CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. --
Twenty years ago, with conflicts heating up in the Middle East, there was an increased focus on the refinement of warfighting tactics in urban population centers which led to the establishment of multiple Military Operations on Urbanized Terrain training locations on Marine Corps bases for Marines to practice room-clearing procedures and to strengthen unit cohesion. As combat situations evolved and more complex situations arose with civilian populations, the Marine Corps saw the need to develop facilities that exposed Marines to more realistic settings featuring combatants and non-combatants alike. Its solution was the Infantry Immersion Trainer, or the IIT.
The first IIT on Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune opened in repurposed warehouse located at the edge of Hadnot Point’s industrial area on Aug. 25, 2011, and gave Marines access to life-like combat simulations and atmospheric conditions in order to enhance their leadership skills and put small unit standard operating procedures to the test.
Inside is a customizable town with shops, animals (props), decorated interior homes, trucks, and even a gas station. Birds can be heard chirping as one walks through the sandy and rocky town where scent canisters emit smells one might experience in the nearby area or specific points of friction. For example, the trainer can provide smells of dead animals near the butcher shop or simulate the smell of an electrical fire right before cutting the power to the local area in order to force Marines to adapt to notionally blown-out streetlights.
The role players act out their daily lives in the IIT by walking around the town, running their shops, and reacting to the Marines’ actions. In some scenarios they’ll cause a commotion, introducing more friction into the Marines’ missions as a result. A civilian role player might be seen running around a building and into the upper level of a house, firing his AK-47 blank rounds and tossing a practice grenade down at the Marines. Scenarios are temperamental, and the combinations of cards may be shuffled further based on whichever way each Marine moves, reacts and decides in a slim timeframe. Ultimately, the strength of the immersion trainer lies in its ability to expose Marines to specific stressors they may experience during combat.
Contrary to other MOUT towns, a subject matter expert must be present during training in the IITs. Ammunition consists of blanks, practice grenades, ground pyro, and simulated battlefield effects (flashbangs, smoke, blasts and loud explosions, etc.). Training days must be coordinated prior to ensure the facility is staffed with enough role-players and resources to create an immersive environment.
Also inside the warehouse is a camera room, with three large screens and multiple computer monitors displaying every camera angle of the training site. Each location of the IIT is equipped with cameras and microphones so the control room personnel can track the Marines’ progress. IIT Trainers wear wired headsets in order to communicate with and direct the role players during the scenarios.
Photo by Lance Cpl. Loriann Dauscher
U.S. Marines with India company, 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marines, conduct an after-action report following training at the Infantry Immersion Trainer site on Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, April 4, 2023. The IIT is designed to provide Marines with a realistic combat environment using sound, smell, atmospherics and role-players to increase combat efficiency.
“All of your controls are going from the control room,” said Tim Seamon, operations officer, Marine Corps Installations East-MCB Camp Lejeune Range and Training Area Management. “That’s great when you’re working a platoon, the platoon staff could be in the control room working with the operators, seeing what they want to get for the after-action report.”
During the missions, squad leaders are pushed to make the right choices. Following the training, they conduct an AAR in a classroom and review footage from the cameras. This allows the squad leaders and their Marines to see what they accomplished and discuss areas of improvement for different possible outcomes of the scenarios.
Marines will find the IITs on MCB Camp Lejeune to be one of the most productive methods of sharpening their warfighting tools in peacetime. It encompasses the mindset of U.S. Marines, to always be ready.
In a recently observed scenario, warm winds could be felt blowing through narrow paths between straw roofs, green ferns and cement walls. Lively local families, police officers and shopkeepers speak a foreign tongue as they go about their daily lives. In the other direction, a man in civilian clothing suddenly runs nearby with an AK-47, ducking at the end of the wall opposite a squad of approaching Marines. A small group of the local populace whispers quietly while peering around the doorway as they see the Marines on patrol with full protective gear, Kevlar helmets and rifles. A loud bang of gun fire, smoke and a flaming grenade’s blast forces the group of locals to scream and run away from the noise. The scenario ended, and the Marines tactically clear out of the area. The role players walk out of the immersion trainer and prepare for the next group of Marines.
Given the intrinsic value of the IIT for small units, a new outdoor IIT has been recently built that expands training capabilities beyond what the indoor version possesses. To start, it’s big enough for platoon-sized elements where each squad can train with a unique mission that correlates with their surroundings. The outdoor IIT sits next to the MOUT complex area on MCB Camp Lejeune, so companies and battalions can use it as part of a larger MOUT operations scenario if needed.
“The outdoor site is a 13-acre site with 80 buildings, three roads splitting sections between an embassy area, mid-town area and a lower income, ‘slum’ environment,” said Seamon.
The facility contains a hospital, coffee and food shops, animal pens, multiple vehicles including a school bus, hanging laundry lines, a school classroom, and many other buildings including a police station with upstairs prison cells, and an embassy compound with ambassador, officer, and Marine Security Guard quarters. Many buildings have stairwells or a hatch to climb to the roof areas which have available hooks for Marines to use for rappelling. Like the indoor IIT, it not only has a control room where the staff operates, but it also has a Company Level Operations Center in its AAR facility that’s designed to enable company staff to operate and exercise command and control of the platoon executing a scenario-based mission. The first training in the outdoor IIT is scheduled to be conducted in May of 2023.