Lessons in Aggression

So the week before last was a “Classroom Week,” and we endured many long TBS classes about Urban Combat, called “MOUT” (Military Operations in Urban Terrain), and the skills associated with it. We also had a “Junk on the Bunk” inspection (JOB), which means that you must display all (and I mean all) issued/required gear on your bunk to prove that your gear is clean, serviceable, and combat effective. It also is a way of measuring our discipline: our gear must also be tidy and presentable. So we all spent several long nights scrubbing our gear outside under the hoses and letting them dry. Overall a rather irritating week.

The subsequent week (last week) we spent at the MOUT facility, a three block square “city” constructed of concrete cinder-blocks. To get there, we hiked 12 miles with a signficantly heavier pack than we usually do, which pretty much destroyed the company. I, like many, ended up with the extra weight that other Marines had to shed to keep up – the ironic reward of hacking the pace. Fortunately, we got some rest that evening: we built a fire, barbecued some burgers and listened to a leadership discussion by a battalion commander who had been to Iraq twice. The next day we learned about, and conducted, several convoys, fighting off ambushes by simulated insurgents several times. Wednesday we practiced room clearing, tactical movement through urban terrain, and urban squad operations. Yesterday we conducted a platoon attack on several buildings, and today we practiced running vehicle checkpoints before coming back to barracks (where I am writing this now).

This was all much more interesting than the previous squad and platoon attacks. The first reason for this is that we used simunitions, which are essentially paint-balls fired from an M16. They mark you when they strike you, and they sting. They add a realistic element to the combat exercise, because you know when you’ve been hit and you begin to really think about things like cover and concealment. Furthermore, our aggressors, the CIs (Combat Instructors), are enlisted infantry marines with combat experience who LOVE to shoot at young officers. They were a talented and motivated foe.

The most important lesson of the week was aggression. Aggression is brutally necessary in MOUT. The instructors say that “inside a building is dangerous, outside is lethal.” Since every street or terrace is overlooked by windows and doorways from adjacent buildings, you are most exposed outside. Therefore, you sprint, and I mean sprint, from building to building, slamming into walls and rolling off, diving into windows and doors, and generally being aggressive and motivated and beating yourself up in the process (which is what a bunch of twenty-something males want to do anyway). It is ridiculously fun. Inside is even better: You are liable to be fired upon from corners of the room, from down stairs, from trapdoors above. It is incredibly manpower-intensive because the nature of buildings exponentially magnifies the amount of usable space and obstacles the enemy can use to fight. For that reason, you clear hallways and rooms in teams of two or more, stacking up in a column outside the door in a tight column, then you burst into the room together with guns blazing, hoping your combined firepower overwhelms the enemy. It makes me excited just thinking about it (though I recognize the deadly nature of this type of combat in, well, real combat). Often we would suppress the room with a grenade (we used practice grenades which sound like the real thing but don’t spread shrapnel) before busting in. And this goes on (exhaustingly) from room to room to room, in every building of the city.

This particular FEX had another benefit: Hot Chow every night. Hot Chow is a magnificent event where they truck out cases of steaming food, all for to serve you an entire dinner cafeteria-style, which after days of MREs is incredible. We also got sufficient sleep, for the first time on a FEX: we went to bed shortly after it got dark (7:30 PM) and woke up before 6 AM. It all felt very healthy and wholesome, in fact. The only bad thing about this recent FEX was the cold rain we had all Thursday, and the cold all day Friday. It was pretty comfortable otherwise.

And that is all I have for you. It’s a short post for two weeks’ worth of events. And I have little in the way of reflection. I am melancholy at heart, as I always am when autumn gives way to winter. It is still several weeks until the happier times of snow and holidays. But I continue to try to adapt along this journey, and hopefully come ever closer to personal contentment and the virtue necessary to be a good Marine Officer.

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