CAMP BASTION, Afghanistan --
A thin screen of dust settles over a Marine as he stands like a statue in the road. A quick flick of the wrist directs an approaching vehicle into a mobile vehicle check point where five more Marines wait. The next thirty seconds are critical; will the driver and passengers follow the Marines' orders? Is there a switch wired into the dash that could trigger an improvised explosive device? Will the passengers be cooperative or will they resist?
Marine Wing Headquarters Squadron 3’s Sector Response Team, comprised of administrative Marines deployed with the unit, repeated this process several times over the course of a few hours during one of the team’s training missions here July 15.
The SRT is responsible for guarding a specific sector of Camp Leatherneck during emergency situations. To prepare for that responsibility, the team learned the basics of operating a vehicle check point and conducting personnel searches. The Marines learned how to find hidden compartments or vehicle alterations. They also learned to search for unauthorized items, such as: cell phones, SIM cards, weapons, cameras, scopes and radios.
"These Marines may have to shut down intersections and run their own vehicle check points from time-to-time for base defense," said Gunnery Sgt. Charles Denson, who organized the team and is responsible for focusing and planning the team's training. "They need to know how to find and confiscate contraband and how to identify possible security threats."
The Marines received classroom instruction from military policemen attached to Marine Wing Support Squadron 274, practiced what they learned amongst themselves, then accompanied the MPs to the flight line where they set up a mobile vehicle check point and conducted actual searches.
The Marines broke into two groups and took turns performing practice searches on a vehicle laden with hidden paraphernalia ranging from SIM cards and fake identification cards to weapons and drugs. Instructors taught the Marines to be thorough and creative with the places they checked.
"You have guys sitting idle, as we speak, trying to devise ways to defeat vehicle searches, and it is going to be your job to make sure they fail," said Gunnery Sgt. Shawn Murchison, an MP from MWSS-274 who oversaw the training for the SRT team.
Some Marines searched the vehicle, while others searched drivers and passengers, or provided overwatch from a distance. The Marines rotated responsibilities to make sure they could perform each task competently.
"Everyone needs to know how to do every part of this job, and how to do it with less people," said Murchison, who served as a civilian police officer for about nine years before joining the Marine Corps. “Even if you have a plan, things can change.”
After practicing, the Marines drove to the flight line here where they established a vehicle check point and began searching vehicles. Although it was the first time most of these Marines had searched vehicles, they exuded self-confidence and professionalism. The searches were intended to reinforce their training, but the Marines found and confiscated several pieces of contraband.
"It is nice to be behind my desk and do my job because I know it is essential for supporting the Marines, but it is nice to get out and see what [the MPs] do and be a part of the action they see on a day-to-day basis," said Sgt. Daniel Carrigan, the MWHS-3 supply chief.
In unconventional warfare where the enemy can blend easily into the population, internal security is paramount. Although MWHS-3's SRT may rarely respond to an internal security threat, complacency is never the answer. If these warriors are called to leave their desks, don their gear and secure their sections, there will be no time for uncertainty. Their VCP training was a step toward success should they be needed to keep their fellow Marines safe.