CAG training gives a dramatic dose of new war realities
Stars and Stripes August 13, 2006
ARLINGTON, Va. — It had been pouring rain since 7 a.m., and the Marine reservists from the 3rd Detachment of the 4th Civil Affairs Group were soaked to the skin.
They had just endured a combined simulated mortar, sniper and suicide bombing attack Thursday morning at a mock Iraqi village located somewhere in the boonies on the vast reservation that is the Marine base at Quantico, Va.
The unit’s “losses” were grim: at least 12 dead, dozens wounded.
But their commander, Lt. Col. John Church, was giving no quarter. This was no time for wound licking.
The Civil Affairs Group — or CAG — is headed for Iraq in a few weeks, for the third time since 2003.
So, this is why this specialty training, which aims to prepare units for the changing realities of warfare, is essential.
Combat has a few basic rules for survival when things go really wrong, whether it’s in Iraq, Afghanistan or anywhere else, and it was time for Church, a veteran of Somalia, Kosovo and Iraq, to remind his team of a few of those rules.
Rule No. 1: If you have heavy firepower, use it.
“You got to get up on the gun,” Church told his detachment. “I love the M-16, I love the M-4. But I love the machine gun more. If the gunner goes down, someone’s got to get up on that gun immediately.”
The 4th CAG’s Quantico training was the culmination of several weeks’ worth of specialty training, tactical training and civil affairs requirements already completed by the unit, including more than two weeks earlier in August at Fort A.P. Hill in Virginia.
For many of the Marines in the unit, the training is covering familiar ground: Almost 60 percent of the Marines in the unit have done at least one rotation in Iraq already, according to the 4th CAG commander, Col. Mario LaPaix.
However, as the nature of the war in Iraq has changed, so too have the intensity and nature of the Marine Corps’ pre-deployment training, said Gunnery Sgt. James Keefer, Team Two team chief for the CAG’s 3rd Detachment and veteran of a seven-month Iraq deployment between 2004 and 2005.
In addition to the usual combat preparations, his Marines “are actually receiving training they’ve never received before,” such as Thursday’s village simulation and intensive language instruction, said Keefer, 46, who is foreman of a water and sewer main excavation crew in his civilian job.
The improved preparation is essential, said Capt. Charece Martin, 33, a financial adviser for Merrill Lynch who is preparing for her second deployment to Iraq with the 4th CAG.
The training “is definitely more intense, but we need it,” said Martin, who is the executive officer for the 4th CAG’s 3rd detachment. “We need to get our minds set for anything.”
Her first deployment, as a casualty officer for an aviation unit, “was pretty peaceful,” Martin said.
Now the situation is different, she said.
“The fact is we are going to see some pretty ugly things.”
Having such a large proportion of experienced veterans in the unit is a great advantage, LaPaix said.
The veterans “teach the [younger] Marines what to expect, help them understand what they are really going to see there,” LaPaix said.
One of those experienced veterans is Marine Cpl. Scott Spaulding, 22, whose first tour with the 4th CAG, from September 2004 to March 2005, took him to Fallujah.
Because of his on-the-ground experience, Spaulding spent much of his time at Quantico and at Fort A.P. Hill working as a role player.
As the unit’s pre-deployment training has progressed, the newer Marines “are clearly getting better at it,” Spaulding said.
At first, he said, “They come in very aggressively, which is to be expected, because that’s part of what we teach when [Marines] teach the traditional basics” at boot camp.
But since the civil affairs mission is outreach to the general population, the unit’s Marines “need to be able to build relationships” with the local Iraqis they will be associating with, he said.
At Quantico, Spaulding said, he sees the younger Marines now looking “more relaxed, but alert.”
“They come in [to mock villages] with a friendly face, so they don’t raise the hairs on the back of people’s necks, and that’s important,” Spaulding said.