PHOENIX -- Approximately 350 Marines from the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit conducted urban training during a two-week exercise dubbed "Training in an Urban Environment" (TRUE) at various locations here, from March 1-14.
TRUE is part of a six-month training cycle for the 11th MEU to become special operations capable (SOC) qualified, in preparation for an upcoming deployment to the Western Pacific and Southwest Asia regions early this summer. During this deployment, 11th MEU will act as America’s quick reaction force to safeguard U.S. citizens and support our country’s interests abroad.
Since three-quarters of the world's population live in urban environments, it is essential that Marines conduct intense training in a wide variety of urban settings. The Phoenix area provided the 11th MEU with a realistic, unfamiliar, urban setting not available aboard Marine installations.
"I've been on several real-world urban missions during my nine months in Iraq and participated in a few during training in Camp Pendleton and every one was different,” said Cpl. Alexander J. Lemons, scout with the scout sniper platoon, Maritime Special Purpose Force (MSPF), 11th MEU. “The more we train now the better we’ll be when it's for real."
The MEU's TRUE training will focus on preparing its MSPF for and reconnaissance assets for potential direct action missions that the MEU might be called to do during its six-month deployment.
The MSPF is a team comprised of 2nd Platoon, 1st Force Reconnaissance; Security Platoon, Headquarters and Service Company, Battalion Landing Team 1st Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, who acts as Force's security element; and various other attachments such as human intelligence, combat camera, communications and explosive ordnance disposal Marines.
This type of training has been conducted since 1985 in various cities such as Los Angeles, San Diego, Atlanta, New York, New Orleans, Miami, San Francisco and here.
I Marine Expeditionary Force’s Special Operations Training Group (SOTG) hosted the training.
"The training they've been doing here is based on what they're going to see in the real world," said GySgt. Richard T. Kerkering, chief instructor, SOTG, G-7, I Marine Expeditionary Force. "We concentrated on Operation Iraqi Freedom after action reports and based our training scenarios on real world situations."
"Each training evolution, SOTG instructors put us under a microscope," Lemons explained. "They expect us to be that much better at each stage of training. They want to know that we're retaining what they’re teaching and taking it to the next level."
According to Kerkering, the mix of new and highly experienced Marines, some who have deployed up to five times, allow for a balance within the MSPF team.
"Sometimes (the instructors) have to take a step back and get back to the basics for the sake of the less experienced new guys," Kerkering explained. "It's better if they make their mistakes here during training where we can correct any problems than in the real world where there’s no room for mistakes."
All aspects of this training were coordinated with federal, state and local law enforcement agencies in the greater Phoenix area.
The Phoenix community also showed their support for the Marines. Mayor John Keegan, mayor of Peoria, donated baseball spring training tickets for the San Diego Padres and Oakland A's game. Another group donated more than 200 dozen cookies.
"The Marines are very dear to our hearts," said Debbie Smith, a marketing representative with a local title company who lives in the community. "The people of West Valley wanted to let them know that we appreciate everything they do. The cookies were just a little token of our gratitude and support."
During the exercise, Marine helicopter pilots also had an opportunity to practice urban flying and navigation techniques using altitudes approved by the Federal Aviation Administration.
"We're not used to hearing helicopters overhead at all hours of the day," said Smith. "To many of us it’s the sound of freedom."