Photo Information

Marines from Battalion Landing Team 2/6, 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit, move between buildings during training, June 10, 2008, at Muscatatuck Urban Training Center in Butlerville, Ind. The Marines were using the facility during the 26th MEU's Realistic Urban Training exercise, part of the MEU's predeployment training period. (Official USMC photo by Cpl. Aaron J. Rock) (Released)

Photo by Cpl. Aaron J. Rock

Marines leave their box, get into their ‘lanes’

15 Jun 2008 | Cpl. Aaron J. Rock 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit

Stalingrad, Berlin, Hue City, Baghdad, Fallujah. To most people, these are just places on a map, some of them nice places to vacation. But for students of history and war, these places evoke a far different meaning.

These cities played host to some of the fiercest fighting ever seen in battle.  With the birth of large cities came also a new form of combat: urban warfare.

The lessons learned in those conflicts are as valid today as the days they were learned, and for the Marines and sailors of the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit, training for urban warfare is only a step away from reality.

The 26th MEU is in Indiana for its Realistic Urban Training exercise. Early in June, almost the entire MEU deployed from its base at Camp Lejeune, N.C., to locations around Indiana for urban operations training.

Much of the 26th MEU’s Ground Combat Element, Battalion Landing Team 2nd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, went to the Muscatatuck Urban Training Center, an Indiana National Guard training facility, while other elements went to Camp Atterbury, a Guard outpost south of Indianapolis.

Upon their arrival, the troops began intensive training that covered almost every aspect of warfare in an urban environment, from full-on combat inside large structures to scenarios which forced snap decisions on whether to render assistance to injured locals.

A Hollywood special-effects company made the training as real as possible for a training environment. Special-effects experts and actors combined to take Marines and sailors out of Midwestern America and into villages and cities in Afghanistan and Iraq.

“We need to be able to operate in an urban environment. All the tactics, techniques and procedures we do can be replicated here,” said Col. Mark J. Desens, commanding officer of the 26th MEU. “The setup here allows us to get all the battalion’s training done, as well as the other elements, so it will be prepared to go to (Operation Iraqi Freedom or Operation Enduring Freedom), or quite frankly, anywhere in the world.”

Desens said the staff at the training center have been extremely accommodating to the needs of the unit. When bad weather and flooding forced some of the Major Subordinate Elements from their Forward Operating Bases, many Marines needed drier places to bed down. The solution was to send them from Camp Atterbury to Muscatatuck.

“The National Guard has been terrific to us,” said Desens. “When we got flooded out of our FOB, we came to the folks at Muscatatuck and said, ‘We need to move 800 more Marines in here,’ and they didn’t bat an eye.”

Despite the weather, training never stopped at MUTC.

Capt. Shawn A. Rickrode, anti-terrorism and force protection officer for the 26th MEU, said the training was set up in five different areas, or “lanes”, that each dealt with specific areas of training.

Included were areas set up to train Marines in entry control points, vehicle checkpoints, escalation of force, counterinsurgency operations, urban assault and forward operating base defensive operations.  

While each lane had different scenarios, actors and special effects, all of them were based on squad-level movements and units.

Rickrode said all the lanes presented very challenging situations to the units that exceed what could be done in the facilities aboard their base at Camp Lejeune, N. C.

“It recreates the urban environment, there is a variety of different types of buildings here,” he said, explaining how Muscatatuck's ideal campus and settings allowed the Marines to run a wide spectrum of different training situations.

This variety allowed the 26th MEU to focus on the training instead of how it was going to get the Marines from place to place to do the training.

While the squads of Marines ran through the scenarios, officers and staff noncommissioned officers oversaw and then critiqued the groups’ performances in debriefs.

The significance of the training wasn’t lost on the young Marines executing it.  Pfc. Ryan P. Williams, a rifleman with Weapons Co., BLT 2/6, said he was impressed by the training.

“It was really good training, probably the best training I’ve had; very realistic,” he said.

Williams said it was good for everyone to get away from the 26th MEU’s base at Camp Lejeune, N.C., to do the training.

“I think anytime you’re aboard Lejeune you’re in your comfort zone, it’s good to get away from that,” he said.

The 26th MEU is nearing the end of its predeployment training period.  Following the conclusion of RUT, only one more exercise stands between the MEU and its scheduled deployment in late August 2008.

The 26th MEU is scheduled to deploy aboard the ships of the Iwo Jima Expeditionary Strike Group in support of the Global War on Terror.

For more information, photos and video on the 26th MEU, visit