During 2003 while we were pre-staged in Kuwait (LSA-7 – Camp Coyote), waiting for the order to attack into Iraq, our CADRE, which had grown to about 30 instructors, trained the some other Company’s in 1/7 in presentation drills and CQB tactics by using tape houses (using engineer tape). Animal Company Marines on multiple occasions during the invasion showed they were superior marksman.
For instance: while traveling along the Diyala River just outside of Baghdad I watched one of our Sgts shoot a bad-guy (RPG-7 gunner) from a moving AAV (Amphibious Assault Vehicle) with a pair (two shots) the chest to save the AAVs in front of us.
In an other situation, while on a night patrol in Baghdad two Corporals squared off on a bad-guy who was rolling up on the patrol in the dark (we had night vision) with an AK-47. I was rolling with a Sergeant First Class from 5th Special Forces Group when we heard: Bang Bang, pause Bang.
He looked at me and said, “that sounded like a failure drill on a range.” It did. We found out later that actually two Corporals shot at the same time and it sounded like they were one. Each Corporal shot him twice in the upper torso, but one of them actually hit him with a brain shot as he was falling; amazing (FYI they were using PEQ-4s – laser designators).
I was once asked about being concerned with such a young company in combat; the answer was no – I knew how good these young kids were. I knew they had my back. During the invasion I had one LCpl that his job was to watch me anytime I engaged in conversation with locals.
While in An Najaf Iraq I had a PSD (Personal Security detail) of six Marines and one Corpsman. Again, I was never concerned for my safety, because I knew they were well trained. My PSD proved to be as good as I thought on multiple occasions: four of us cleared an entire hospital after a bombing, another time we went toe to toe with Al Sadr’s militia, and another time we took down a crazy man who tried to hide in a home, etc. They never once disappointed me.
Note: When we had any downtime or before an operation you would see Marines doing weapons presentation drills (weapon malfunctions, speed reloading, etc) and working tactics.
The Imam Ali Mosque Bombing (29 Aug 2003) in An Najaf Iraq was an outstanding example of how well trained troops can operate under extremely adverse conditions with little to no direction; and always made the right decision(s). Nine of us controlled an extremely hostile situation against literally hundreds of pissed off Iraqis while it took hours to get us the full amount of reinforcements needed.
In Animal Co 1/7 we started training Marines to think on their own. We started giving commander’s intent only and letting the Marines roll with it. We developed leaders. I have witnessed Staff NCOs with much less leadership than our 18-year-old Lance Corporals in Animal Company had. We watched these Marines mature at the rapid rate. We went to Iraq with a bunch of kids and returned with a bunch of extremely mature men.
Part 5: 2nd BTO Company – Savannah (2004-2007)
My friend from SOTG told me, “well, that may have worked in the grunts, but it will never happen in the Reserves, let alone a support unit in the Reserves.”
When I arrived in Savannah the Marines of 2nd Beach and Terminal Operations (BTO) Company appeared to be proficient at their MOSs, but I had no idea. About one month after I arrived we had a new I-I (Inspector Instructor – the commander of the active duty Marines) check-in and I explained to him that I could train a combat CADRE which would have little impact on MOS training; he agreed.
We anticipated deploying the Company to Iraq; therefore we needed to provide them with good relevant combat training.
I asked for three Non-Commissioned Officers (NCO) per platoon (15 Marines). When we started training I had 12 Marines; mostly Corporals and a few Lance Cpls. I trained them for two hours each drill weekend (once a month) for about six months. We trained in weapons presentation drills and CQB tactics.
After six months the CADRE and we started training the whole Company for two hours per weekend for a few months; dry practice training only. After about nine months of dry training we stared live firing at the 1st Ranger Battalion’s Combat range (our reserve center was on Hunter Army Airfield (HAAF)). Over the next 27 months the Savannah Marines would fire 90% on the Battalion’s ammunition.
These Marines were highly proficient at close range combat shooting. The Rangers allowed us access to their Kill House and that is were we stared out training in tactics. One weekend the Company conducted a raid on an old headquarters building on HAAF and then used the building for their own headquarters to conduct MOS training. I was honestly proud, but amazed at how well these reserve Marines took down that building; using IBT to perfection.
One time after two squads of BTO Marines that had just returned from Iraq we actually conducted a helo raid from army Blackhawks on the 1st Ranger Battalion Kill-House on Hunter AAF.
We deployed many Marines over the three years I was there. I often received messages from Iraq about how confident and mature these Marines were. I am sure they were more confident at their MOSs because they were such outstanding riflemen.
Ask for help; I did – and still do.
I could not have succeeded if not for the I-I staff members, the Reserve Marines that volunteered extra time to train and learned to assist me, the warriors of 1st Ranger Battalion who provided their kill house, range, and a plethora of other things, the EOD techs for Beaufort Marine Corps Air Station, and some former grunts that where in the BTO company.
Part 6: VMAQ-4 (Marine Tactical Electronic Warfare Squadron 4) (2007-2010)
When I was departing Savannah and headed to Cherry Point NC my friend form SOTG said; “well, it may have worked in the grunts and in a reserves support unit, but there is no way you will ever be able to do it in the Airwing.”
When I checked-in to Q-4, the unit was preparing to deploy to Al Asad air base in Iraq; they were very busy. Our unit would be required to respond to any threats to our aircraft or our SCIF (sensitive stuff). I spoke with the Commanding Officer about training our QRF and he said, “convince the MO (Maintenance Officer – aka AMO) and you can do anything you want. I spoke with the MO and he said give me a plan that will not impact operations and we can start right away.
Here is what we did. We took only a handful of Marines from Maintenance, the rest were from our headquarters section and our intel types (Intel and SigInt). We started with 12 Marines. We would meet from 12:00-14:00 every Monday for training of the “Q-4 QRF CADRE”. The first Monday was an absolute disaster; missing gear, late from the armory, etc. All I did was tell them DO NOT let this happen again and I left. The next Monday we went over how to properly wear our combat gear. I then taught them weapons presentation drills with the M16A4 and Combat Optics. As the weeks went on we also trained with M9 handguns and I taught them how to transition from one weapon the other.
After about two months of training the CADRE was looking good. We started training tactics. Immediate action drills, building clearing, room clearing, etc. One great advantage we had, in Iraq, was that we could train in the actual areas we were required to protect or retake – if needed.
We ran out of time to train the squadron Marines before we deployed. Therefore we had to hit the ground running when we landed at Al Asad (2008). The CADRE and I assessed the situation and came up with our plans, which were to be presented to the base command with in 10 days.
There were a few days of turnover time; with both units on deck (ours and the unit we were replacing). Anyone who knows anything about marksmanship knows that you should re-zero your weapon sights as soon as you arrive in theater. We took this opportunity not only zero but to get some live fire weapons presentation drills in. We slowly grew our QRF in size to about 40 Marines; a big QRF by other squadrons’ standards.
A handful of Marines stepped up and started leading the CADRE. Our best instructors were my SSgt admin chief, one of his clerks (a Cpl), a female SigInt SSgt and an aviation operations SSgt. We decided we needed to make this training more formal. We created a six-day syllabus; mornings only except for Saturdays when we live fired – day and night.
The first five days we would teach weapons presentation drills and tactics; dry practice training only. We trained right outside out HQ compound. I painted targets on the Hesco barriers; that did not thrill some people. Our squadron fired about 80,000 rounds of 9mm and 5.56mm ammunition. We also ran pistol qualifications for any squadron Marine that needed to qualify and even wanted if they just wanted to qual. We conducted five live fires; always piggybacking with another unit. We did not have the required assets needed to run the live fire range on Al Asad.
When we returned to Cherry Point NC we continued to grow our QRF and CADRE. This time there was an incentive of being on our QRF. I convinced the armory Marines to issue all of our QRF Marines M4s and M9s. Now they could look cool; and they ate it up. We sent a few Marines over to Camp Lejeune to learn Machine-gunning and some went over to Scout Sniper school for a day of shooting from the 1,000 yard line. We found ways to expose these Marines to the guys we would be supporting on the ground; which helps us all.
When we returned to Al Asad (2009) we started a QRF course. Over the next seven months our CADRE trained over 500 Marines, sailors, soldiers, and even airmen in QRF techniques; always ending with a live fire. I believe our squadron fired all of the airwings ammo and we receive a lot of ammo from Grunt units that were leaving country. We fired almost 400,000 rounds in seven months. We conducted a live fire every 14 days; on our maintenance day. We cross-trained on the range with an MTT (Military Training Team) for the local Iraqi Brigade, 1st Battalion 8th Marines, 3rd Battalion 3rd Marines, and others.
We even ran a live fire specifically for the aircrews. In three phase.
1. Annual, pistol qual. After qual, they learned combat handgun drills.
2. The aircrews were simulating having ejected, therefore they wore their G-Suits and we had them fight backwards; away from the targets (the simulated enemy).
3. We then had a foreign weapons familiarization shoot for the with: AK47, AKM, AKMS, etc.
One day a large PSD (Regimental Commander’s – personal security detail) rolled up on the range and needed to test fire their weapons before they departed outside the wire. Their comments were the typical Grunt on POG crap. BUT, once they saw our CADRE in action they shut the hell up. I purposely used the CADRE, not our students, because I wanted the Grunts to see the monsters we created; we called them the “CADRE.”
During our 2009 deployment our CADRE assisted in the teaching of the female Marines and sailors going to the “Lioness” program. The lionesses where trained to work with the infantry at the their Entry Control Points; mainly for searching females. They also assisted during humanitarian operations for female on female interactions. They did what ever was needed; and did it well. Our CADRE was so impressive; our chief instructor (female SSgt) was absorbed into the program as their Staff Noncommissioned Officer in Charge; traveling all over Iraq checking up on the lioness teams.
Although I ran all of the live fire ranges on our 2009 deployment to Iraq, our CADRE taught all of the classes. They became experts at teaching novices combat tactics and shooting. Our top combat instructor was a female SSgt from SigInt; how about that. You see, I do not care where you come from, what you look like, what sex you are, or what religion you are – all that matters is your can do your job.
Over the three years I was the Squadron SgtMaj for VMAQ-4 I observed the QRF, but more the CADRE, Marines become better leaders in their MOS and out; due to the maturity gained from leading riflemen. Being excellent riflemen matured them at a more rapid rate than their peers.
Note: One of our GySgts (an engine mech) led a PTT (Police Transition Team) while were deployed on 2009. He was a great rifleman and a great leader. How do I know? Because he was my patrol leader on the last combat patrol; how is that for trusting a POG (actually a rifleman)?
Part 7: WTBN (2010-2013)
During 2010 I transferred to Quantico Virginia for duty as the Battalion SgtMaj for Weapons Training Battalion (WTBN). I ran two weapons presentation courses (marksmanship only) while there. I had no CADRE so I taught all of the classes with one Cpl, who had been thrown off the USMC pistol team, helped me with safety and reinforcing my classes. I trained them on the range for eight hours a day with no ammunition; until the last day. Dry training only.
The students hated me. BUT, on Friday we took 50 shooters who had never trained like this, together, and went hog wild. Our students consisted of grunts, combat marksmanship coaches, ammunition technicians, admin clerks, motor transport, military police, navy corpsman, and army CID; how is that for diversity?
Our live fire drills went flawlessly, because, the students had conducted all the drills so many times dry, they was now ingrained in the brain-housing groups. We were even doing live fire Australian peels; which even most grunts will never do. People are scared of others shooting from 10 feet behind them, while their team is bounding backwards. I knew we could do it safely because we practiced them so many times; DRY. The students told me they never knew how valuable dry practice was until this course.
In sum, the saying is “every Marines is a rifleman” not “every Marine is an Infantryman.” Commanders should ask for help when needed. I am a retired grunt with over 30 years of service and I would never teach machinegun class; there are thousands of Marines that can teach MG classes better than I, therefore I would ask a grunt PFC to help me. Training all of your Marines to be riflemen makes them more confident at everything else they do. It is the job of the commanding officer to ensure his or her Marines are trained as riflemen; without excuses. And, if the senior enlisted members are not backing up a training plan for the Marines; he or she is part of the problem.
Just do it. Nike. No more excuses.
Think about that………
US DoD photo: Marines hike up Ulupau Crater to Range 10 on Marine Corps Base Hawaii, April 8, 2015. The Marines are scouts and snipers assigned to Sniper Platoon, 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment. The training was a departure from their usual flat-level or slight-elevation ranges.