CAMP VIRGINIA, Kuwait -- The 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable) hit the ground running when they arrived here July 7. They began training for Security and Stability Operations the next day.
The SASO training was intended to prepare MEU Marines for scheduled operations in Iraq, which will begin later this month.
"The Marines up north (in Iraq) all say in their after-action reports that SASO training was very important," said Maj. Hank D. Weede, assistant operations officer for the MEU. "We've had nothing but positive reports from the Marines coming back from this training."
The training consisted of many missions the MEU might be tasked to do while operating in Iraq. The missions include: urban patrolling and other military operations in urban terrain, immediate action drills in response to threats during mechanized and motorized convoy patrols, recognizing and dealing with improvised explosive devices, and many different live fire events to maintain each Marine's high level of proficiency in shooting their weapons.
And according to the instructors, the MEU is taking the best SASO training up to date to Iraq.
"Basically the 11th MEU has the latest and greatest training to take with them to Iraq," said Sgt. Shawn J. Izzo, an instructor from 1st Marine Division Schools. "We just updated this training about two weeks prior to coming out to teach them."
Izzo came from Camp Pendleton, Calif., to Kuwait with several instructors from the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit solely to teach SASO to the 11th MEU.
"What we're teaching them is from our personal experience and the after-action reports of the Army soldiers leaving and the Marines out there now," Izzo explained.
Some of the Marines who didn't previously participate in Operation Iraqi Freedom and SASO training aboard Camp Pendleton are absorbing the knowledge they've never been exposed to before.
"It's good training and every little bit helps more," said Cpl. Gabriel R. Cudal Jr., disbursing technician, Command Element, 11th MEU (SOC), who is also a part of the Command Element's Security Platoon. "I like it because it gets me out of (the office) and I get to learn the other aspects of being a Marine, like being a rifleman."
But aside from personal preferences, Cudal has confidence in the fundamentals laid in front of him.
"What they're teaching us is like what General Mattis said, 'brilliance in the basics,'" he said, referring to the 1st Marine Division general who recently spoke to 11th MEU troops here. "We're learning how to deal with anti-coalition forces, and we're learning the enemy's techniques, tactics and procedures."
And leaders are ensuring every bit of training is preparing their Marines.
"This training will most definitely help them out a lot," said 1st Lt. Erick G. Koob, platoon commander, Assault Amphibious Vehicle Platoon, Battalion Landing Team 1st Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, 11th MEU (SOC). "I have a 24-man team that will get to practice SASO and act as grunts."
BLT 1/4 spent approximately four months conducting SASO operations when they were previously in Iraq. They also received SASO classes in Camp Pendleton before they deployed, so they're not entirely new to SASO, but they did get to polish their skills.
"We have the basic knowledge, this is kind of like the icing on the cake," said 1st Lt. Lamar D. Breshears, platoon commander, 81mm Mortar Platoon, BLT 1/4. "It's a great refresher, and it gives us a feel for what's going on up there."
Aside from SASO training, the numerous live-fire exercises MEU Marines participated in provided a wealth of cross training and reinforced the confidence of the Marines with special weapons.
"We're building confidence with the Marines' (issued) weapons and cross training everyone with different weapons," Weede said. "We had the opportunity on ship, but it wasn't as good."
Now the Marines have had the opportunity to fire and maneuver in vehicles they might have never experienced before, instead of just shooting off the side of a ship.
"We're training infantry line companies that never have been in (mechanized vehicles) before," said Koob. "That way they have a familiarization working with mechs."
According to Koob, a good example of the training's usefulness is that during Operation Iraqi Freedom last year, his entire battalion was "mech'd up," but yet they didn't have the luxury of the extensive training that BLT 1/4 Marines are receiving now.
And in addition to the new training, some Marines are also conducting additional training in their own jobs, bringing them back into the rhythm they will need.
"We've been doing SASO for a while now. So, it's nice to do something that involves our (military occupational specialty)," said Cpl. James L. Smith, a cannoneer with Battery R, BLT 1/4, about getting to do a live fire with his unit's 155mm howitzers.
Altogether, the training has left the Marines headed into unstable Iraq with a positive outlook.
"From observing it and from the Marines coming back from it, this SASO training has been tremendous," Weede said.
And they're ready for their tour in Iraq.
"The instructors gave us exactly the type of training I asked for," said Col. A. M. Haslam, commanding officer, 11th MEU (SOC). "11th MEU Marines are more than ready to succeed in our upcoming mission in Iraq."