Marines Focus on Target Identification
By Marine Corps Lance Cpl. James W. Clark
Special to American Forces Press Service
CAMP DWYER, Afghanistan, Jan. 4, 2010 Adjusting his body armor, a designated marksman with Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, tracked the progress of a patrol of Marines from his perch atop a rocky hillside. The marksman followed the line of tan figures as they plodded along toward the platoon attack course at Range 3 here Jan. 2.
A Marine advances toward targets during a training exercise at Camp Dwyer, Afghanistan, Jan. 2, 2010. The targets marked with yellow represent civilians, while the solid green silhouettes are enemies. The platoon attack course focused on the positive identification of targets and precision fires to reduce the risk of civilian causalities during future operations. U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. James W. Clark
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
The patrol rounded a bend and approached a cluster of barriers that represented the first set of houses the Marines would encounter. After a brief sputter of chatter across the radio, the patrol separated into squads, then further into four-man fire teams. Each element pushed toward a predetermined objective, but also had to remain cognizant of the situation as it developed and targets were identified.
As the patrol neared the houses and responded to simulated enemy fire, the Marines had to determine which targets were hostile and which were friendly as they prepared to return fire.
The exercise simulated a patrol taking on an enemy position without the use of indirect fire, due to the risk of indirect fire causing civilian casualties. This forced the Marines to rely on accurate small-arms fire, explained Marine Corps 1st Lt. Mark A. Greenlief, the company’s executive officer. The purpose of the training exercise is to further develop the Marines' ability to quickly acquire enemy targets and engage them, while minimizing the risk to civilians, he said.
"Coordination is essential at the individual Marine level, and all the way up,” Greenleif said. “The goal is to teach that the kinetic solution isn't always the best one."
As the Marines moved through the course, they came across silhouettes marked by different colors meant to indicate a hostile or friendly target.
"The exercise gave us the chance to distinguish between targets in the heat of the moment," said Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Brandon C. McConnell, a team leader. "It's pretty easy [during training]. In the real world, it won't be like this, and you'll have only a few seconds to make that judgment. The biggest challenge is trying to determine who's friendly and who isn't."
McConnell, who was with the battalion on its last deployment to Afghanistan as a part of the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, described the challenge of making careful and good decisions in the middle of combat.
"You have to maintain control,” he said. “You're getting shot at by one person, and you want to just shoot back at everyone, but you know you can't."
The success of counterinsurgency operations relies heavily on the ability of Marines and sailors to reduce civilian casualties, Greenlief said, which requires each Marine to take great care in acquiring every target.
(Marine Corps Lance Cpl. James W. Clark serves in the 1st Marine Division’s Regimental Combat Team 7 public affairs office.)