MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. -- Clouds of sand and dust billowed across the dirt roads as the harsh shadows of abandoned buildings cut the landscape like a Wild West ghost town.
The dusty breeze conjoined with the carnival of odors from colored smoke grenades as four Marines, draped in body armor, rushed from behind a derelict building, weapons in hand.
More Marines followed as they lined up and made their way from one building to another, scanning the rooftops and open windows with a careful eye, alert for anything out of the ordinary.
A single shot rang out, breaking the silence as it echoed through the buildings.
“Sniper!” screamed a squad leader as everyone took cover, attempting to determine the origin of the shot and planning their next move.
‘Bring it in!’ echoes through the town as an instructor seemingly steps out of nowhere, prepared to critique the unit’s movement through the town and their reaction to the sniper fire.
A short while later, audible gunshots rang through the halls of the various buildings as the Marines moved quickly through them, running, eyes scanning each room over the sights of their rifles. Every inch of the building was “swept” to ensure security.
“Clear, clear, clear…” echoed through the building.
They moved quickly and smoothly, until a Marine turned a corner, only to see Staff Sgt. Scott Hubbard, platoon sergeant, 3rd Platoon, A Company, 2nd Military Police Battalion, 2nd Force Service Support Group here, crouched in a corner, sighted in with his rifle.
Pop, pop, pop. The sound of rifle shots echoed through the room.
‘Got him,’ one Marine says.
Another Marine kept his rifle pointed at Hubbard as his weapon was confiscated and his hands bound behind his back.
Minutes later, the platoon gathered outside the building, listening to the instructors once again critique their performance.
“I was extremely impressed and surprised by how quickly my Marines learned,” Sgt. Donnie Hoskins, squad leader, 2nd Platoon, later said. “They were right on the money.”
The company spent three days at the combat town, learning the basics of MOUT, and applying what they learned in realistic practical-application situations.
Second Lieutenant Jason Bryant, platoon commander, 3rd Platoon, said the Marines learned and applied lessons including gaining a foothold, room clearing techniques for two, three and four-man teams, covering assigned areas, security posture in a building, communication in a MOUT environment, hasty vehicle checkpoints, urban patrolling, and cordon and search, among other basic principles of MOUT. They also learned to react to sniper fire, bomb threats and bomb detonations.
“The training focuses on continuous repetition so the movements become a familiar feeling,” he said.
MOUT, or military operations in urban terrain, training was something a number of these Marines from A Company, 2nd Military Police Battalion, 2nd Force Service Support Group here, weren’t experienced with.
Lance Cpl. David Ferri, 3rd Platoon, said, “We have a lot of experienced Marines leading us. They are teaching a lot of repetition. We keep doing it over and over again so it becomes instinctive.”
This training differs from training received before the company deployed to Operation Iraqi Freedom because their future deployments and missions may not be the same.
Last time the focus of our mission was convoy security, Bryant said. On possible deployments back to Iraq, these Marines are now more likely to be operating in an urban environment.
The ‘green side’ of the military police occupational specialty can be tasked with anything on deployment, said Cpl. Scott George, squad leader, 3rd Platoon, and an instructor during the training exercise. During OIF, the battalion spent the majority of its time guarding convoys, but they could be doing something completely different during their future deployments. The MPs are tasked with a specific mission, and oftentimes that mission is tasked to them as the situation arises, he added.
“It all depends on who we are attached to,” George said. “That is why we need to be ready for anything.”
George said it was essential for the Marines to move fluidly, and remember the basics, but they were picking it up well.
“I’m proud of them. This type of training takes months to get down.”
He added, “It’s a motivational factor. MOUT is a tough thing to learn, and there are a lot of initiative-based decisions involved.”
“The urban environment is a three-dimensional threat,” George stated, meaning the threat comes from all sides and angles.
“We need to be aware of everything at all times,” he said. “There can be no hesitation. We have to cover each other’s backs.”
Captain Joseph Groah, company commander, A Company, said he was “very pleased” with the training. “A lot of my Marines took experience they gained in Iraq and applied it to training at the combat town.”
Groah said, “Our goal with this training: to succeed in battle and ultimately come home intact.”
Despite the constantly changing weather and the intensive training, the spirits of the Marines remained high throughout the exercise.
“Everyone is really having fun out here. We are having a good time,” Lance Cpl. Paul Moore, 3rd Platoon, said.
Bryant, A prior-enlisted officer and former infantryman who moved to the MP field, added, “I am impressed with the quality of the individuals in this field. If they complained about something, we knew that something was genuinely wrong. These Marines are sleeping in the cold, and they are happy to be preparing themselves for the future. There is a high level of maturity and professionalism in the company.”
“This training was a success mostly because of the non-commissioned officer leadership and the individual Marine being excited to train,” he added.
The battalion’s mission differs from that of the Provost Marshal’s Office, according to Groah.
“There is a difference between garrison military police work and operational military police work. Second FSSG’s MP battalion is an operational military police force. Our doctrine centers around battlefield missions as opposed to law enforcement missions,” he explained.
“I just hope the concept of the MP battalion takes hold in all the Marine Expeditionary Forces, so there will be MP battalions across the board,” he added.
Second Military Police Battalion is currently the only military police battalion in the Marine Corps, according to Groah.
As the dust settles, the last puff of colored smoke drifts away from the combat town, the Marines of 2nd Military Police Battalion load trucks with the last of their gear. Dirty, sweaty, and tired, they make their way back to mainside Camp Lejeune, better prepared for what the future might hold.