11th MEU's "Dirty Dozen" prepare for real-world threats

10 Dec 2003 | GySgt. Chago Zapata

Today, more than ever, terrorism is a threat that affects American citizens around the globe. Paramilitary, criminal and terrorist attacks abroad and at home threaten our security. Al-Qaida training manuals specifically emphasize attacking moving vehicles. How many times on CNN or MSNBC have you heard about American citizens overseas getting attacked or ambushed on the road? How many of them were able to get out of a deadly situation alive? Had they made it out alive, more than likely, they would have not made the news.As America's 911 force, Marines and sailors from the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit may find themselves involved in operations all over the world. From noncombatant evacuations to humanitarian assistance to combat operations, the 11th MEU may be called upon to travel on many roads, in many different countries. As a result, they must be prepared to handle those threats confidently and effectively.Recently, twelve 11th MEU Marines attended the six-day Military Mobile Force Protection Course here at the Gryphon Group Security Solutions headquarters. The course is designed to provide students with battle-proven tactics, skill sets and techniques that reduce the effectiveness of an actual attack on the road."We (instructors and students) work together as partners for a week to make you more effective so you will survive in difficult situations," said Michael K. Vaden, instructor, chief executive officer and president of Gryphon Group Security Solutions. "We place you in the worst possible scenarios with little to no available assets in extremely beat up vehicles so you can be prepared for the worst in real-world threat environments." The course included classes such as counter ambush tactics, route planning, surveillance detection, passenger take-over drills, basic and intermediate off road driving, vehicle firearm tactics, static and moving vehicle counter ambush drills and force on force counter ambush tactics.The first hands-on part of the course started off with a full day dedicated to basic and intermediate off road driving, where students learned the basics of navigating off road in rough terrain. The Marines drove all terrain vehicles (ATVs) and sports utility vehicles, and they practiced tandem movements, brake/throttle modulation, route selection and ambush recognition techniques."The whole course was very good," said Cpl. Jeffrey S. Wiltse, radio operator, 11th MEU. "But I really enjoyed the off road part of the course because we got a chance to learn a bit more about driving in rough terrain."In addition, the 12 Marines also learned to use many different tools and common every-day items, such as karabiners, sticks and rope, to extricate vehicles bogged down in the mud."If you know the basics of how to preserve and recover a vehicle that becomes mired down in mud, snow or sand," said Theodore W. Baker Sr., instructor, Gryphon Group Security Services, "you stand a better chance of being able to use that vehicle to get you and your gear to your objective so you can accomplish your mission."The second day of the course included improvised explosive device vehicle inspections, route and pattern analysis, proactive planning, surveillance detection fundamentals, Level 1 evasive driving and vehicle dynamics. Each student had to complete the Level 1 evasive driving drill, also called counter vehicular ambush tactics, in less than 60 seconds and hit none of the cones laid out in the obstacle course. The Level 1 evasive driving skills class laid the foundation for advanced countermeasures."I definitely learned the importance of being proactive with surveillance detection and planning, but I really enjoyed the evasive driving class," said Cpl. James C. Dunning, network administrator, S-6, 11th MEU."I did some of the most intense driving I've ever done in my life," Dunning continued. "You have to put yourself in a frame of mind of how you would use the evasive driving they teach you in a real life situation."The next four long days were a whirlwind. The physically and mentally draining classes included such training as how to counter being run off the road, ramming techniques, passenger take over exercises, vehicle and firearm tactics, using a vehicle for cover and static and moving vehicle counter ambush drills and force on force counter ambush tactics.The course allowed each student, no matter how skilled or unskilled, to advance at basically the same level. It focused on the "crawl, walk, run" concept, according to Vaden.During one of the few short classroom sessions, Vaden referred to Gryphon Group's philosophy and their reason for putting their students through the most realistic possible scenarios. Citing ancient Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu: "I hear and I forget, I see and I remember, I do and I understand.""Some things just can't be simulated," explained Vaden. "Which is why we emphasize putting (students) in realistic threat environments. We put real-life stress on every Marine and allow them to find their limits and them we push them a little farther.""If you're in the worst possible scenario on a road in some far off place, you'll be able to fall back on the knowledge and tools that we give you," Vaden said. "The more you train, the more you know, and the more experience you have, the less exposed and vulnerable you'll be in a real threat situation."According to Gryphon Group Security Solutions training manual, the course is aimed at what an operator can do under stress in a highly fluid, dangerous and realistic environment. Having countless rounds of ammunition, advanced weapons and latest generation optics do not win a battle ... it's the best-trained individual with the will to win that does. "Ninety percent of what we teach is hands on at the evasive driving training site and on the live-fire range," Vaden said. "The best way to learn anything, especially if you want to survive in an operational environment, is to actually do it."According to Vaden, who served in the Marine Corps as a scout/sniper and in the Army Special Forces and who has also racked up more than 25 years experience in personal security, advanced weapons and tactics and special operations, the course is designed to keep the Marines alive for the few extra seconds or minutes it takes to get out alive."Once you graduate from this course, if you're traveling in a vehicle convoy in Iraq, for example, and get attacked or ambushed you will have the confidence and basic skill sets to get out of a situation and an improved chance to survive the encounter," said J. Brian Skelly, Gryphon Group Security Services' vice president of training and development.Lieutenant Col. Eugene N. Apicella, executive officer, 11th MEU, said it was important for the 12 command element Marines to attend the course because it would increase their ability to survive in tough situations. Also, the skills they learned would give the MEU a base of experience to train others."The most important lesson taught was the early threat detection and avoidance class and the advanced survivability skills it imparted," Apicella said. "Avoiding the threat and not being caught unaware is the best way to stay alive."

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Colonel James W. Lively
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Colonel Lively is a native of Dallas, Texas. He received his commission in 1996 through the Platoon Leaders Course program after graduating from Texas A&M University with a BA in Psychology.

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11th Marine Expeditionary Unit