TWENTYNINE PALMS, Calif. – Marines with Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, swarmed the Combat Center Dec. 6 when they conducted live fire training in an urban facility, here, during their Mission Readiness Exercise.
The facility, titled Range 210, resembled an urban environment and was unique because its buildings’ walls were constructed of shock absorbent concrete. Unlike most urban training facilities, Marines were able to conduct live fire training versus firing blank ammunition.
“This is probably one of the most dynamic ranges in the Marine Corps because you can fire live rounds into buildings,” said Staff Sgt. Jeremiah Bergeron of Crestview, a platoon sergeant with Alpha Company. “This is as real as it gets because we can fire machine guns and rifles into the buildings and engage targets like we would in an actual combat environment.”
The night prior to assaulting the range, a scout sniper team inserted into the surrounding terrain to photograph the area and visually show Capt. Lonnie Wilson, Alpha commander, the battlefield. With that critical information, Wilson finished planning the assault and the company was ready to attack the following day.
Mortarmen and artillerymen were the first to destroy targets on the outskirts of the facility while a combined anti-armor team moved in to surround the town. Tanks and assault amphibious vehicles loaded with Marines arrived shortly after, and it was time for boots to hit the ground. Infantrymen poured out of the AAVs and immediately assaulted the town.
Machine gun and rifle fire filled the area as Marines maneuvered through the terrain and moved into buildings while M1A1 Abrams tanks assaulted the town.
“Tanks don’t ever move through an urban environment by themselves,” Bergeron said. “They weigh more than 40 tons but they’re very vulnerable because someone can shoot a rocket propelled grenade at them from the roof of a building or from an alleyway.”
The company moved fluidly through dozens of buildings and eliminated every target in their path. A tremendous amount of trust and confidence is put in each Marine when clearing a building with live ammunition. Whether a Marine has recently graduated The School of Infantry or has completed several combat deployments, every Marine is accountable for the safety of one another.
“It’s pretty intense being in a leadership position,” said Lance Cpl. Nick Beckham, a team leader with Alpha Co. and a native of Waynesboro, Tenn. “It’s a lot of fun being the guy leading Marines through training and combat, but at the same time it’s a lot of responsibility. I’ve already had my experience in combat from this past deployment, so I try to pass off the things I learned to the new guys in the unit who haven’t deployed yet.”
Accompanying each squad of Marines was an infantryman from 3rd Bn., 4th Marines, who recently returned from a combat deployment to Afghanistan. To ensure 1st Battalion, 7th Marines, received the most up-to-date information and training for their upcoming deployment, the infantrymen constantly evaluated tactics and decision making skills from the platoon level down to the fire team level.
“The evaluators give us things that we could improve on for every single range that we do, and also things that we’ve done well that we need to continue doing well,” Bergeron said. “This allows key individual leaders down to the fire team level to understand the good and bad things they’ve done so they don’t make the same mistake twice.”
The Marines ultimately cleared the town, and shortly after received a thorough debrief from the evaluators. The evaluators helped the Marines to the best of their ability and shared tactics that proved successful during their deployment. The company took a vast amount of knowledge away from the day of training and transitioned immediately to preparing for their next range.
The battalion is slated to continue predeployment training before deploying to Afghanistan this Spring.
Cpl. Joseph Scanlan is a journalist with the 1st Marine Division at Camp Pendleton, Calif.