more confident going into combat with these Marines knowing that they have been through Warrior Week, said Cpl. Andrew A. Richardet, the senior intelligence analyst for Headquarters Company, 7th Marine Regiment.

Regardless if this is their first or fourteenth deployment, Warrior Week enhanced the Marines’ skills to perform their respective missions in Afghanistan.

“You know, I went through Warrior Week about a month ago and for me personally I looked at it and thought ‘I have done all this in country’,” said Richardet, 22, from St. Louis, Mo., a former rifleman who has deployed twice to Iraq. “But it’s that basic class that either teaches you what deployment is going to be like, or re-teaches or reiterates what it will be like.”