Urban operations put combat engineers to the test

Urban operations put combat engineers to the test

U.S. Marine Corps Sgt Leonardo Avilagonzalez, a field radio operator with the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit, commands a formation during a noncommissioned officer (NCO) led physical training session aboard Camp Lejeune, N.C., June 3, 2014. The training was designed to build camaraderie, morale, and allow NCOs an opportunity to expand their authority within the unit. Photo by LCpl Andre Daiks.

CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. (June 12, 2014)- Incoming rounds popped and whizzed past the heads of Marines, spiking their adrenaline as they darted through streets and around buildings.

Near the war-torn town square, combat engineers braved enemy fire to measure an underpass in order to evaluate the road for vehicular traffic. Their comrades continued to engage the enemy in the streets while others watched for movement from a rooftop. After the short firefight, the opposition withdrew from the area, leaving the Marines to return to their safe house with another completed mission here, June 5.

The fallen combatants stood moments later, blue paint the only sign of their wounds.

Marines with Alpha Company, 8th Engineer Support Battalion, 2nd Marine Logistics Group spent a week training for Military Operations in Urban Terrain at the base's realistic urban training facility.

MOUT training began as a result of the high casualties sustained during fighting in World War II and Vietnam. Battles such as the siege of Stalingrad and Hue City thrust troops into vicious street-to-street battles without previous training for urban environments.

"We're just keeping ourselves combat ready," said Cpl Patrick Connelly, a fire team leader with Alpha Co. "Even as an [engineer support battalion], we can still be attached to 2nd Marine Division as combat engineers, so we're making sure we stay prepared."

The company conducted a four-day exercise at MOUT Lejeune, a facility built for the sole purpose of training service members in the proper behaviors and tactics necessary to fight in an urban environment. The facility is outfitted to support ground troops, vehicles and helicopter landings. The Marines' training started with basic movement and increased in complexity and intensity as they progressed toward the final stage of the exercise.

"Day one was a little shaky, day two was a little better and day three was significantly better," said Sgt Joseph Olson, a combat engineer with the company. "They have to push forward the whole way. They have to communicate the entire way, and they can't stop. … They're giving guided direction with tenacity."

The combat engineers began the final day of training with a patrol, which was interrupted by the discovery of a simulated improvised explosive device. Explosive ordnance disposal Marines walked the engineers through the steps of identifying IED sites and simulated the removal of an explosive device buried in a road.

With one threat neutralized and a path cleared, the Marines continued their patrol and entered the mock town. They cleared and took shelter in a building and set up security in preparation for the fight ahead. When the command finally came, the Marines donned protective masks, loaded their weapons with paint-firing ammunition and filed out the back door on their way to the next objective.

"With blanks, you never know if you get hit or if you hit someone," said Connelly, a Cleveland, Ohio, native. "[Simulated] rounds take the training to another level. People really don't care if blanks are going off, but they don't want to be shot with [simulated] rounds."

The threat of being struck by physical rounds kept the Marines more focused on tactics and cover as they suppressed enemy fire and rushed forward to the next protected spot –through a doorway or behind a wall. They moved to secure each street and building, implementing what they learned during the previous three days of training.

"It's been a culminating event," said Olson, a Detroit Lakes, Minn., native. "We had to instill violence of action. … If you're timid, you're going to freeze up, and when you freeze up everyone behind you stalls out."

The company continued MOUT operations into the afternoon honing their understanding of tactics as well as rules of engagement to ensure the training was as realistic as possible.

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