Manassas Journal Messenger | A hard lesson in urban warfare
He went in to stop two gangs from fighting, but left on a stretcher.
The unidentified Marine and his platoon were charged only with embassy protection. In the end, one of their own was “shot,” caught in a volley of gunfire he shouldn’t have been involved in.
The platoon was assigned to protect an “embassy” — really a small, white house — on a hill overlooking the Potomac River and the Quantico Marine Corps base airfield. When the troops arrived, they found two gangs native to “Country X” standing in a yard, soaked with rain and being blasted by a bitterly cold wind, tossing insults at one another.
The Marines spread out along the grassy edge of a parking lot just behind one of the gangs, where they had a good view of all involved. After several more insults between enemies, one of the gang members raised his muzzle and unloaded blanks toward his rivals. The opposing group shot back.
Then the Marines joined the fray. They fell into formation on either side of a large bush and crouched to fire their M-16 rifles, which release three-round bursts with each trigger-pull. Two other Marines positioned themselves on each side, and blasted away at the remaining gang — one had dispersed — with their fully-automatic machine gun, the 249 Squad Automatic Weapon. Bursts of flame flew out the ends of the barrels during the firefight.
Rifle and machine gun noise obscured most other sounds during the chaotic scene. Once the gangs started shooting at each other, the situation deteriorated rapidly. Shells were flying through the air; people were moving in different directions. When the shooting began, adrenaline took over.
Eventually, the gang that was fighting the Marine platoon ran off. One of their members was “dead.” The Marines spread out over the field to cover all remaining positions.
“They shouldn’t have engaged them,” said Capt. Jeff Landis, a base spokesman.
Because they did, a Marine was ordered by his instructor to go down. The move was meant to suggest to the trainees that their poor decision led to a fellow officer getting “shot.”
The Marine dropped onto his back and had to lay in wait for an ambulance. It was pouring, and he was soaked; rain was crashing down on his face. The cold was amplified by a harsh wind. To make matters worse, the medevac unit that was supposed to take him away didn’t arrive for about 20 minutes. Had he really been shot, the young Marine probably would have died, Landis said.
The practical exercise, held as part of a larger urban security training session on Sept. 12, was part of an Infantry Officer Course for second lieutenants. The lieutenants had been taught not to interfere with gang disputes. Their only job was to protect the embassy. As IOC Instructor Capt. Michael Estes put it: “It’s not their fight.”
The gangs were made up of enlisted troops who were instructed not to shoot at the officers, unless the Marines interfered.
“It tends to deliver the point home a little more clearly when you make the mistake,” Estes said.
The course will prepare the officers for command of platoons in international hot spots, where the kinds of situations they encountered on the benign Quantico grounds, will be as real — and as deadly — as it gets. The second lieutenants made mistakes throughout most of the day’s exercises, highlighting the need for this type of training, one instructor said.
Earlier in the day, a group of Marines commanded by 27-year-old 2nd Lt. Bryan Diede, of North Dakota, had to face down an unruly mob of angry protesters outside of the Marshall Hall “embassy.”
A group of officers stood guard outside, posted at various points throughout the building. They were stationed around the grounds, on catwalks, watching the hills for a group of combative civilians. The mob was angry with the American presence in “Country-X.” Adam Hecht, a 23-year-old Marine from Peotone, Ill., peered at the road through the scope of his SAW, while laying on his stomach.
The Marines watched and waited, unsure what was in store for them.
From the quiet rose a deafening roar as the 50 to 100 person-strong mob moved up the street chanting in unison: “Go home Americans!”
The outnumbered lieutenants spread out, trying to disperse the crowd, most of the group armed only with some empty Mountain Dew bottles.
The mob moved closer until they were a mere 20 feet from the entrance. Cars dispatched by instructors were driving down the road, forcing the Marines to secure the area out front while controlling the crowd.
The chants grew louder, the crowd, angrier. The mob, made up of enlisted men and women, pushed their way closer, shouting anti-American slogans. The Marines tried pushing them back, and attempted to control the advance. Their work was fruitless. Before long, the mob was interspersed among the Marines.
The scene was chaotic and potentially violent. The Marines found themselves in danger.
Out of nowhere, M-16 fire erupted as Marines crouched near the front of the embassy, shooting into the thick crowd.
Shell casings flew through the air, each landing with a clink-sound on the pavement. The crowd was shouting as they ran away. The patter of almost 100 pairs of feet simultaneously running off was overshadowed by a nearby grenade explosion. Wind howled in everyone’s ears.
Diede instructed his lieutenants to care for a wounded protester, and his two dead “Country-X” companions. He ordered others to secure the right and left flanks of the building. Another small group was instructed to secure a landing zone for a medevac helicopter on a nearby football field.
A real helicopter would have been called in, but the rainy conditions prevented its landing, and a field ambulance was sent in its stead.
The group of Marines ran off toward the landing zone, moving across pavement and wet, slippery grass. One of them tripped over a hole and fell forward, landing hard on top of his M-16. The pain was evident on his face; there was nothing to cushion the blow but his hard, cold rifle. His fellow Marines stopped to help him up, then they continued on.
They went further down the road, and kept moving in the direction of the Quantico Airfield — overshooting the football field they were looking for.
Estes called the mistake a “communication oversight” and said it helped the lieutenants understand how to do things right in the future.
The lieutenants were awake the entire night, performing various training missions in preparation for what base officials called a probable overseas deployment after their Oct. 17 graduation.
“Overall … the exercise went really well. It helps better prepare them for running into those kinds of situations in the future,” Estes said. “Its very applicable to today’s environment.”