A Battery hits the town

21 Aug 2000 | SSgt. Stephen Gude 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit

As soon as 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable) arrived at Pearl Harbor, Aug. 21,  Marines from the MEU's artillery battalion hit the town. 

Thing is, that town wasn't Waikiki.

Instead, the Marines from A Battery, 1st Battalion, 11th Marines arrived here to a town known less for partying and more for urban warfare.  They conducted sustainment training at the Military Operations in Urban Terrain facility here, practicing the techniques they need to stay proficient as 13th MEU(SOC)'s non-lethal force.

And what a place to practice.  One could reasonably place the MOUT town in a scenario - perhaps it was a prosperous little city at one time, as two vintage Mercedes cars sit wrecked on its main street.  Two hotels faced a "business center," but the only business going on now is being conducted by A Battery.

"We practiced room clearing, crossing rooms, entering buildings, and the sort of things we need to know to be effective as the security force," said Capt. Louis Palazzo, the battery's commanding officer.

"Clearing buildings is not really our specialty," said 30-year-old SSgt. David McColgan, a 12-year Marine from Cape May, N.J.  "But in the role we serve in the MEU, conducting this type of training helps us brush up on our skills."

In the morning, under a cloud cover interspersed with blue sky and the sun peeking through, Sgt. Erik Lew, 26, of Watsonville, Calif., took one platoon, while Cpl. Alex Quintero, a 25-year-old from El Paso, took the other.  Lew and Quintero, A Battery's MOUT instructors, began teaching methods of entry into buildings, setting up security for Marines following them into buildings, and clearing rooms.

Quintero's subjects used a two-story building that looked like an apartment complex or a school.  Even if it wasn't a school, Quintero turned it into one, showing the Marines several methods of entering through windows, which gave way to a spirited competition to see which fire team could enter the building quickest.

Techniques varied from one Marine using the heel lift to hoist the other Marines up to two Marines grasping another's boot heels and literally hurling him through the window.  The smacks of elbows and knees meeting hard concrete was clearly heard throughout the training as the Marines refined their technique and continued to enter quicker and quicker.

Comments from Quintero, platoon sergeants, squad leaders and the battery gunnery sergeant helped this refinement.

"Use the wall to help support yourself!"

"Put your weapon up!  You're supposed to be rear security!"

"Don't just run up to the wall!  Give the Marine some room."

Entrance times began at around 30 seconds, dropping to 24, then 21, then 18 and down to 15 seconds.  But Palazzo and his Marines could see that with the lowered times, form was starting to fall off.

"Speed is not as important as getting into the room correctly, ready to take whatever action necessary," Palazzo said. 

Lance Cpl. Anthony Parker, 22, from Seaside, Calif., whose fire team entered in 16 seconds, felt his fire team entered the way Quintero intended.

"I think the main purpose is getting in there with everyone ready, taking out the enemy and making sure all our Marines come out alive," he said.

"There was a little bit of pride involved in getting the fastest time," said 26-year-old Sgt. Adam Doty, a Boston native and 7-year Marine.  His team set the 15-second time.  "When we went in, my Marines had the security set and we were ready to get to it."

"They didn't look too bad," McColgan said.  "They were a little rusty, but eventually got into it and looked better as time went on."

Later, the Marines learned how to clear rooms and then went into a force-on-force, with each platoon having an opportunity to go on the offense and defense.  After the force-on-force, they went into training to provide security for a non-combatant evacuation operation or humanitarian assistance operation and techniques of crowd control.

"The Marines looked pretty good for this being the first time they've done a lot of this," Quintero said.  "And like we all know, the more you practice, the better you get."

13th Marine Expeditionary Unit