Hollywood Aids Marines Going To Iraq;;

13 Feb 2003 | Cpl. Matthew J. Apprendi

Inside a movie studio, several hundred   Marines from 3rd Civil Affairs Group participated in Military Operations in Urban Terrain Feb. 9-12 in order to prepare for their upcoming deployment to Iraq.

Creating and fortifying a strong relationship between the people of Iraq and the U.S. presence will be their primary goal while deployed, according to Capt. Steve Coast, 3rd CAG training officer. 

With most of their civil affairs training complete, the Marines took the opportunity to polish their abilities as riflemen.

“There’s a very fine line between civil affairs and being a Marine – we have to mesh the two together to complete our mission,” Coast said. “We don’t have a choice, we could be completing civil affairs operations and all of a sudden we are taking in fire – we have to switch modes to control that threat.”

The training placed the reservists in a simulated Iraqi town that featured gas stations, taxis, houses and professional role players eating, drinking and talking to each other in full Iraqi costumes on the streets and in cafes.

“This is the most real-life training we can possibly give them (the Marines) in preparation for their deployment,” said Coast.

The CAG encompasses volunteer Marines from numerous military occupational specialties such as infantrymen, mechanics and radio operators.  This gives the CAG a wealth of background to complete humanitarian operations, according to Coast.  

“We’re a melting pot from all around the Marine Corps,” he said.

While touring through the mock village, the six-man civil affairs team approached an Iraqi woman sweeping in front of a shop.   

“We have to treat everyone as a threat – you just never know,” said Sgt. Mark Corrado, a civil affairs specialist. “This training gives us the techniques and tactics to defend ourselves if something were to go wrong.”

The Iraqi lady began with polite gestures saying “hello” and asking the Marines to come inside the shop.  With smiles on their faces, two members of the team approached the lady; other Marines provided security.

“We’re the ones going out in the community to meet with people to build a strong relationship,” said Corrado, who also works in the K-9 Division of the Passaic County Sheriff’s Department, N.J. “There could be a bridge that needs to be built for a village.  We’re going to be the ones to make that happen through the relationships we make.”

When the Marines entered the shop, not all of the Iraqis welcomed them with open arms.  Some shouted, “What are you doing here? Get out!” The Marines calmly stated they were there as friends. The situation seemed resolved, however, a man in the back of the café reached inside of his jacket pocket.    

By switching modes, the Marines deescalated that threat by throwing the man to the floor and after searching him. A pistol was found. Then they had to calm down the innocent Iraqis. 

This was just one of many scenarios the Marines coped with during the exercise. The facility, operated by Strategic Operations, boasts not only its realistic scenarios, but also its visual system that captures the training scenarios for the CAG to analyze.

“There are video cameras located all over the training site to monitor the Marines so they can evaluate their performance,” said Kit Lavell, Strategic Operations, Inc. executive vice president. “We even have the ability to zoom as far into as the trigger of a Marine’s weapon to tell if they got a round off in time to kill the enemy.”

Because of this technology, 3rd CAG is able to monitor these scenarios on tape to see what they did correct and what they need to improve upon before they start up a new scenario, Lavell explained.

“I feel real prepared going over there,” said Lance Cpl. Billy Howard, civil affairs specialist, from Florence, Ala. “Our training has eliminated anything that could be a surprise.”