CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. -- Screams for food and water in Arabic accents, rival clans fighting over territory in a small village, and suspected terrorists nabbed for information sounds like the real deal in support of current operations in Iraq, but it happened here March 31 through April 2.
Marine Expeditionary Unit Service Support Group 11 (MSSG-11) conducted a humanitarian assistance operation and reacted to a mass casualty drill during the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit's first at-sea exercise called Expeditionary Strike Group Exercise or ESGEX, March 23 through April 3. ESGEX is part of the 11th MEU's six-month workup cycle in preparation for their final exercise to become special operations capable qualified.
This was MSSG-11's second HAO and mass casualty drill since joining the 11th MEU according to Staff Sgt. J.C. Baumer, engineer detachment platoon sergeant, MSSG-11, they're confident in their abilities.
"We got this down to a T now, it's just adjusting for terrain and civilian population," he said.
However, this was their first time coming from ship to shore and that presented different challenges.
"It was a big challenge getting off ship and manifesting everything," said Capt. Joseph M. Garaux, transportation and support detachment commander, MSSG-11.
The unit arrived outside 25 Area Combat Town, pretending it was a town in the Middle East, and set up for humanitarian aid. They processed Marines posing as locals needing assistance, but trouble started when the two village clans began to clash.
Baton against shield pounded a rhythm worthy of war drums as Marines from the non-lethal platoon, Battery R, Battalion Landing Team 1st Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, marched into the fiasco.
"As soon as they heard the pounding, they were like ..." said Sgt. Jorge L. Velasquez, showing a startled, frightened look.
The non-lethal platoon sergeant attributed the villagers' reaction to the pounding as a "real thundering presence."
Besides riot control, Marines and sailors were forced to exercise their problem solving skills in several situations.
"There was one circumstance where the villagers needed a doctor to help a pregnant woman deliver a baby, but they didn't want the Marines to carry rifles into the city," Garaux said. "So, we had to equip the Marines with pistols to escort the doctor and help the deliver the baby."
The morning of April 2, Marines and sailors awoke to an improvised explosive device going off and creating mass casualties. Even with the many hospital corpsmen and doctors on the scene, there were more critical injuries than they could handle so they called in a CH-53E "Super Stallion" helicopter to evacuate the injured from the scene. Within an hour all the "wounded" were back on the USS Belleau Wood, receiving medical attention.
Garaux stressed the difficulty presented and how his Marines were forced on numerous occasions to improvise.
"This is a very nontraditional Marine Corps exercise," he said about how the mission was different from the perceived idea of Marines on the attack. "It was a big coordinating issue getting everyone together."