Sgt. Shaye Carter, a platoon sergeant with Regimental Combat Team 7, radios target information during a fire support coordination exercise as part of Enhanced Mojave Viper 7-12. The Mojave Viper series is being replaced by the Integrated Training Exercise, which will focus on larger Marine air-ground task force training on a generic battlefield. (Cpl. Ned Johnson / Marine Corps)
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With the war in Afghanistan nearing its conclusion, the Marine Corps is now focused on preparing Marines for a much wider array of missions.
That new focus is evident at the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center in Twentynine Palms, Calif. When Marines cleared out after the final Enhanced Mojave Viper exercise in late fall, trainers and planners there quickly got back to work making final preparations for the next iteration of the Corps' premier pre-deployment training.
Starting Jan. 11, the trails and live-fire ranges at the combat center will come alive as 4,500 Marines and sailors with I Marine Expeditionary Force units descend on the Mojave Desert base for the first full Integrated Training Exercise, Capt. Nick Mannweiler, a combat center spokesman, said Dec. 19. The Marines come from units preparing to deploy overseas, including to Afghanistan and Japan, on unit rotations.
Unlike the Mojave Viper series of pre-deployment training, geared toward Afghanistan and Iraq, the ITX will evolve into larger, Marine air-ground task force training on a more generic battlefield. There will be a greater combined-arms focus — from close-air support to maneuver under fire — across wider swaths of the sprawling combat center.
Each ITX, designed and crafted with the Tactical Training Exercise Control Group, will range from three to five weeks long, with as many as eight ITXs expected throughout 2013. During the "Steel Knight" exercises in December, some 1st Marine Division units at the combat center, including 1st Battalion, 4th Marines, from Camp Pendleton, Calif., went through elements of ITX in a sort of trial run.
To get ready for the transition, Mannweiler said, combat center officials disestablished the Mojave Viper Support Detachment, a group of mostly Active Reserve personnel who handled logistics and support, including ammunition runs, to help training units.
In its place, the combat center stood up the Exercise Logistics Coordination Center. During each ITX, Marines from units participating in the exercise will work with the center staff, from the arrival of their units at Twentynine Palms through the retrograde to their home installations.
"It's exactly what they are going to do when they go overseas," Mannweiler said.
Camp Wilson, the expeditionary encampment near the airfield, remains the staging base for units during ITX. During "Steel Knight," some units brought and used general-purpose tents to house personnel. "If needed, we can do that," Mannweiler said. But even with more Marines and sailors participating in ITX than most Mojave Viper exercises, the larger number of forces can be housed there without a problem. "With the number of large Quonset huts, it pretty much can accommodate everyone we train out here," he said.
While many units will arrive at the combat center with their own equipment and vehicles, the Exercise Support Division's equipment pool still will be able to support any additional needs, Mannweiler said.
"We maintain an entire [regimental combat team's] worth of vehicles here," he said.
Even between ITXs, Twentynine Palms will remain a busy training base as other units use its many ranges and facilities for Advisor Training Group training in partner mentoring, courses offered by the Marine Corps Tactics and Operations Group and specific unit-level training.