MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. -- Two Marines approach a door while five others provide security. The two Marines approaching the door have an explosive charge ready to light to blow the door down. Once the charge is lit, all seven Marines line up and the man in front shields the line in anticipation of the upcoming explosion. Countdown begins: FIVE, FOUR, THREE, TWO, ONE…BOOM! The charge shatters the door and the Marines rush in to clear the building.
Breaching and room clearing are two of many elements taught during the Urban Leaders Course. The course is offered to Marines of I Marine Expeditionary Force who learn the most up-to-date urban combat skills aboard Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Calif.
Marines are also taught the historical development of how battles have been fought in order to increase their knowledge of where our tactics come from.
During the time of the civil war, battles were fought on wide open fields, where hiding in a building was not possible. But over many years of combat development and new tactics, the battle has moved to the streets of populated areas where the enemy could be lurking behind every corner.
“The concepts and strategies of urban operations and combat are going to help Marines because it teaches them how to insert with an infantry unit and control an area of operations,” said Staff Sgt. Matthew Muro, the chief instructor for ULC. “We give the Marines the knowledge and confidence they need to teach their Marines what they have learned throughout the course, such as how to plan for the use of one of many ranges aboard the base.”
“All the lessons they are given culminate into a week-long field exercise that allows them to take everything they have learned and apply it in the field,” said Muro, of Boerne, Texas. “Everything that they are taught is based off of the training and readiness standards for infantry Marines.”
Seasoned Marines, like Muro, give students who come from a variety of military occupational specialties and backgrounds, the opportunity to learn more advanced infantry tactics and strategies.
“I am confident the instructors will teach us something new every day and thus make us better small unit leaders,” said Lance Cpl. Lincoln Gassman, a combat engineer with 1st Combat Engineer Battalion.
Every day the instructors impart knowledge to the Marines that even though an area may seem like it is populated with civilians, the enemy may be observing Marine tactics and pass that knowledge to the enemy.
“What the instructors wanted us to take away from urban operations is the fact that in an urban environment the enemy has more hiding places so it’s important to continuously look around and check your surroundings,” said Cpl. Marc Taveras, a rifleman with 2nd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment.
As a new squad leader, Taveras attended the course in order to learn what it means to be a squad leader as well as any tactics that will help keep Marines under his charge safe in a deployed environment.
Setting up defensive positions and using surrounding structures to their advantage is one tactic the instructors pass down to the small unit leaders.
“I don’t have any experience with being in an urban environment so having the opportunity to practice patrol techniques, offensive and defensive strategies in an urban-like environment was very helpful,” said Gassman.
One defensive strategy that was taught to the Marines was setting up security while a building is being prepped for explosive breaching. Using charges to breach a building is a tactic used by the armed forces to gain entry into buildings that may have enemy troops inside.
“I had a lot of fun learning these tactics,” said Taveras. “The best part about it was feeling the shockwave from the detonation of the charge. If I could do this every day, I would.”
The Marines also practiced close-quarters combat engagement, which can take place within buildings, out in the street, in narrow valleys and any other location where maneuverability is limited.
“There is a lot more to close-quarters combat engagement than I initially expected,” said Gassman. “It is not all about breaking down a door and shooting anything that moves. It’s about assessing the situation in a split second to see who is friendly and who is an enemy.”
During the course, the Marines were also taught how to handle the responsibility of building ranges or utilizing one of the various ranges aboard Camp Pendleton for training purposes. Having all this knowledge not only allows them to teach other Marines what they have learned, but also to help take some of the load off of higher ranking Marines that deal with training.
The training gives Marines the skills and confidence they need to lead a squad of Marines in an urban environment. It also gives them the tools they need to make sure that when the time comes, they can keep their Marines as safe as possible.