Sunbaked skin presses against the butts of rifles, as sweat runs down foreheads, brimming along chin straps and soaking into shirt collars. Their eyes scan the urban terrain, searching for enemies from the surrounding grassy hills of Camp Guernsey, Wyoming.
Marines and Airmen from around the globe trained together for the first time in the advanced tactical course from June 9-20.
“Move, I have you covered,” said Marine Corps Sgt. Justin Roman, Marine Corps Security Forces Training Company instructor.
Shots ring out and echo through a desolate neighborhood of tan shipping containers stacked and strewn about. Feet pound and guns sway as a small-fire team run to their next sheltering place. A cadre calmly walks behind, eyes watching for mistakes.
“A small mistake in training could cost you your life in a real-world situation,” said Staff Sgt. Jesse Koritar, 90th Ground Combat Training Squadron training instructor. “Correcting mistakes in a controlled environment will instill muscle memory and effective tactical decision making will become normal.”
A machine gun lets loose from a dark window aimed for a dilapidated shack near their shelter. The sound reverberates through their rib cages as they press forward to their objective.
“It’s important to break their fears,” Koritar said. “When it comes to ‘the moment’ we don’t want them to freeze and cause the potential death of others.”
Getting the students into a normalcy of hearing gunfire and moving forward, despite inner fears, is paramount to molding a successful tactical response force and is one of the goals of ATC.
The team stacks up for their next move, communicating each other’s positions. All the while, covering down on different tactical angles, with their M4 carbine, watching for a shooter.
From a window overlooking an open courtyard, shots are fired. With the distraction from another fire team, they can move towards their objective. Passing by windows, one member scans for possible targets, while his partner watches their back.
“Clear. Move,” Roman said after each window.
The modified shipping containers now tower overhead, blocking them from view of their counterparts in the courtyard windows.
They clear out a makeshift building, planning to move farther into the city. Lined up at the door, an Airman sends out cover fire as the team makes a run for shelter.
Pop! A plume of white smoke escapes a training improvised explosive device set off by the first Airman’s advance between two buildings.
“The first two,” said Staff Sgt. Mathew Nason, 90th GCTS training instructor. “You’re dead.”
The mission must press on.
“We get them exposed in the urban environment or with the payload transporter van so they know what to look for,” Koritar said. “The trip wire and IED training is important, it’s a simple attack and the threat is real.”
In the clouds a UH-1 Huey from Minot Air Force Base, North Dakota, banks to land in an open field for infiltration and exfiltration exercises down the road. Another team runs, heads tucked down, below swishing blades to load up.
Over the course of 11 days, the students learned a multitude of skills, including: urban operations, rappelling down a 56-foot rappel tower, helicopter operations, close quarters combat and PT van and vehicle assaults.
“I am learning a lot of new stuff I haven’t seen before and the stuff I already know, I am just practicing and getting better at it,” said Airman 1st Class Jose Villalvazo-Vazquez, 91st Security Support Squadron tactical response force member. “At the end, no matter if you know it or not, practice is what helps you perfect it.”
Not only does every student need to polish their individual skills, they also learn to work as a cohesive team.
“At the beginning of this course one of the classes’ weaknesses was team cohesion,” Koritar said. “We have guys who come from different bases, who have never worked together. When they walk into our door we teach them to have accountability, to take care of their people and to meet and rise to a higher standard every day.”
The course mixes the members into groups and expects them to quickly learn how to communicate and work as a cohesive team. Communication is important during combat situations; however, there is a more prominent reason for a team like this to bond together.
“I tell these guys, you’re going to eat together, sleep together, you’re going to hang out on your off time together, to build that foundation to trust their buddy,” Koritar said. “You want all of your guys on the same page, that tight-knit community where they are ready to die for their buddy if need be.”
Creating a team that would walk through hell together isn’t a tranquil task. It leaves sweat stains, dirt-streaked faces and bruised and bloody limbs.
“We have been failing, we’ve been growing, we’ve been getting to know each other. That’s what it means to learn,” said Villalvazo-Vazquez.
To protect one of America’s greatest assets, it takes dedication, pride and a well-taught team. The perfect team is constantly looking for improvements, budding to be the best and is willing to train and work in the most grueling of conditions.
“The goal is to take a trained member from any base and have the tactics across the board to be the same throughout,” Koritar said.
The ATC had their first blend of students including Marines and Airmen from around the globe; some traveling from as far as, Aviano Air Base, Italy and Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska.
“Integration of different people including Marines, allows us to see different aspects in training,” said Airman 1st Class Damion Rodriguez, 91st SSPTS TRF member. “The mixed course forces us to get to know other people, how they see things, and how they work and cope with responsibilities and tasks given.”
The learning and improvement observed throughout the training wouldn’t be a possibility without a central location and experienced cadre shaping members to TRF standards.
“These exercises are beneficial to the students because they don’t always have the training areas or the equipment and resources to actually make these complex scenarios happen,” Koritar said. “At Camp Guernsey we have the training ranges, time and cadre to help evaluate and mold these guys and help them become successful and do the TRF mission.”
After gallons of water have been converted into sweat and uniforms abused by rocks and dirt, the students skilled in all areas of the TRF mission earn the right to graduate. Thus allowing them to be placed on any fire team and not miss a beat, ensuring America is continuously under protection from adversaries around the globe.