Calif. Marines on Okinawa train for next Iraq mission
CAMP SCHWAB, Okinawa — Patrolling, vehicle checkpoints, security operations, searches and crowd management: These will be the majority of missions for the 3rd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment when it deploys to Iraq for the second time.
The new mission is quite different from that of invading the country almost a year ago. So Marines from Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center from Twentynine Palms, Calif., spent Thursday practicing their skills on Camp Schwab. The unit now is on Okinawa under the Unit Deployment Program.
Almost a year ago to the day, the unit first landed in Kuwait in preparation for the invasion of Iraq, said Capt. Matt Watt, assistant operations officer. The unit returned from Iraq in June, he said.
Since then, Watt said, about 70 percent of the personnel in Iraq a year ago still are with the unit, Watt said: “It’s definitely an advantage going back so soon,” Watt said. “We’ll be going back with people with a lot of experience.”
To help the other 30 percent prepare, the unit held Stability and Support Operations training Thursday.
During crowd-management training, fellow Marines role-played as upset Iraqis trying to get into the bank the Marines were protecting, Watt said. Marines in front of the bank endured the mob trying to push by them or grab their weapons — or occasionally brandishing their own.
“The biggest benefit is training on a situation they might encounter in Iraq,” said 2nd Lt. Rosendo Garza of his 2nd Platoon, Lima Company. The hardest part will be the language barrier, he said. “But we hope to mitigate that by having Marines trained in basic Arabic.”
Garza added that differentiating between those who want to harm you and those who have a legitimate complaint is difficult when trying to manage a crowd.
Lima Company’s 1st Platoon faced similar problems Thursday at an entry control point. In addition to dealing with small crowds, the Marines had to check the contents of every vehicle that tried to enter, said 1st Lt. James Freda, platoon commandeer.
“The vehicles are routed into a search point,” Freda said. “We look for contraband, weapons and improvised explosive devices. If nothing is found, they can proceed. But if we find something, then they’re brought to the detention area.”
Freda said several measures are in place to keep a vehicle from running through the checkpoint. First are obstacles that force the vehicle to follow a certain path. If the vehicle attempts to run through, road spikes snap up; if those fail, machine guns will fire, attempting to disable the vehicle. The last resort is a sniper who will shoot at the driver.
Other Marines in the unit participated in convoy operations, where they learned how to react to snipers and roadside bombs.
For one Marine who has been to Iraq, the training is helping the unit get in the right frame of mind.
“They are doing the right thing to prepare us for Iraq,” said machine gunner Lance Cpl. Caleb Wilson. “I see us doing a lot of what we’re doing here in Iraq.”
Watt couldn’t specify when the unit will leave Okinawa for Iraq but said it could be anywhere from a few weeks to more than a month.