AL ASAD, Iraq -- “If it ain’t raining, we ain’t training!” the old Marine Corps saying clearly states.
It hasn’t rained at the desert air base of Al Asad, Iraq in months, but there has definitely been training for the personnel of Marine Aircraft Group 16, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing.
In the past several months, the Marines have been engaged in a wide array of training - some routine and some unique to the environment - since deploying in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
The mission at hand is first and foremost for all the deployed Marines, but if the situation permits, opportunities should always be taken to train, said Sgt. Francisco Rubio, training chief, MAG-16.
“A lot of personnel here are operationally committed to their jobs,” said the 26-year-old from Pacoima, Calif. “It’s hard to get them away, so if we have the time, we definitely love to do training.
“It’s not hard to teach a Marine, because they are always ready to learn,” he added. “Regardless of the type of environment, if you have downtime, you can do some training.”
The different training courses that MAG-16 has offered their deployed Marines encompasses many aspects of the Marine persona: leadership, marksmanship and close combat skills.
One recent training event was Corporal’s Course 03-04, a first in country for many of the deployed Marines involved, said Sgt. John W. Gerbacia, a 34-year-old faculty advisor with Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron 452, MAG-16. Gerbacia, who normally works in the administrative section of his unit, talked about how his commanding officer, Lt. Col. Bradley S. James, brought the idea to the squadron sergeant major, Sgt. Maj. Leland H. Hilt.
“The CO went to the sergeant major, who presented us with the task of running a Corporal’s Course. We have run other courses before, and we felt like it would be good for the unit,” said Gerbacia, who has helped run two other courses this year, but only this one while deployed to Iraq. “It’s a motivating thing teaching young Marines and molding them into what Marines should be: leaders.”
The course consisted “mostly of leadership traits and principles, five-paragraph orders and things like that,” Gerbacia continued. “It’s all geared toward small unit leadership and how we operate on that level. To make good decisions you have to be a good leader. That’s what we teach them.”
The course was an overall success because of the fact that every Marine who participated not only passed, but also improved in every area the course covered, said Cpl. Jason M. Montoya, nuclear, biological and chemical specialist, MAG-16, and 20-year-old Aurora, Colo., native.
“It was motivating and it taught me a lot about the Marine Corps,” noted Montoya, who just graduated from the course as the class guide, or leader. “I enjoyed it.”
“The course will help us to become better people, which will help us become better Marines,” the MAG-16 Marine added. “It makes us more knowledgeable in everyday life and shows us different viewpoints on how lead.”
Initially, the idea of holding a corporal’s course seemed a daunting task to the faculty advisors because they believed the air base and combat circumstances wouldn’t be conducive to the class, Gerbacia said. The advisors soon learned that it might be the ideal place for the course, he added.
“Just like Marines do, we overcame the environment,” Gerbacia said. “We actually got to do things we didn’t expect.”
As part of the course, the leaders were able to incorporate a fire and maneuver range into the training syllabus. Gerbacia noted that the range ‘teaches the Marines how to communicate while firing, which is small unit leadership in its purest form.”
Small unit leadership isn’t the only thing gained from the ranges held at Al Asad, Rubio noted. Familiarity with how the Marines will fire in full battle gear is what prompted most of the battle-sight zero ranges MAG-16 has held.
“It’s important to get their true (weapons sight settings) in the battle gear,” said Rubio. “In the ‘rear’ you don’t have all that gear on, but here in a combat situation, you need to have those rounds well-aimed and well-placed to be able to hit your target while having all you gear on. It can make the difference between life and death.”
Pfc. James A. Lowe, aviation operations specialist, MAG-16, and 21-year-old Louisville, Ky., native agreed that everyone in Iraq, especially those in military occupational specialties other than combat arms, should be afforded the opportunity to BZO their weapon.
“If you don’t have a proper sight setting on you rifle, how can you expect to hit anything?” Lowe asked in reference to Marines who think that finding a correct battle-sight zero is unnecessary. “We are all Marines and riflemen.
“It makes each person that much more prepared for anything,” he continued. “These little things not only make us better Marines, but also better qualified to survive out here (in Iraq).”
MAG-16 has also been holding courses in the Marine Corps Martial Arts Program to prepare its Marines for this unwanted eventuality, Lowe said.
“We live in a pretty secure environment (at Al Asad, Iraq),” Lowe said. “MCMAP gets us out there and our hands dirty. If something bad were to happen, it just helps us maintain that warrior mentality, which you need in a combat zone.”
“What’s wrong with taking a few hours a day, getting some MCMAP training and keeping that warrior mindset,” Lowe added. “It keeps our minds from going soft. The training is not only physical, but your thinking about situations and that keeps your mind alert.”
Operational commitments again came into play as the course was scheduled during most of the Marines’ spare time, Lowe said, which they didn’t seem to mind much.
“The MCMAP courses are carefully selected by what works best for the entire class,” Lowe said about the scheduling for the courses. “They we’re very liberal in their schedules. The thing most people are sacrificing is just time to sit around and not do anything.”
Sometimes in a Marine’s mind, training simply boils down to not wasting time, Lowe concluded.
“People use all the training to help pass the time,” Lowe said. “Time efficiency has always been key in the Marine Corps. If we have the time and resources to get these things done, why not?”
Marines know, however, that training for contingencies in Iraq and Afghanistan is not just something to pass the time and keep the Marines occupied, it is invaluable to the Marines and related to everything they will encounter while deployed, explained Montoya.
“You need to continuously train,” Montoya explained. “We trained for what we thought would happen but when we got here, we started encountering other things. The enemy is going to keep changing, so we need to adapt and overcome. That’s why we need training.”
MAG-16 plans to continue its pace for training in the coming months, all of which is subject to operational commitments, Lowe said. VMGR-452, a subordinate unit of MAG-16 while deployed, plans to hold another Corporal’s course, and MAG-16 is planning more fire and maneuver ranges, BZO ranges and MCMAP courses are being discussed. They are also planning crew-served weapons courses and hopefully a heavy-caliber range, Lowe said.
With no rain looming in the horizon and the skies clear, MAG-16 is not training according to the old adage, but the training schedule remains full.