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ROTC battalion undergoes tactical exercises

Nicole Michels | Monday, October 29, 2012

Most members of the Notre Dame community woke up Friday morning looking forward to one last day of work before the weekend, but the Notre Dame International Security Program (NDISP) Fellows and the Marine options in the Navy ROTC battalion instead geared up for tactical exercises conducted at the Sherwood Forest paintball arena.

Friday’s event marked the second time NDISP and the Navy ROTC Marine options have collaborated on this USMC Small Unit Tactics Seminar, Michael Desch, co-director of NDISP, said.

“The purpose was twofold: familiarize NDISP fellows with what goes on on the ground with a Marine squad, and to give the fellows and the Marine option cadets the opportunity to get to know each other in a non-academic environment,” Desch said. “I hope we were able to combine national security education and a bit of fun.”

Marine option platoon commander Mike McCormick said the ROTC program asks its cadets to participate in both physical and mental real-world simulations.

“We train to be leaders both with physical training to develop the requisite self-discipline, toughness and endurance, and we train for the moral and mental aspects of leadership through leadership positions within the unit and through exercises like tactical and ethical based decision games,” he said.

McCormick said the first game called for the Marine options to assault a guarded fortress to retrieve two officers who were acting as high-value targets (HVTs).

“The Marine options arrived at Sherwood around 10:30 a.m., checked out equipment, walked over the course and did a couple of our own tactical exercises,” McCormick said. “When NDISP arrived and got the equipment, we listened to a quick safety brief, and then the [Marine options] demonstrated the orders process and a HVT capture exercise.”

McCormick said this was the most memorable part of the seminar.

“It demonstrated the difficulties caused by casualties and the importance of a succession of command and aggressiveness in overcoming casualties,” McCormick said.

NDISP Fellow Peter Campbell said he was most impressed by the Marines’ obvious training and communication.

“The thing that stands out in my mind was their amazing ability to work as a team, and their extensive training in this kind of operation and advance,” Campbell said. “It was impressive to watch them work together, and to watch their communication and improvisation as the exercise unfolded.”

Next, the NDISP fellows were organized into three squads and asked to complete the same HVT exercise, Campbell said.

“The first fire team [squad] took heavy casualties and got pinned down very soon in our operation, so we had to improvise,” Campbell said. “Myself and the other amazing members of fire team two had to decide enter the building on our own and had to compete the mission with a hasty plan that we developed on the fly.”

Campbell said his fire team took the two HTV officers by surprise when the squad reached them.

“I think in some ways we surprised them, they didn’t know we were coming in the front door, and we went in the front door, up the stairs and onto the balcony without them even knowing,” he said. “There’s such a strong element of chance in the execution of these things.”

Tyler Thomas, a Navy option working out with the Marine battalion to gain a better sense of military collaboration, said flexibility is essential to any mission.

“If you are not constantly changing the original plan and adapting to new situations, you will undoubtedly fail,” Thomas said. “No plan is ever perfect, no matter how much time is spent planning, so being able to adapt and make split second decisions will be the difference between life and death.”

The biggest struggle for the NDISP participants completing the mission was maintaining communication and coordinating improvisation between the squads, Campbell said.

“That really drove home the friction, the complexity, the uncertainty and the need to just act,” Campbell said. “There is such a temptation to stay where you are to stay safe, but what’s really needed is to do the opposite of that: keep moving, that’s the safest thing to do even though it’s contrary to your human instinct.”

After both groups executed the objective, they combined forces to play multiple two-sided paintball games, Thomas said.

“Playing a few rounds of paintball with NDISP after assaulting the fortress was definitely the most fun,” Thomas said. “It was nice to continue training in a more relaxed and fun atmosphere.”

Campbell said he was awed by the way that the Marines accomplished each objective.

“There was that one superhero moment where the gunnery sergeant picked up the flag and ran by two people, shooting with one hand and carrying the flag in the other – he shot them both in the head and won the game,” Campbell said. “I’m just so impressed with the communication and execution of the Marines and especially their officers, their ability to move without being detected and to arrive in places where you didn’t expect them and then you get shot in the face.”

Thomas said he walked away with an increased understanding of the importance of communication.

“The biggest lesson that I think everyone learned was the importance of communication; without communication you have three fire teams trying to implement their own plan of attack,” Thomas said. “Communication allows for the integration of the fire teams so that the objective can be completed using teamwork, which minimizes the amount of casualties experienced.”

For Campbell, the seminar put a human face to military operations and tactical decisions.

“For me it really brought home the inherent difficulty of even the most simple military operation,” Campbell said. “The take-away, whenever you ask the military to carry out an operation, is that it always carries that sense of uncertainty and difficulty… It is not something to be taken lightly … hopefully this will give [the NDISP Fellows] a better understanding of the difficulty inherent in those tasks.”

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