MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. --
Marines are constantly training to prepare for when they deploy, and as the focus continues to steer toward the fight in Afghanistan, the Corps continues to adjust its training curriculum to prepare Marines for a different kind of enemy – one who isn't afraid to fight back.
"The Afghan fighter is something to be reckoned with," said Maj. Steven W. Hodge, Tactical Readiness and Training officer for G-3, 1st Marine Logistics Group. "We know that the enemy in Afghanistan is organized. They're prepared to fight, and they don't run. You have to fight them off."
For a Marine to be considered ready to deploy, he or she first has to first complete Blocks One, Two and Three of the Pre-Deployment Training Plan. Block One includes annual requirements such as the physical fitness test, rifle range, gas chamber, swim qualification, and Professional Military Education classes on counseling, equal opportunity, substance abuse and sexually-transmitted diseases.
To speed up the process of getting Marines through Blocks One and Two, Combat Logistics Regiment 17 has created a consolidated training plan that allows Marines to complete each block in two-week increments.
"We've developed the training in two-week packages, so Block One will be done in conjunction with the rifle range," said Capt. Alexis Sanchez, S-3 training officer for CLR-17, 1st MLG, 31, from Paterson, N.J.
Marines during Grass Week generally have classes and "snap-in" time in the morning; after which, they are usually released for the day. Under the new plan, Marines will be able to take advantage of the extra time the Friday before firing week by completing swim qualification in the morning and the gas chamber in the afternoon. The new plan went into effect starting with the first CLR-17 range detail for Fiscal Year 2010.
Block Two includes training specific to Operations Enduring and Iraqi Freedom, such as the week-long Enhanced Combat Skills course, a revamped training course tailored to Afghanistan that replaced the Rear Area Security course earlier this year. During the ECS course, Marines receive classes on combat orders, hand and arm signals and patrolling. The course also includes a 24-hour field exercise.
Block Two also includes culture awareness classes given by the Center for Advanced Operational Culture Learning, the Humvee Egress Assistance Trainer, and Table three of the Combat Marksmanship Program, which teaches unknown distance day and night shooting. HEAT classes teach Marines how to respond during a Humvee roll-over by learning immediate action skills through the help of a Humvee roll-over simulator.
Block Two training has also been condensed so the CAOCL, HEAT, ECS and CMP courses – or CHEC – can all be completed in a two-week period.
"You 'CHEC' your PTP, and you're going to get a majority of your Block Two PTP requirements complete," said Hodge, 41, from Oklahoma City, Okla.
Block Three is the "culmination" of training that units conduct about a month or two before deploying, which Marines generally complete during Enhanced Mojave Viper, a month-long field exercise that takes place at Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, Calif. During EMV, Marines may be "graded" on how well they perform in various scenarios, which determines their level of combat-readiness, according to Sanchez.
New battlefield, new enemy
Marines who have deployed to Iraq after 2004 'will not recognize' what they're going to see in Afghanistan when they deploy, as the enemy uses different tactics, and Afghanistan is a very "austere environment," said Brig. Gen. Charles L. Hudson, commanding general of 1st MLG.
Taking lessons learned from Afghanistan, leaders took a 'hard look' at the enemy tactics, techniques and procedures to come up with a new training program that would prepare Marines for an enemy that is completely different from the enemy in Iraq.
"It's a different battlefield," said Hodge. "We oriented more on things like convoy operations, immediate action drills, patrolling – those kinds of things. We upped the ante on that in ECS."
Unlike in Iraq when an insurgent is known to shoot and run, the enemy in Afghanistan isn't backing down so easily.
"This is not Iraq," said Sanchez. "You have to be prepared that people are not just going to shoot [at] you and leave."
Adapting to the enemy
In addition to tailoring the Enhanced Combat Skills course to focus on Afghanistan, 1st MLG is also developing another weeklong course called the Combat Patrol Leaders course. The course is targeted for sergeants, staff sergeants and junior officers, said Hodge.
"It is oriented on giving the combat logistics patrol leaders the tools they need to operate their patrol outside the wire in Afghanistan," said Hodge of the class that will accommodate 20 students.
The course will include classroom instruction on what they can expect to see on the battlefield, how to spot improvised explosive devices, and how to react. Marines will also get to go through the base's convoy trainer at Las Pulgas, a convoy simulator that allows Marines to go through realistic scenarios that they'll encounter in Afghanistan.
"[Insurgents in Afghanistan are] doing things a little bit smarter than the Iraqis did, and it's not just one IED we have to worry about," explained Hodge. "They'll place several IEDs in one area and cover it with small-arms fire, and fight, and have the ability to reinforce."
The first unit to go through the course will most likely be either Combat Logistics Battalion 5 or 1st Maintenance Battalion, according to Hodge. The first Combat Patrol Leaders course is slated for November or December.
Whatever the training, Marines should prepare themselves for Afghanistan by taking the training seriously, whether it be swim qual or the rifle range.
"We can't afford to be complacent," said Gen. Hudson. "[Afghanistan is] a dangerous environment. The more you practice performing your mission, the easier it will be when it comes time to execute."