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1st FSSG units stressing vigilance against explosive convoy threats in Iraq

27 Feb 2004 | Lance Cpl. Samuel Bard Valliere

With an increase in improvised explosive devices being used by insurgents in Iraq against American convoys, the 1st Force Service Support Group is squeezing in some last-minute training to spin up Marines before they roll out.

Units in the 1st FSSG, whose main mission will be to deliver supplies to the I Marine Expeditionary Force in Iraq, are sending some of their Marines and sailors through a daylong course at a training area in Kuwait to prepare them for the dangers of convoying through Iraq.

"The biggest threat right now," according to explosive ordnance disposal technicians of the Group's 7th Engineer Support Battalion, is homemade bombs fashioned to take out American troops, among others.

The bombs, which turn up daily, are creatively made and hidden. Some are placed in piles of garbage on the side of the road and even in animal carcasses. In some instances, vehicles laden with explosives have attempted to swerve into military convoys, said the Marine EOD techs, who have regularly talked with Army units returning from Iraq in order to learn the latest enemy tactics.

With the threat so random, training isn't so much about tactics as it is reminding Marines to stay on their toes.

Identifying and reacting to the improvised explosives requires quick thinking and split-second decisions, said 1st Lt. Scott T. Sturrock, a platoon commander with 2nd Militaty Police Battalion, based in Camp Lejeune, N.C., whose Marines partook in the training Feb. 26, 2004.

The Marine Corps doesn't have a standard doctrine regulating reactions to convoy attacks; each unit develops their own procedures based on their mission. For 1st FSSG, it's getting the supplies through.

Using a three-mile stretch of road and firing machine guns at targets placed intermittently along the desert track, the Marines also trained both day and night, using night-vision goggles, to engage targets while on the move. This teaches the Marines how to squelch an enemy attack without stopping a convoy.

Here, 1st FSSG Marines get in what training they can at their staging areas in Kuwait. Troops allot time to rehearse their ambush reaction tactics, whether or not they actually have vehicles to use. Some resourceful leaders are simply tracing vehicles outlines in the sand and telling their Marines to use their imaginations.

"In this operation, convoy security is our biggest challenge," said Capt. Chad W. Darnell, 29, commanding officer of C Company, 8th Engineer Support Battalion, who Marines also trained Feb. 26.

The 1st FSSG will make up approximately a fifth of the 25,000 Marines and sailors under the command of I MEF deploying to Iraq in the coming weeks. The Marines are scheduled to relieve Army units west of Baghdad and to conduct security and stability operations while the new Iraqi government grows.

Perhaps the best weapon against convoy ambushes, and maybe the most unlikely, is simply looking prepared, said Sturrock. He teaches his Marines to look and act professional, so Iraqis will see them as a serious force.

"If you keep up a good appearance, your chances of getting hit decrease," said Sturrock.
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