Marines Push Brainpower Over Firepower
Mar 2 03:47 PM US/Eastern
By CHELSEA J. CARTER
Associated Press Writer
CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. (AP) - AP Video Marine Capt. Brian Iglesias saw a man go from store to store, talking with shopkeepers in Ramadi, Iraq. Outwardly, there was nothing unusual about the man. He looked like everybody else.
Later, as Iglesias and his unit rolled through town, they saw shopkeepers board up their stores. And then it happened. The Marines were shot at—caught in a rolling street fight that saw one of their own killed. The man, Iglesias learned, had been warning shopkeepers of the pending ambush.
"We walked into a trap," he says.
Today, Iglesias shares the story from 2004 as a cautionary tale of urban warfare in Iraq where the enemy hides in plain sight. The result can have deadly consequences for the military—and a civilian population often caught in the middle of the fighting.
It is this problem of telling friend from foe that the Marine Corps is trying to confront head on with a new training program that pushes brainpower over firepower.
Unveiled to reporters this week, the program—"Combat Hunter"—teaches human behavioral analysis, law enforcement profiling techniques and big game hunting and tracking practices. The program puts Marines through the paces of identifying and tracking an enemy without firing a shot.
"This is really about investing in the minds of Marines," said Col. Fred Padilla of the Corps' School of Infantry West, which oversees the training.
Padilla said today's Marines have grown up inside their homes, playing on computers and with video games. They adapt to the use of new technology and equipment more quickly than earlier generations.
But it is also problematic, he says.
"They didn't grow up outside," learning how to analyze their surroundings or learning about the outdoors, he said. Earlier Marines had skills like hunting and tracking under their belts.
"What we are seeing now is a generation of Marines that don't have those skills," Padilla said.
The two-week course, which the Marines began testing in April 2007, includes classroom training and practicing scenarios in a fake Iraqi village at Camp Pendleton that has been used for various training exercises since the war began in 2003. The village built out of cargo shipping containers features an open-air market, a mosque, a police station and a bank.
About 750 Marines, mostly squad leaders, have been trained. They spread their knowledge among their troops. The training program has been in development since 2006.
"This is definitely a result of the lessons learned in Iraq," Padilla said.
Padilla said the program's success can be seen in the increase in Iraq of the discovery of weapons caches and improvised explosive devices and more captured insurgents, though he could not say how many discoveries and arrests were directly related to the training.
Greg Williams, a civilian contractor who works as a combat profiler and helped develop the training, says "Combat Hunter" teaches Marines to "read the human landscape."
Though neither Williams nor the Corps would explain the training techniques in depth, the primary focus is identifying human behavioral patterns.
From his perch in a foxhole atop a hill, Sgt. Justin Brown looked through the scope of his rifle and surveyed the makeshift Iraqi village below.
At first glance, everything looked normal: people shopping in an open- air market and children playing in the street.
But as Brown, 23, of Meridien, Miss., took a closer look, something was off. Perhaps it was the man in the market who townspeople kept staring at. Were they staring because he was a bad guy? Or maybe it was the man walking repeatedly in and out of a building.
He began to analyze their behavior, their dress. He and his men determined the man in the market was a prince.
Suddenly there was a crack of gunfire and an Iraqi policeman fell to the ground.
Later, during a debriefing, the Marines would learn what they did right—determining the prince was not a threat—and what they did wrong—failing to identify the sniper.
Iglesias, who was in charge of the unit going through the training, believes "Combat Hunter" may have changed the outcome of the 2004 ambush in Ramadi.
"It's basically learning to turn that gut feeling into action," he said.