Training Combat Hunters

Training Combat Hunters

A Marine from 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment looks through a pair of binoculars as he observes role-players acting out a scenario in a mock Afghan village during the Combat Hunter course at Marine Corps Training Area Bellows, Hawaii, April 17, 2013. Marines observed different scenarios from different observation points outside of the village. Photo by LCpl Matthew Bragg.

MARINE CORPS BASE HAWAII (April 26, 2013) - Marines put their searching skills to the test during the tracking portion of the Combat Hunter course at Kahuku Training Area, April 8, 2013.

The Combat Hunter course is a program designed to teach Marines how to track targets, good or bad, by noticing differences in the environment around them.

Upon their arrival at Kahuku Training Area, 26 Marines split into three teams and received a mission brief. The objective of each team was to use their skills to track their designated target, or quarry.

"Everyone knows how to track, but we only use one tracker to locate the quarry," said Sgt Carlos E. Mendoza, a combat instructor at School of Infantry West at Camp Pendleton, Calif. "The quarry is a person of interest, and doesn't always mean you're looking for a bad guy."

The skills learned from the Combat Hunter course aren't used solely to look for enemies. The same skills are used during search and rescue missions or to locate a missing person.

The instructors participated as role-players and acted as elusive targets during the training exercise. They took a 30-minute head start, which allowed them to establish trails for the teams to track.

Spores are pieces of evidence left unintentionally by the target. After the team has examined the spore, they follow that evidence based on the facts they have gathered.

The teams started at their designated initial commencement points, or ICPs, where the first sign, or spore, was found. Marines within each team set up a 360-degree perimeter of security and investigated the details of the spore.

"The methods we teach help enhance a Marine's understanding of how to see signs or clues," Mendoza said. "They utilize that knowledge to use against their enemies."

After their ICP, one of the teams followed the evidence into the tree line and began examining spores they encountered, ranging from footprints to broken tree limbs. Each team tracked their quarries between five to seven kilometers.

"Tracking is very weather-dependent, but it's not too complicated to learn," said SSgt Eliazar Andrade, Combat Hunter range safety officer and staff noncommissioned officer in charge at School of Infantry West, Detachment Hawaii. "It's a skill that helps you in real world situations, and (one) you'll never forget."

Throughout the tracking exercise, the Marines came across several fake improvised explosive devices, and conducted proper procedures for handling them.

Good tracking skills aid Marines in finding IEDs with action indicators or disturbances in the surrounding area. Good tracking techniques and noticing action indicators, in a proven study by 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, find approximately 80 percent of IEDs.

Marines are taught three main skills throughout the Combat Hunter course: tracking, observation and profiling. These skills are the foundation of the program and teach Marines to be aware of dangers at all times, such as IEDs.

"We're helping Marines make quicker and smarter decisions when it comes to possible threats," said Capt John Dick, the officer in charge of Combat Hunter course who is with Advanced Infantry Training Battalion-West at Camp Pendleton, Calif. "The skill sets we have are unique."

At the end of the day, the Marines found their way back to the ICP where they started. Tired, sweaty and sore, they still had determined looks on their faces as they spoke with their instructors on what went right and what went wrong.

"It was tough, and we grew frustrated because we kept finding ourselves going off track from the way the spores were leading us," said Cpl Aaron Mason, who is a rifleman with 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment. "We pulled ourselves together and kept tracking till the end."

A week later the Marines began observation and profiling techniques at Marine Corps Training Area Bellows, April 17, 2013. Again, split into three teams, the Marines observed a mock Afghan village from three different observation points, taking notes of key personnel and their activities. The teams communicated with each other via radio while observing role-players in the village from a couple hundred meters. Through communications, certain villagers were given codenames such as "John Wayne" or "White Knight." 

"We want Marines to look for the baseline," said SSgt Eric Boyd, a combat instructor with AITB. "Any anomalies matter, and that's what we want the Marines to learn from these scenarios."

A baseline is a term used to describe an area where nothing out of the ordinary is occurring. In three different scenarios, the Marines noted any anomalies spotted during their observation of the role-players.

As the Marines observed the Afghan village, they grew aware of the increasingly violent scenarios and quickly assessed how each one played out in the end.

"The importance of observation is to notice what's gone missing or is out of place," Boyd said. "It's their job to be proactive, realize what's going on and make a justifiable decision."

Noticing the subtleties in any situation helped the Marines learn how to use tactics they were taught not only in combat situations, but real world situations too.

"What we teach will help the Marines in the civilian world when they're finished with their Marine Corps careers," Mendoza said. "For example, the Boston Bombings. The police found their suspects by examining the scene's baseline for anomalies. These are the kind of observations that solidify our positions as combat hunters." is the official website of the United States Marine Corps and is maintained by the Marine Corps' Division of Public Affairs.