Last December I visited Camp Pendleton, toured the Iraq battlefield simulation center there and was briefed by Col. Clark Lethin and retired Detroit policeman Greg Williams on the “combat hunter program” the Corps had developed to train its young Marines for the battlefield in Iraq.
Williams later appeared on the my radio show to discuss the program, and some additional media began to focus on the new tactics.
On the battlefield, Marines and soldiers are facing a resourceful enemy that makes bomb detonators from washing-machine timers, garage-door openers or cellphones. They run around the battlefield in nothing more than dishdashas -or tunics -and sandals.
Yet, they have proved their ability to frustrate America’s technological advantages. Insurgents continually found ways to build larger and more lethal bombs that would get around American technological fixes, says Patrick Lang, a retired Army Special Forces officer and former Middle East specialist in the Defense Intelligence Agency.
“Insurgents tied us in knots with these roadside bombs,” Lang says.
Marine commanders were also looking for ways to overcome a key advantage insurgents have: They can easily hide among civilians.
“Finding is the problem,” Mattis says. “Our soldiers, SEALs and Marines are quite capable of killing these guys. It’s how do you find them.”
Commanders turned to cops for advice, but they also looked within their own ranks -to Marines who grew up in inner cities.
“The inner-city kid has a unique perspective,” says Greg Williams, a retired Detroit area police officer who was recruited by the military to help develop the program. “They have a stronger urban survival instinct. The inner city kid … will see the world a little differently, a little more opportunistically.”
To assist with building the training, Williams said he relied on a couple Marine sergeants who grew up in the city and chose the Marine Corps over a life of gangs.
It may be the first time the military has considered growing up in a poor neighborhood as an asset. Some of the colonels and retired officers were initially skeptical that they would learn war fighting skills from young Marines who grew up in the inner city, Lethin says.
During a conference at Camp Pendleton last year, Williams and a sergeant took a group of skeptical senior officers for a walk in a nearby town. The sergeant pointed out dangerous neighborhoods based on where cars were parked, whether there were toys in the yards and other signs that they noticed but the older officers did not.
“When they came back, all the naysayers were thoroughly convinced we were on to something,” Lethin says.
Marines can be taught to pick out criminals and insurgents trying to blend into a crowd, if they know what to look for, Williams says.
Lt. Patrick Zuber, whose platoon was the first unit to get combat hunter training in a pilot program last year, said the training made Marines better able to sniff out trouble before it happened.
Be sure to read the whole thing. Almost every guest I have had from the military over the past two years –from General Petraeus to Sgt. Jones who helped design the simulation center– have stressed the amazing ability of the American military to learn and adapt to the new battlefield in ways that allow our forces to destroy the enemy. The success of the surge is a testament to this ability, and one cause for optimism concerning not just Iraq and Afghanistan but every battlefield in the wider war against jihadism.
If the voters support victory, they will get it. In fact, they are getting it at this very moment.
Election 2008 will be a referendum on whether we throw it away.