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Hunters to the Corps: United States Marines are becoming more woodswise prior to combat.

TO MANY AMERICANS, the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq and quick defeat of Saddam Hussein's forces seemed like just another confirmation of this country's global military superiority. But within only a few months after Hussein was routed, the situation for American forces on the ground in Iraq began to deteriorate. In early 2004, Iraqi insurgents murdered four U.S. contractor employees in Fallujah. Their bodies were set on fire, dragged through the streets and hung from a bridge over the Euphrates River. These barbaric acts sparked an international outcry.

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Four days after the murders, the First Marine Expeditionary Force (1MEF) was ordered to invade and pacify Fallujah. Fighting in and around the city was unexpectedly ferocious. Coalition forces could not subdue the insurgent force. On May 1, 2004, Marine Lt. General James Conway announced that Coalition forces would withdraw from Fallujah. The city' and its beleaguered citizens were left in the hands of the ragtag Fallujah Brigade, composed largely of Saddam Hussein loyalists. Within a few months, the Fallujah Brigade disbanded and handed its U.S.-made weapons and supplies over to the insurgents.

In November 2004, as many as 15,000 Marines and other Coalition forces attacked Fallujah again in what became known as the Second Battle of Fallujah. The fighting was described by U.S. military observers as the heaviest urban combat since the 1968 Battle of Hue City during the Vietnam War. On December 23, Coalition forces finally achieved victory in Fallujah, but only after 95 U.S. soldiers had been killed and another 560 had been wounded.

In the wake of the Second Battle of Fallujah, a number of Marines said that they felt as if they had been hunted like prey by the insurgents. An unusually high number of Marines suffered mental health problems, and at least one suicide was attributed to the demoralizing effects of the insurgents' deadly, unorthodox fighting tactics.

One senior officer took careful note of the situation. General James Mattis, a thirty-six-year Marine veteran, commanded the First Marine Division during the 2003 invasion and the Second Battle of Fallujah. A colorful and controversial figure, Mattis was immortalized in the book No True Glory: The Battle of Fallujah, written by Fallujah veteran Bing West.

General Mattis was born in the farm country of southeastern Washington and hunted frequently in his youth. He recognized that the Marines who viewed themselves as "prey" must be transformed into "predators." Mattis formulated a concept called Combat Hunter. He tasked the Marine Corps Warfighting Lab (MCWL) at Quantico, Virginia, to use his vision as the basis for a revolutionary training program.

In February 2005, MCWL announced the creation of Project Combat Hunter. In written background material that accompanied the announcement, MCWL stressed that the most important goal of Combat Hunter is to "make Marines more efficient 'hunters' in all environments." The Combat Hunter philosophy "is buttressed by a hunter's view of the battlefield. [The program] teaches the use of observation skills, combined with an innate understanding of the enemy and the environment in which they fight ... Marines provided with Combat Hunter tactical knowledge, skills and equipment can venture onto the irregular battlefield with confidence ..."

To develop and test Combat Hunter, MCWL assembled what was described as "a carefully selected combination of world-renowned big-game hunters, dangerous-game guides, man trackers, experienced police detectives, seasoned infantry trainers from the Marine ranks and human performance engineers." A series of tests demonstrated that Combat Hunter produced better results than just a man-tracking training program or the normal Marine Corps training program. MCWL asserted that "the Combat Hunter Marine is more capable and confident [and can] better accomplish the mission by operating with the skills and mindset of a hunter ..."

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According to MCWL, Marines who participated in Combat Hunter tests were taught how to "distinguish what is here that should not be here and what should be here that is not, better assess situations and be proactive rather than reactive to an immediate threat and use something as simple as binoculars to dramatically improve situational awareness and threat assessment."

Major Jim Martin was the Officer in Charge for Project Combat Hunter. Martin, an eleven-year Marine veteran with experience in Iraq, is from rural New Jersey and grew up on a dairy farm. He started hunting with his father at age six and maintains an active interest in hunting. Martin recounted how he became convinced that the Iraqi insurgents were indeed "hunting" Marines like wild game. He learned that the insurgents were making precision shots from only a few hundred yards away, not the extreme distances normally favored by snipers. It became apparent to Martin that many of the Marines killed and wounded had been carefully tracked by insurgents and then shot from concealment at an optimal distance, much as a hunter would do with a game animal.

Martin stressed the important role that ordinary Marines played in the development of Combat Hunter. "We went out and talked only to Marines with the rank of sergeant or below," said Martin. "We talked to the country boys who had hunting experience. If they had been to Iraq, we asked if they had used their hunting skills while they were in the country. A number of them had, although they couldn't always articulate exactly how. But the country boys are really in their element when they go through Combat Hunter training."

Unfortunately, Marine recruiters are signing up an increasing number of what Martin calls "suburban Marines," who have had little or no unstructured experience in the natural world. He said that some suburban Marines, after they arrive at boot camp, are too afraid to spend a single night alone in the woods without a flashlight, even though they may only be a short distance away from a well-traveled road.

One of the most critical objectives of Combat Hunter training is to teach Marines how to identify and engage legitimate targets. "The essence of hunting is to discriminate your target, to tell the difference between a buck and a doe," Martin said. "We apply the same principle to discriminate between combatants and noncombatants. We're not killers, we're not murderers. We're hunters; we don't just go out and 'spray and pray.'" He acknowledged that after Combat Hunter was publicly announced, antiwar and antihunting Internet bloggers excoriated the Marine Corps for teaching troops how to "hunt" human beings.

Martin is pleased that Marine Commandant General James Conway has approved Combat Hunter training for the entire Corps. "We have seen that every Marine's confidence in his own ability goes straight up after Combat Hunter training," said Martin. "The same Marines who said three years ago they felt 'hunted' on the battlefield are now saying "let's go get 'em."

Combat Hunter does not currently include weapons training, but that situation is expected to change. General Conway, an avid hunter born in rural Arkansas, observed during his two tours in Iraq that average Marines had difficulty hitting moving targets, such as running insurgents. He ordered the First Marine Expeditionary Force at Camp Pendleton in California to develop a Combat Hunter weapons training course based on hunting skills. The course may require Marines to consistently hit moving targets with shotguns before they are issued their first rifles.
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Title Annotation:THE Outfitter: HUNTING NEWS, TIPS & INSIGHT
Author:Rabb, John Hay
Publication:Petersen's Hunting
Date:Aug 1, 2008
Words:1209
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