A Marine Commander's Comments on Preparation of Marines for Combat in Iraq

Colonel George Bristol, USMC

With regard to the training aspect, I subscribe to the following:

1) Simple is what killing is, whether with a spear or a JDAM. The act itself is simple. We have been stacking them up like cordwood over here no problem.

2) The training we did prior to coming over was simple - hardness, simple drills to get into firing position, simple escalation of force parameters. Nothing higher than that. Now at Division level and above, the planning, ROE, complexity of synchronization, and bringing in all aspects of foreign policy gets complex - but the killing time remains simple, and we do everything we can to keep it that way. We don't brief the trigger pullers on all the complexities - we keep them at that cutting edge.

3) I know that EVERY Marine knows how to do sight alignment and sight picture (clear tip of the front sight post in a fuzzy "bullseye"). That is why we are the world's best all-purpose marksmen. Weapons handling remains simple ("never be more than three feet from your weapon"; "keep that weapon functionally clean"; "complacency kills" - these are all sayings that ALL Marines over here know by heart). I see Marines all the time working with that weapon; it is great to see. In firefights, I truly cannot tell the difference between a Marine who has been in 50 fights or 5 - and I have looked while it is happening. They keep it simple.

4) Fitness over here is simple. Rear area guys are still on the weight schedule (all the body beautiful stuff). Most Marines with a real job go back to some basic calisthenics and a little running - simple stuff. You get accustomed to the weight of the plates and the body armor. You get used to being tired. You get used to not showering every day. You eat what is put in front of you. You are fighting fit. You don't look like Arnold, but you fight like hell.

5) Mentally, you adjust to danger. I watch a lot of my "kids" (18-21) and they mature to the harshness, the reality and the danger of everyday life here. Sleep is more important than being afraid. So is food. They adjust. We have lost some great Marines over here, and very few died afraid. I lost one right next to me a month or so ago - he was still firing when he took one through the neck (he died almost instantly). The simple will to survive and the simplicity of life in a combat zone strips away all the choices. There is a part of me that wants to stay here, because I am so tuned in. I KNOW THAT I KNOW - it is that simple. I know that I can feel when someone is watching me when I am out in towns, I know where my weapon is and hope I will react, I can tell when they are up to something - I am tuned in. I saw insurgents running away the other day, maybe 500 yards from me. When I got there, I went right to their tracks - and found them easily. You just tune in.

Without making too much of it, I think heiho training - and you know I have said this in written form - closely resembles the kind of "deadly simplicity" that should be sought in any training. Not too much repetition; proper mindset; increasingly uncontrolled environment. The true realizations come in the form of the adversary (once the "my sword goes here, my feet go there" is put in context). You feel him - you know he wants to kill you - and you go through a "reaction-to-simultaneous action-to-(hopefully) pre-emptive action" methodology. That is what the training does. It is the best way.

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