PORT-AU-PRINCE, HAITI -- On the outskirts of the city, just miles from the border of the Dominican Republic, humvees and seven-ton trucks roll down a dusty, tire-grooved road, dodging goats and mules. They pass rows of makeshift farms, their boundaries distinguishable only by the cactus trees that separate one from the other.
Cutting across an arid field, the Marines stop and rapidly dismount, throwing wood, cardboard and equipment from their vehicles.
“This is it gentlemen, let’s clear this place and get to it,” booms the voice of Chief Warrant Officer - 5 Terry Walker. “And someone get those goats out of here,” he bellows, prompting two Marines to scamper up the hill and chase away a small herd of goats.
As the Marines begin to set-up man-size cardboard silhouette targets, others separate into groups for the day’s training.
“Gentlemen, as you know, if you don’t use these skills, over time they begin to atrophy,” the voice of the Marine gunner echoes over the arid landscape as he paces the range on the outskirts of Port-Au-Prince.
“Every Marine is a rifleman first and foremost,” he said.
“Many of you have had this training before, so this will only help sharpen your skills today,” he continued as the Marines from Marine Air Ground Task Force-8 gathered to receive the range safety brief, amidst sparse vegetation and empty brass casings, many of which were left behind years ago by Haiti’s now disbanded army.
Soon, gunshots began to ring out, breaking the early morning silence as the Marines fire on their targets. In unison, the Marines fire, kneel, change magazines then fire again, engaging their targets with deadly accuracy.
“The MAGTF doesn’t know where it will be tomorrow,” said the Marine gunner referring to the Marine Corps’ expeditionary nature. “But one thing is for sure, the skills they learn today will increase their survivability on the ground no matter where they are.”
This training will also help them here, where the shantytowns, narrow alleyways and cluttered streets provide scores of places for people to hide.
“This city is one giant MOUT [military operations in urban terrain] facility,” Walker said, “and this training is specifically geared toward that environment.”
Within the past four weeks, the Marines have seen little action, a sign that the Combined Joint Task Force has been able to bring security to the nation, and into the lull of operations, the Marines have been able to insert some valuable and needed training.
“It’s been awhile since I’ve been able to shoot,” said Lance Cpl. Aaron M. Crawford, 2nd Platoon, Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion 8th Marine Regiment, “so it feels good to come out here and start to hone my skills again.”
Other Marines say the smell of carbon and the practice helps them enhance their deployment.
“It almost makes me feel like I’m back in North Carolina again, just doing our usual training,” said Cpl. Daniel D. Gaunt, also from Kilo Company.
“Whenever you’re out on the range, it has that Marine Corps feeling no matter where you are in the world,” he explained.
The Marine leaders have a more serious agenda for the training.
“Anytime we do this training, it helps hone our skills for the urban environment,” said 1st Lt. Dan A. Hall, Kilo Company executive officer. “It helps the Marines build muscle memory and it makes their movements more fluid.”
According to Hall, the need for the training stems more than from the lull in the action.
“Some of these Marines have not had this training in over a year,“ he continued. “So this is a way to help them retain and refresh those skills.”
Coordinating movements between team members, being constantly aware of your surroundings and keeping control of your weapon is key to the success of the Marines while deployed here, or anywhere else in the world, according to Walker.
“A Marine needs to see the impact of his rounds and practice handling his weapon so he can adapt quickly, shoot rapidly and hit the target,” Walker explained.
Having the Marines practice moving from different positions and changing their direction of fire are all skills that are necessary when working in confined spaces.
“The skills learned today are all skills that the Marines can use in the urban environment,” said Sgt. David T. Lee, MAGTF-8’s enhanced marksmanship program instructor.
The training gave the Marines the opportunity to find their strong point, fix weak points and adjust when necessary, according to Lee.
“This gives the Marines in the regiment a chance to develop and improve their standard operationing procedures and find out what works,” Lee said.
By the day’s end the Marines took away new skills from the training.
“All the Marines got a chance to put a little something new in their toolbox,” Lee explained. “Skills that they can use here in Haiti or wherever they are deployed to next in the world.”