Members of the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit are getting ready for combat — blindfolded.

Marines conducting predeployment training at Camp Pendleton, California, took sight out of the equation when clearing weapons malfunctions in late October. While Marines don't go into harm's way with their eyes covered, that doesn't mean they can't learn something by removing that sense, said Gunnery Sgt. Michael James, who helped train the MEU's security element.

The exercise, which may seem odd to the outside observer, has a real combat application. James said the idea is to train Marines to clear malfunctions without having to look at their rifle or their hands. That ensures Marines can keep their heads up on the battlefield where taking their eyes off the enemy can have deadly consequences. It also helps Marines operating in low-visibility conditions.

"Putting a blindfold on enhances the senses," James said. "It teaches Marines to keep their head up and observe what is going on, but clear the malfunction. Also in low-vis, low-light they can clear their weapon instead of breaking out a light source and IDing their position to enemy."

While photos of the blindfolded drill were attention grabbing, they represented just a small portion of the three-week course that's meant to get Marines assigned to the security element of the MEU's Battalion Landing Team 3rd Battalion, 1st Marines, ready for any scenario.

The training included marksmanship, engaging multiple targets and shooting on the move — all designed to get the security element of the MEU's maritime raid force on the same page. It is, in essence, an abbreviated three-week version of the training provided to the assault element during the close-quarters tactics course, James said.

For Marines who don't spend as much time on the range, the training provides a valuable refresher for handling weapons or conducting maneuver operations so the entire MEU can work seamlessly together in battle. Aside from the Marines with 3/1, members of Combat Logistics Battalion 15 and a force reconnaissance detachment participated.

While the assault element is primarily charged with closing and destroying the enemy, the security element supports in any number of ways including vehicle takedowns, objective area isolation and containment, setting up blocking positions and handling casualties or prisoners. But unpredictable situations can force them into an assault role on a moment's notice, making it imperative that they can step in and seamlessly work with their counterparts.

Typically the security element training would be restricted to infantry Marines. But the latest iteration included Marines from multiple communities because there were empty seats in the course and leaders wanted to seize the opportunity to push those who don't typically find themselves in those roles to become more well-rounded riflemen. That included military police, intelligence and logistics Marines.

"The support personnel may one day find themselves on a target site," said Capt. Andy Kolb, the MEU's force recon detachment commander. "It was a tremendous training opportunity that was simply too good to pass up."

Putting Marines who don't normally train together in new roles helps them learn from each other, too, James said. Offering an example from his own career, he said training alongside law enforcement battalions helped other Marines learn more about site exploitation.

"They are a little more savvy on tactical sight exploitation, gathering info out of a building as far as documents, intel on computers," he said. "Other Marines from other units or elements see how that is being conducted."

The MEU is set to deploy in the spring to the 5th and 7th Fleet areas of operation for seven months, said Capt. Brian Block, the MEU's spokesman. The MEU came together Oct. 10 with BLT 3/1 out of Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii; Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 161 out of Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, California; and CLB-15 out of Camp Pendleton.

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