Marines from across the country come to Camp Lejeune, one of only three sites in the nation, to receive counter improvised explosive device training. This week on the Down East Journal, we take a trip to the Holly Ridge facility where 18 Georgia Liaison Team troops are preparing for deployment.
This story contains sounds from military training exercise and may be upsetting to some listeners.
On Wednesday, a bomb squad from Wilmington was called in to destroy an improvised explosive device found in a vacant home in Surf City. The bomb, made up of car flares, a battery pack and wine bottles containing a liquid, was detonated in a nearby field. Even though this explosive device was easily identifiable, military in hostile countries have to be on the lookout for these deadly and disfiguring devices in not so obvious places, while conducting their missions. Knowing how to maneuver in an IED laden environment can save lives and the Camp Lejeune Marine Corp Engineer School’s “defeat the device” training is teaching those vital skills to deploying troops. Operations officer LtCol Greg Marchlinski says the U.S. Marine Corp have found and cleared more than 13,000 homemade explosive devices from 2007 to 2011 in foreign countries.
“so it’s not just deal with the IED, but continue conducting your mission and your operations in that environment with an ability to reduce the effect of that weapon system on your operations.”
260,000 troops have received counter IED training at sites in California, at Twentynine Palms and Camp Pendleton and here in eastern North Carolina at Camp Lejeune. The 55 acre training lane in Holly Ridge opened in 2011 and includes two mock Afghani villages, several training ranges, and more than 2 miles of road where Marines can practice identifying potential threats while on convoy. The compound also include classrooms where Counter IED Instructor George Frick prepares Marines for what they may face in combat situations and how to appropriately respond.
“On deck right now, we have 18 with the Georgia Liaison Team that are going over to the Republic of Georgia and they’re being advisors with Georgia whenever they move into Afghanistan.”
On October 1st, I met with officials from Camp Lejeune’s Engineer School for a site tour to learn more about IED training. Around 10 am, the day started with a briefing and the team dismisses to the training lanes to implement skills learned in the classroom. During this foot patrol, the group will encounter small arms fire and multiple IEDs. Captain Dillon Baker with the Georgia Liaison Team says the two day training will be invaluable.
“These guys are in contact on a regular basis with units in country in getting the most relevant and up to date TTPs, tactics techniques and procedures that the enemies using and bringing them to this environment and getting us as much immersed as possible before we deploy. So it’s a huge confidence booster for us.”
The term “crawl, walk, run” is often heard in the training lane. It’s a metaphor describing the increasing difficulty of tasks to come. Site Lead for mobile training Craig Yohe says the Georgia Liaison Team will encounter three scenarios, the first a hoax IED.
“The purpose of the hoax IED is multi-faceted. So the first thing you have to ask yourself, a hoax IED that’s very obvious. So you have to ask yourself, as far as an enemy standpoint, what is he trying to understand about me right now? Did he just place a device in haste or is he wanting to see how I react to a device that’s out there?”
Distant machine gun and heavy artillery fire rings in the background as the 18 member unit cautiously walks along the pine tree lined road. Up ahead, one of the Marines spots an exposed orange trip wire in their path.
“back up, back up, back up…”
Once the IED is spotted, the unit immediately checks the 5 to 25 meter area around the known IED for a secondary device. With the reaction drill completed and security positions established, the exercise stops and the Marines gather for a debriefing led by Instructor Chad Graff.
“Did anybody do good 5s and 25s prior to getting down in their security positions?” Not good enough…” “Okay, well, I don’t think we ever want to say not good enough. Do we think we might have been able to identify that secondary device had we done good 5s and 25s.” “Possibly” “You get where I’m going?”
With the “crawl” stage behind them, the unit proceeds to the next training site- the “walk” stage. The Marines march quietly an eighth of a mile up the paved road to a mock village, similar to one you’d see in Afghanistan or Iraq. The uninhabited town includes stucco houses, a stoplight, parked vehicles, and signs in Arabic.
The unit searches in and around the buildings, behind concrete block walls, and a suspiciously placed market cart. A Marine, dressed in camouflage, wearing combat gear and carrying a semi-automatic rifle, signals that he’s found a laboratory inside one building. Defeat the Device branch Chief Master Sergeant James Paul says the set up inside: nitrogen fertilizer bags, beakers, hot plates, and wire simulate what a homemade explosives lab looks like and prepares Marines to identify them quickly.
“It’s not always this in depth, it’s not always this elaborate. You’ll be patrolling through an area, or you’ll be in an area where you just see something that doesn’t belong. How many Afghans need a bottle of hydrogen peroxide? The black jug with the red lid, typically that is hydrochloric acid, at least that’s the bottle it comes it comes in stock. If you see something like that, you need to understand that that is an indicator or a precursor to an HME (homemade explosive).”
After the unit identifies the homemade explosive lab, they radio the location to headquarters and move further up the road. One of the Marines is inspecting a culvert when a practice IED suddenly goes off. Playing the part, the marine pretends to be injured.
Two unit members grab his feet and vest and carry him to a safe place where they radio for evacuation. Site Lead for mobile training Craig Yohe says they encourage units to practice TTPs, tactics, techniques and procedures during the training scenarios.
“and that includes causality evacuation, that includes establishing landing zones and a whole bunch of other efforts, activating the QRF (Quick Reaction Force) to respond, to support them. So we encourage them as they begin to leave the crawl phase and enter the walk and run phase to begin to incorporate all those actions, because that’s certainly what they’ll be doing in real time.”
As their comrade is carried to safety, other Marines take security positions and look for additional threats. The second training phase now complete, the unit debriefs.
Next, is the “run” phase of training. The Marines silently walk the gravel road, away from the village scanning ditches, looking in trees, and inspecting the ground for places an IED could be buried. The unit grinds to a halt.
“you’ve got to pass that brevity code, okay? Everyone’s got to be aware of what’s going on and why we’re stopping at this point, alright?”
Today’s brevity code word is “banana.” The code is used to alert the unit to a potential threat without drawing too much attention. If there’s a dramatic shift in the unit’s actions, the enemy could detonate the IED. This stoppage is a false alarm. The team continues, cautiously forward and splits. Some patrolling the gravel road, some searching the ditch.
In this simulation, an IED explosion injures a Marine and triggers a chain of events. Reacting, some members of the team maintain their security positions, another assists the injured person, and another radios for a medevac.
Machine gun fire echoes through the woods up the road.
The last explosion is a second IED going off behind the team. A marine is lying next to the device when it detonates. Operations officer LtCol Greg Marchlinski.
“They should be sweeping up to him, and then conducting the same, so you have two casualty evacuations going on right now so one at the front end and one at the back end, and also with obviously machine gun attack at the front.”
Machine gun fire persists. Some Georgia Liaison Team members stay with the wounded, others move forward to eliminate the threat. But the medevac process is taking too long.
Now, the sound of mortar rounds add to the confusion and chaos. When the training exercise is completed, the group huddles for one last debriefing.
“I saw the Major and I think it was right here sir with the pink tape” “yeah” “he paid attention to it really heavily and then started to look around for other indicators, that’s perfect” “I didn’t find anything else, and it said wetlands or whatever, so I was like someone’s been out here to put this up.” “Certainly. But initially, it was a base line deviation. There’s no other telephone pole we’ve passed that has any tape wrapped around it.” And that’s the other thing, I saw the blue paint marking on, and I meant to say something about it.” “I saw it” “The good think is that we picked up on all those indicators.”
The Georgia Liaison Team completed their training the first week of October and have since returned to the Republic of Georgia where they’ll advise troops as they move into Afghanistan.