If the Marine Corps of tomorrow isn't "a second land army," as commanders want, and instead becomes a two-fisted "contingency force," many of its misions could look like this:
Marines and sailors from the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit spent several days in early December training how to capture a large, non-compliant ship, played by Military Sealift Command's fast logistics vessel USNS Arctic. Marines practiced heading over to the Arctic in two waves, aboard rigid-hull inflatable boats and by helicopter, to overwhelm hijackers or a bad ship's crew before it knew what happened.
To make all of it as realistic as possible, the crew of the Arctic was even "armed" and could "shoot back," per the Marines' oficial story this week:
During the missions, Marines faced a variety of scenarios including finding suspected weapons caches and hostile pirates. Role players also acted as friendly civilian crew and hostile enemy forces, the latter often hiding in the ship’s dark crevasses.The Marines have practiced boarding enemy ships since the Revolutionary War, and no matter what ends up happening to their fast jets or swimming amphibious vehicles, this appears to be a skill that commanders want to keep sharp.
“The intent for using role players is to provide an extra training aid. They provide the Marines the human aspect of the training. Some of the guys will have guns, some of the guys will be hostile, some of the guys will be clean, they don’t know,” said Sgt. Christopher Whited, a VBSS instructor with Special Operations Training Group, the Marine Corps’ training cadre responsible for preparing a MEU for specific missions like VBSS before they deploy.
Some of the hostile role players had something extra in store for the Marines as they boarded – live paintball rounds that sting on impact and burst showing that a Marine has been shot. Such close quarters tactics were perfected prior to embarking on ship.
“They did a five week shooting package that taught them to become super proficient with their weapons,” said [ Capt. Robert Carpenter]. “When you’re on ship, all these lines and all these gas hoses mean something. So when you shoot, you want to hit the target.”