Marines practice urban combat in 'shoothouse'
Stars and Stripes June 11, 2003
An eerie dust hangs in the air along the dark corridors of the shoothouse at Warrior Base, South Korea.
Ahead, inside small dark rooms along the corridor, armed and unarmed enemies lie in wait for the Marines who are on a mission to overtake them — ideally without getting shot.
It’s an exercise in urban warfare: “How to methodically — with limited casualties — secure a building,” explained Lt. Col. Dave Berger, battalion commander for the 3rd Battalion, 8th Marines. “It’s less a focus on blasting in.”
The training is called Military Operations on Urbanized Terrain, or MOUT, and is a response to the changing face of war, Berger said.
Recent conflicts, from Somalia to Iraq, increasingly have taken place in urban settings. In response, the U.S. military beefed up confined-space training two years ago, including MOUT training.
“It’s a very difficult and complex operation,” said Maj. Farrell Sullivan, Lima Company commander with the 3-8 Marines. “That’s why we spend as much time as possible training in urban terrain.”
It’s not always possible to get time in a shoothouse at many bases, however. “Just getting buildings to work in is difficult,” Sullivan added.
The Marines visiting Warrior Base, a few miles below North Korea, took advantage of the shoothouse there. It consists of small rooms connected by corridors with an open top for observers.
“It’s a lot more intense training,” said Cpl. Camden MacGregor, with Lima Company. “Overall, there’s so many things going on.”
The training involves a close space and restricted movement. Adding unarmed civilians to the mix kicks up the realism and intensity, he said.
“Your first instinct is to shoot,” MacGregor said. “You pretty much have to look at their hands” first to see if anyone in the room has a weapon.
“It’s not too physically challenging,” he added. “A lot of it is mental stress.”
Lance Cpl. Stephen Steele, also with Lima Company, said he prefers MOUT training to field infantry training. The shoothouse is great practice for learning to differentiate armed enemies from unarmed ones quickly.
The Marines, working in pairs or small groups, go through the building room by room.
“It’s a lot of teamwork,” Berger said. It’s also a lot of simple geometry, he added — Marines divide a space into segments and each group works to control its area of responsibility. The Marines drive any occupants into the corners, where they more easily can be watched or disarmed.
The exercise uses simunitions, ordinary weapons loaded with non-lethal projectiles similar to paintball rounds, that help make the training more realistic.
MacGregor said the shots sting and usually leave a welt. So, just like in real life, it’s much better to not get shot.
The 3-8 Marines, currently based at Camp Schwab, Okinawa, are in South Korea for a several-week combined exercise with a company of South Korean marines.