Camp Pendleton, Calif. -- The Marines of Force Reconnaissance Platoon, 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit, fired more than 10,000 rounds of ammunition during the first few weeks of Close Quarters Battle training here.
Thousands of round casings covered the ground at Special Operations Training Group's CQB range as 21 Marines and a Navy corpsman from the platoon along with four Explosive Ordnance Disposal specialists from MEU Service Support Group 11 squared-off against cardboard targets and honed their skills in preparation for their upcoming deployment with 11th MEU.
On August 21, the platoon was added to a growing list of 11th MEU units commanded by Col. Charles S. Patton. The CQB course marks the platoon's first training event during the six-month work-up evolution in which all major subordinate elements of the MEU work to become Special Operations Capable.
The MEU earns its SOC qualification after successfully completing several missions it could potentially be tasked. A staff of Marines from Special Operations Training Group monitors the missions, and the I Marine Expeditionary Force commanding general, who authorizes the SOC qualification, reviews their observations.
For the Force Reconnaissance Marines, the CQB course is the first step in order to become SOC qualified.
"It's all about having a combat mindset," said SSgt. S.D. Gruber, team leader, Team 2. "This is combat shooting and speed and accuracy matter most in order to stay in the fight."
The CQB training here is a five-week course, which covers topics ranging from ballistics to room clearing. The Marines shoot the M-4A1 Carbine and 45. Caliber MEU(SOC) pistol.
Close Quarters Battle involves fighting in confined spaces with an undetermined number of targets. The tactics learned will be employed during Maritime Special Operations, unconventional operations that allow the MEU to be a quick-reaction force while forward deployed.
"About 90 percent of the training we conduct prior to deploying with the MEU involves CQB," said Sgt. Michael Mulvihill, team leader, Team 3.
Several of the Force Reconnaissance Marines learned quickly that expert rifle qualifications don't necessarily apply to this type of marksmanship.
"If your weapon jams, you don't attempt to clear it. We're taught to transition directly to your secondary weapon," Gruber added. "The mindset is to keep fighting."
Mulvihill remembers hearing stories from Operation Desert Storm that described the importance of this type of training. According to Mulvihill, a particular story describes a firefight in which a lance corporal's weapon jammed. Rather than clearing it, the Marine signaled a squad leader and told him the weapon was jammed.
During his career, Mulvihill witnessed this type of reaction several times. He attributes the Marines unwillingness to clear his weapon to the strict weapon and safety procedures Marines adhere to on the rifle range. Marines qualify annually on the range, but for most, it is their only experience firing the weapon.
"The training here is good because it carries over into everything else we do. If every Marine could go through this, it would be a different Marine Corps."
As the platoon fired their weapons, Special Operations Training Group Instructors called out commands requiring the Marines to change weapons while firing. Before the Marines move on to the next stage of training, firing the weapons must become second nature.
"In one week, we'll shoot more rounds than other Marines will shoot in their careers," said SSgt. Rick Schindler, team leader, Team 1. "Everyone should get to shoot this much. This is my fourth CQB qualification, and I can tell the difference in Marines who have received this training. It changes the way a Marine handles his weapon, his accuracy, and what his reaction might be in a gunfight."
The platoon learns what their reaction will be during a simulated battle in the "house", a roofless structure used at the end of the course. The Marines move through the building in a SWAT-like manner assessing targets as friendly or enemy.
Once the Marines have mastered the basic marksmanship skills for shooting inside and outside of the "house", they are prepared to embark on the next stage of training for the MEU, according to GySgt. Joseph Morrison, chief instructor, SOTG. This training will come into play during the platoon's Interoperability training as part of 11th MEU's Maritime Special Purpose Force.
During Interoperability training, the platoon is introduced to the Security Platoon and other components of the MEU that make up the MSPF. Interoperability training brings the units together to begin planning and practicing missions.
"Everything has gone well and the Marines have done well," said. Capt. P.D. Bartle, platoon commander. "Overall, this is a good package and the instructors run it well. It's all in preparation for our deployment with 11th MEU."