In Rota exercise, Marines work on calming chaos
November 6, 2003
NAVAL STATION ROTA, Spain — From a remote section of this base surrounded by cotton fields, a Marine platoon is learning how to stay calm in a chaotic country.
If insurgents fire from the nearby field or a local man at the gate becomes unruly, commanders want the Marines to keep a cool head and remember to communicate.
During Tuesday’s exercise, a platoon with the Rota-based Marine Corps Security Force Company Europe was guarding a building while facing one of 21 different scenarios, from a surprise terrorist attack to a rowdy group of anti-U.S. protesters. Paint bullets are used to add realism.
“I want to see how they react,” said 1st Lt. Mark Zarnecki, 2nd Platoon commander.
Using lessons learned from operations in Liberia and Jordan, Marines are trying to improve how they protect embassies, military buildings and other structures in far-flung countries.
The company’s first-ever 24-hour exercise on Tuesday and Wednesday was aimed at testing site security and building reinforcement tactics. There is a good chance they could use the practice.
While the U.S. military fights the war on terrorism, Marine security companies are counted on to beef up security in Third World hot spots on a moment’s notice.
The unit in Rota had to do that earlier this year when tensions in civil-war torn Liberia spiraled out of control. In July, a team was sent to supplement Marine forces guarding the U.S. Embassy in the capital of Monrovia. About 55 Marines from Rota are still there.
Lance Cpl. Ricardo Orozco spent a month in Liberia in September. He said providing security in another country accustomed to war is a challenge. For example, he had to get used to many local residents carrying weapons.
“For some people, it’s common to carry an AK-47 on the streets,” he said.
“But just because they’re carrying a weapon doesn’t mean they’re a threat.”
One of the lessons learned from Liberia was that Marines had to do a better job of fighting off complacency, Zarnecki said. Commanders can take simple steps to ensure their troops are vigilant by talking to them and making sure the Marines have what they need, including food and water, he added.
Tuesday’s exercise is one in a series that will grow in length and test the discipline and reaction of the Marines.