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Photo Information

Lance Cpl. Alexis Vergara clears a stairway before his fire team moves to the second floor in a building in Central Training Area’s Combat Town in Okinawa, Japan, Nov. 6 2015. The Marines with Combat Logistic Battalion 31, 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, used special effect small-arms marking system rounds and cleared buildings with opposing forces during a three day training event. Vergara, a native of Chino Hills, California, is a military policeman with Military Police Detachment, CLB 31, 31st MEU. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Abbey Perria/Released)

Photo by Cpl. Abbey Perria

Breach and clear: MPs train in Combat Town

6 Nov 2015 | Cpl. Abbey Perria 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit

“Did gunny or the lieutenant kill you?” a group of Marines casually asks each other after clearing a house at Snipe Mount, Central Training Area. Red and blue chalk dots speckle the Marines’ uniforms; evidence of the recent simulated gunfight.

Fire teams of Marines, with Military Police Detachment, Combat Logistics Battalion 31, 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, practiced entering and clearing buildings with opposing forces Nov. 4-6. Marines on both sides used special effect small-arms marking systems or SESMAS, simulated rounds filled with chalk to mark their impact point, to create a more realistic environment to best prepare them for their jobs.

“In the movies you always see guys running into buildings, shooting all the bad guys with pinpoint precision, that’s not really a thing,” said GySgt. Oliver Bickle, Detachment Staff Non-Commissioned Officer-in-Charge. “It’s never going to be that pretty in real life, so they have to try to do the best they can, with the training they have.”

On the first day, the fire teams entered and cleared houses with a simple scenario, slowly working up to more complicated training scenarios. By the third and final day of training, they cleared a house with multiple active shooters and a hostage situation.

“It does make you more comfortable as a team, prepares you as a team and your communication gets better,” said Cpl. Mark McNulty, a squad leader from Scranton, Pennsylvania. “Communication is extremely important inside a house, because if you don’t communicate that you are leaving a room or going into a room, another team member might mistake you, and someone who is trigger-happy might shoot.”

Since clear and confident communication is essential to a successful mission, every member of a team must be ready to make a well-educated decision no matter what their rank or billet is. The doors and corners of every house are different and present a new scenario each time a fire team enters. While the point man may enter first, by the end it could be the team leader or newest member knocking down a door.

“There’s no rank inside a house,” said Lance Cpl. David Gamble, a military policeman. “Myself as a point man, starting out I’m not always going to be that point man because of how we have to maneuver in the house. To be able to be successful as a team everyone has to know everyone else’s job.”

The Marines use initiative based tactics, so when they encounter a problem as an individual they have the understanding of the mission and knowledge of commander’s intent to decide how best to deal with the situation.

“It’s kind of like a ballet when everything goes right,” said Bickle from Brooklyn, New York. “If somebody gets held up doing something, somebody else should automatically cover that person.”

Along with building a strong team, Marines had to learn to control adrenaline rushes and not let the hormone feed their aggression too much, as SESAMS rounds fly by.

“Once they got to grips with the enemy they would keep ahold of him, which led the enemy to start making mistakes because of constantly being pressured,” said Bickle. “I feel after only three days they had met a good balance between being very aggressive and very disciplined.”

Given the environment the Marines are in – operating with small numbers, traveling together on ship for months at a time and doing the same missions together – they build strong unit cohesion.

“CLB has provided for me the opportunity to get to know these individuals a lot better,” said Gamble from Dallas, Texas. “I know I can rely on every single one of these guys to have my back.”
31st Marine Expeditionary Unit