An ambulance waits to receive a casualty from a Chinook helicopter at Camp Bastion, Afghanistan, following an engagement with the enemy. The Medical Emergency Response Team (MERT) is made up of two teams based in 'Main Operating Base Bastion,' that are responsible for extracting casualties from anywhere within Helmand Province. (Sergeant Alison Baskerville RLC/Crown Copyright)
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CAMP BASTION, AFGHANISTAN — In the wake of a Sept. 2012 insurgent attack on Camp Bastion, Afghanistan, that left two Marines dead and others wounded, the Camp Leatherneck/Camp Bastion complex has undergone a security renovation that officials with the base’s force protection unit compare to a Las Vegas casino. But in addition to the concertina wire and expensive camera systems, they have a secret weapon: a think tank of a dozen young troops whose job it is to come up with far-fetched potential security threats and troubleshoot them.
Called the “Dirt Track Red Team,” this small group, named by British Brig. Rob Thomson, is the answer to “Kool-aid,” or common, thinking at the upper echelons, said Col. Peter Baumgarten, commander of Task Force Belleau Wood, the base security element.
“We see and know what’s around us,” Baumgarten said. “We think about the 14 September 2012 attack; we think about the indirect fire. [Too often] we don’t think about the crazy things that could happen.”
In that attack, 15 insurgents exploited security vulnerabilities in the perimeter near the Camp Bastion airfield, low-crawling through a small ditch and breaching fences with wire-cutters. Baumgarten said he knew beyond a doubt that such an assault would be quelled even before it began today, but was more concerned about the strategies and possibilities no one had thought of before.
“We’re looking at the bizarro thing,” he said. For example, “the small village outside the gate exploded. The chances of that happening are basically zilch, but there are some things that they could come up with where you go, wait a minute, I hadn’t thought about that. How are we mitigating that?”
To this end, he said, young members of the 3,000-strong Task Force Belleau Wood are dispatched to roam the adjoining Camps Leatherneck and Bastion, going anywhere accessible to them and strategizing how they would attack the base. Then, they return to task force headquarters to play their ideas out in a war-gaming scenario in order to strategize better defenses.
The most dynamic of the theorists are hand-selected for the red team. Composed of male and female Marines, enlisted and officers, and NATO personnel, the team has gamed out a number of wild scenarios—all of which are too sensitive to be divulged publicly, Baumgarten said.
“The last thing I’m going to do is stand here after a successful attack has occurred and go, ‘boy, I never thought they could do something like that,’” he said. “ … I refuse to have a failure of imagination here.”
While the original Dirt Track team stood down while Task Force Belleau Wood’s Marine infantry element, 1st Battalion, 9th Marines, changed out with the incoming 1st Battalion, 2nd Marines, he said a new team would be selected later this month.
Meanwhile, said task force executive officer Lt. Col. Phil Ash, said he also relies on a less-formal brain trust: a group of four lance corporals he calls “the council of kings.”
“Some of their ideas definitely come from playing too many video games,” he said, but others have proved insightful.