CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. -- Frost coats the dead, dry grass as the wind whistles around abandoned warehouses in the run-down urban area of a southeastern U.S. city. The temperature is a frigid 28 degrees, cold for the South, and all the area residents are inside.
In the distance, a low drumming builds in rhythm until suddenly, from above the trees, a UH-1N Huey helicopter swings in and an airborne sniper "silences" a guard in his outpost before he can call for reinforcements.
Special Missions, Special Operations Training Group instructors , based at the Stone Bay training area, have the distinct mission of training the tip of the spear -- Marines preparing to deploy on real-world missions around the globe.
Regardless of the mission, the instructors are here to prepare these warriors for anything that falls within their field of expertise.
The mission of Special Operations Training Group is a unique one: to provide training in amphibious operations, select maritime operations, and military operations other than war (MOOTW), in all environments from arctic to riverine, to prepare Marine Air Ground Task Forces to support the warfighting commander-in-chiefs (CINCs).
"SOTG's primary mission is the training of the Marine Expeditionary Unit's (MEU) for their Special Operations Capable (SOC) certification," said LtCol J.L. Endicott of Harrisonville, Mo., officer-in-charge of SOTG's Riverine Training Center.
As the mission continues, the heavy beating of rotors increases and three CH-46E Sea Knight helicopters appear as if by magic, over the largest building and the rotor wash sends debris flying across the empty compound like frozen shards of glass. Lines drop from the belly and aft end of the "battle phrog", and within a few seconds combat-ready Marines from a Maritime Special Purpose Force (MSPF) fast rope to the roof below. The Reconnaissance Marines are conducting a direct- action mission with the support of a battalion landing team and an air combat element of a Marine Air Ground Task Force.
The MSPF Marines form a perimeter on the roof, placing demolition charges and blowing a new entrance into the structure. Stun grenades follow the blast, dropping into the dark interior below. The Marines clear the room rapidly, as black-jacketed instructors watch their every move -- noting their mistakes, speed, effectiveness and procedures. A few minutes later, charges go off in the building below. Doors are blown off their hinges and designated shooters take out the aggressors in each room as the MSPF Marines clear the building one room at a time.
It is swift and precise to the untrained eye...but not fast enough to please the masters. The call is made and the Marines "recock" the mission and start over. They will do it again until they get it right.
As the MSPF Marines are preparing to launch another mission, other instructors are working with the sniper element secluded in other buildings of the compound.
The instructors point out ballistic targets in surrounding buildings and each sniper takes aim, waiting for the countdown that will synchronize their shots. The distance may only be a few hundred yards to the sniper's target, but it may not be a clean kill if the round must penetrate a solid wood door, causing it to tumble, changing its point of impact.
Shooting through shattered or dirty glass is also risky. Glare from the sun can throw off the shooter's aim. It is like looking into a pool of water at an object below the surface. Before training continues, the instructors ensure that each shooter knows how to overcome these difficulties.
"SOTG is responsible for the diverse special skills training conducted during what is known as the Pre-deployment Training Program (PTP) for the MEU's pre-deployment work-up," said Endicott.
SOTG's role as instructor, evaluator and exercise coordinator for any particular Marine Expeditionary Unit's Special Operations Capable certification training is not complete until the MEU successfully completes the II MEF G-7's Special Operations Capable Exercise (SOCEX), according to Endicott.
During a 180-day cycle, SOTG personnel instruct the MEU in subject matter ranging from vertical and urban assault; special shooting skills; breaching techniques; close quarters battle; urban reconnaissance and human intelligence collection techniques; small craft operations; company raids; maritime interdiction operations; and non-lethal tactics, techniques and procedures, Endicott said.
In the concluding phases of the PTP, SOTG's teaching role culminates in the execution of three major exercises. These exercises are the Maritime Special Purpose Force Interoperability Course, the Training In An Urban Environment Exercise (TRUEX) and the Amphibious Ready Group Exercise (ARGEX). Known as the "TRIEX', these three exercises offer an integrated and progressive building block approach to training and evaluating the component and combined force capabilities of the Amphibious Ready Group.
SOTG instructors know the right way to complete each mission, because they have performed identical missions numerous times and taught their skills to countless Reconnaissance Marines.