3/5 raids 'ghost town' on closed Air Force base;Locale provides realism, scale of urban operations
By LCpl. Nathan J. Ferbert
| Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton | May 11, 2000
MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. --
GEORGE AIR FORCE BASE -- Leathernecks from 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, dropped the hammer on base housing here during Operation Peile Driver April 22-May 4. The operation, named after their S-3's "motivated" LCpl. Thomas Peile, involved I, K, L and Headquarters and Support companies, conducting Military Operations in Urban Terrain on this closed base near Victorville. The base was shut down about nine years ago because of base realignment, said 1stLt. Michael Ferritto, officer in charge of 3/5's MOUT package. They trained here because the base housing area is a great training ground for an entire battalion. Unlike Camp Pendleton's MOUT facility, the houses have windows, doors, complex room setups and closets in an "honest-to-goodness" town setting, Ferritto said. The purpose of the operation was to develop new standard operating procedures for 3/5 in an urban environment. One Marine summed up the training for his platoon of 21 grunts. "I think the training was really high-speed," said Sgt. Larry McConnell, 1st Platoon, K Co. "Marines need more of this type of training, because it's the type of stuff we'll face in reality. It's different than going through a cement building at Camp Pendleton; you're going through a real-life town, which is like a Third World country in an adverse environment." The battalion developed BUST, or basic urban skills training, to teach squad-level Marines while staging a battalion-level exercise. The first three days, squads of grunts learned movement, building entry and room clearing. Marines from H and S Co. practiced rear-area security, convoy operations, resupply and casualty evacuations -- tactics they would use in a real-time fight, Ferritto said. The next four days, Leathernecks built proficiency through repetition at the platoon and company levels. Marines said they enjoyed using simulated munitions -- 9 mm paintballs shot from an M4 carbine, a shorter version of the M16A2. They cleared rooms, maneuvered and shot in "tar paper houses? with plastic walls so paintballs could penetrate them just like a real round would go through a wall. After a day of planning, the battalion field exercise kicked off early May 1, encompassing everything learned the previous week. India, K and L Cos., were matched up against ?aggressors? from 3/5's 81mm Mortar Platoon and Dragon section. Mortar Platoon and the Dragons anchored themselves in the houses while I and L Cos. made combined attacks, sweeping west into the town and crossing phaselines, or terrain features, used as navigational landmarks, Ferritto said. Once the two companies gained a foothold in the town, K Co. joined the party by securing the left flank, and the battalion headquarters was established. For I Co., it was the first training since the April 8 MV-22 Osprey crash -- which killed 14 of its Marines -- in Marana, Ariz. One of its Marines described the mood of the company. "When we had those Marines, it was awesome chewing dirt with them," said LCpl. Wade P. Recker, 1st Platoon, I Co. "After Yuma, our morale was down, but getting back into training has made the morale go up. We still talk about them, the good times and how we're getting through it. Right now, training is keeping my mind off it, but I still wish they were here." Objectives included a block of houses. Marines requested to cross phaselines and clear buildings systematically to complete objectives. Once the battalion had completed the first objective and pushed back the aggressors, they consolidated and established observation posts, then waited for a night attack. They also used this time to get sleep, water and chow. During the field exercise, Leathernecks wore Multiple Intergrated Laser Engagement System gear over their 782 gear and Kevlar helmets, as well as on each weapon. Miles gear beeps when a Marine is shot, allowing H and S Co. to practice evacuating casualties to a battalion aid station and reinserting new troops to the front line. The battalion brought 20 "docs" from its BAS to practice setting up the station and treating casualties. "Injured" Marines carried a casualty card, which told docs about their wounds. Headquarters and Support Co. also resupplied grunts with water, chow and ammunition, and provided security for overtaken areas, allowing the grunts to push west. The night attack took place in the early hours of May 2 and lasted about six hours until the final area was cleared, completing the exercise. "The hardest part was the constant moving and the breakdown in communication," said Cpl. Joseph Littlebird, Weapons Platoon, K Co. "Also, when a squad gets wiped out, you only have so many bodies to set up security. New guys come in, and you have no time to build cohesion or get them spun up. It was a realistic approach to training and a real wakeup call." After the field exercise, 3/5 went back to the rear to clean weapons, treat injuries, clean up and have a battalion field meet before the majority of Marines returned to Camp Pendleton May 4. About 75 Marines will stay here to participate in Operation Metropolis with the Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory; the rest will prepare for an upcoming trip to Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Training Center in Bridgeport.