MARINE CORPS TRAINING AREA BELLOWS, Hawaii --
Stealthily skirting an unkempt road past parallel barriers of overgrown brush, six armored enforcers creep toward a decrepit building. Though the shadowy structure is abandoned, the Special Reaction Team Marines' focused eyes and deliberate movement indicate they’re treating this clearing mission as seriously as a live one.
Screaming commands as they kicked in doors and ripped open closets, SRT members from the Military Police Department, Marine Corps Base Hawaii, performed room clearing operations at Marine Corps Training Area Bellows, Hawaii, June 28, 2011.
Beyond their regular duties as military policemen, the squad-sized element of SRT members stands ready to respond to high-risk situations that arise on base, during events like the upcoming BayFest 2011, July 15-17.
With the event nearing, team leader John Supple, a prior enlisted Force Reconnaissance Marine, said the team was working to increase their speed and better their teamwork in case they’re tasked with responding to an incident at BayFest. During concerts on base by alternative rockers Filter and the popular Black Eyed Peas at BayFest 2009, SRT members functioned in this role by pulling unruly concertgoers out of the crowd.
“Keeping our mindset fresh and consistent is very important, especially in a [close-quarters battle] environment,” Supple, from Fulton, N.Y., said. “It’s too easy to get complacent when you’re doing this, so we rehearse, rehearse, rehearse.”
Though the SRT is rarely called upon for operations like room clearing, Supple said training in this tight environment is invaluable to building their most important asset — communication.
“If you don’t communicate, you might as well be on your own,” Supple said. “Otherwise, it’s just a bunch of individuals moving around inside the house, and you end up with friendly fire.”
Before putting boots on the ground, Supple briefed the SRT members on the assignment, drawing out a map to allow them a better visual of the situation. While acknowledging the importance of an operation order, he reminded his team that the circumstances could change when they moved through the door.
“We can never completely train for what is going to happen inside a house,” Sgt. Christopher Smith, an SRT member from Almont, Mich., said. “We train with a lot of different scenarios so when that unthinkable scenario comes up, we’ll be able to go through it.”
Dividing into groups of two, SRT members rehearsed their movement in the dilapidated barracks, moving room-to-room down the building’s long hallway until it was completely cleared. After several practice runs, they tackled the mission in full gear, receiving reminders from their team leader on how to increase their mission effectiveness.
“Our world is a three-dimensional world, so don’t get caught sweeping only here,” Supple said, sweeping his hand chest-level.
Though room clearing operations help build the SRT members’ skills as communicators and operators, Supple said endless rehearsals often become monotonous. Instead of simply repeating movements indoors, the entry team performed observational drills outside, using scopes to spot foreign objects among the trees.
“If we can look through branches and spot something outside, how much more observant are we going to be indoors?” Supple said. “By mixing the training up, we’re clearing out the cobwebs.”
For SRT members, successful missions hinge on their communication, but their ability to interact is rooted within a unified purpose — pride in their unique specialty.
“The cohesion that we have together is different from the cohesion of [military policemen],” Mazurek said. “Today is my day off, but it’s no problem to come in because this is what we all want to do. We sweat, shoot and train hard — nobody minds to work.”