Tuesday, September 17, 2002

Marines train in Dayton for urban combat




By Howard Wilkinson hwilkinson@enquirer.com
The Cincinnati Enquirer

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Marine Sgt. Patrick Cotter fixes on a target.
(Michael E. Keating photos)
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        DAYTON - The Marines have landed. And this city of 166,000, an hour's drive north of Cincinnati, finds itself playing the role of Baghdad.

        Nearly 600 Marines of the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) based at Camp Lejeune, N.C., are bivouacked in a tent city on the grounds of Wright-Patterson Air Force Base for a TRUEX, or Training in an Urban Environment Exercise.

        It's aimed at preparing them for the kind of building-to-building, door-to-door urban combat they could very well be doing for real if the U.S. decides to go to war in Iraq.

        “Iraq aside, there are urban environments all over the world and we have to be ready to fight that kind of battle,” said Col. Andrew Frick, commanding officer of the 26th MEU, which returned only a few months ago from a deployment in Afghanistan.

        “We don't focus on a particular location; we focus on a particular kind of combat,” the colonel said, standing Sunday in front of one of the Chinook helicopters that will be used in the two-week training exercise.

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Marines "fast rope" on to the roof of the abandoned Jackson School.
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        “Where we go is up to the Commander-in-Chief.”

        But Dayton will, for the next two weeks, be the stand-in for the Iraqi cities military experts say may have to be taken in street-to-street combat, were the United States to have any hope of toppling Saddam Hussein.

        Many military experts say that if units such as the 26th do end up being deployed in Iraq for urban combat, it will be an enterprise fraught with peril and likely to result in many casualties. American military planners are likely to do whatever they can to avoid street-to-street fighting, and pound Iraq with an air campaign of “smart bombs.”

        But, if needed, Col. Frick said, the 26th “will be ready to do whatever it takes.” And the state-of-the-art techniques they use, he said, will be the ones learned on the streets of Dayton.

        Dayton is a city with a long military history - Wright-Patterson, with its thousands of military and civilian jobs, has been a mainstay of the local economy since before World War II. Daytonians are used to the sight of military jets streaking overhead and giant Air Force cargo planes rumbling over neighborhoods.

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Marine Staff Sgt. Codey Abel, a sniper, wear a camouflage Ghille suit.
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        But they are not at all used to the kind of military action they will get glimpses of during the next two weeks.

        At abandoned buildings and empty shopping centers at various locations around town, people will see huge helicopters hovering overhead, dropping Marines armed to the teeth onto rooftops; they will hear the staccato echo of automatic weapons fire as the Leathernecks stage mock raids.

        The actual sites of the training exercises aren't being disclosed and the Marine unit is working with local authorities to cordon off the areas where the exercises - some of them using live ammunition - will take place so civilians do not wander inadvertently into the middle of combat.

        “We're taking every precaution,” said Sgt. Major Frank Knox at a demonstration of field equipment the 26th MEU put on for the media Sunday at Wright-Patterson. “Safety is our thing. From getting up in the morning and walking to the shower to combat conditions, everything we do is about safety.”

        Marines will go door-to-door in residential areas near training sites to let residents know that what they are seeing and hearing is not real.

        Still, the Dayton City Commission has had some complaints from Dayton residents who believe the Marine training exercises will be too disruptive.

        Col. Frick insisted that most people “won't even know we are there.”

        The Marines have been holding these urban warfare training exercises since 1985. Most of them have been in cities in the southeastern United States. But in recent years, the Marine command has tried to stage them in other parts of the nation “so the rest of the country can get a look at what we do,” Col. Frick said.

        Dayton was chosen, the colonel said, because of its proximity to a major Air Force base that can house 600 Marines for two weeks.

        One of those Marines is Cpl. Robi Brubaker, a Covington native who enlisted three years ago.

        The 21-year-old Marine is a radio communications specialist and has had one overseas assignment, in Okinawa, Japan. But he has yet to go through the kind of urban warfare training he will get this month in Dayton.

        “We've done some of this stuff in mock-up building at Camp Lejeune, but I've never done it on the ground in a real city,” Cpl. Brubaker said. “I'm pretty excited about it.”

        Cpl. Brubaker knows that soon after training in Dayton, his unit will be deployed overseas. This time, they will head out on a vessel of a Navy aircraft carrier group to spend six months at sea in the Mediterranean, waiting to be sent into combat in Iraq or elsewhere.

        “I don't know if we are going to Iraq or what,” Cpl. Brubaker said.

        “We go were we are told. We're Marines.”

       



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