While there were a few exceptions (which is normal, individual Marines will invariably be sent to schools that open up at various times during a workup, either simply because the opportunity is there, or to fill a gap in capability that couldn’t be filled before), Det One’s individual training, or “schools phase,” ended July 1st, 2003.  The unit training phase was about to begin.

Just like everything else involved in standing up the new unit, getting ranges and training areas locked on for the training phase involved plenty of headaches.  The Camp Pendleton Range Control did not recognize MCSOCOM Detachment One as a unit.  Ranges and training areas have to be locked on by a unit.  Without the ranges and training areas, no training could take place.  Other support, such as ammunition, had similar obstacles to overcome.  The Marines had to patiently explain the situation, generally only resorting to pulling out the Commandant’s guidance when they could get no farther.  Eventually, they got what they needed.

Part of getting the Detachment ready included building a Training Cell, led by Capt Steven Fiscus and  MSgt James Rutan.  The Training Cell would be responsible for arranging all training, setting up training schedules and scenarios, and generally handling all the behind-the-scenes aspects of the unit’s training, taking that load off the Platoon Sergeants and Team Leaders.

It was a good thing, too.  The training schedule was packed.  In the military, down-time on a training schedule is referred to as “white space.”  It is generally time for routine maintenance and admin issues to be dealt with, and the time when the men get the most time with their families.  Since the Detachment didn’t have a lot of time before they were due to deploy, and still had no concrete mission statement for what they would be doing while deployed, there was very little white space in the training phase.  MSgt Charles Padilla described it as, “It was one big kick in the nuts.”

Col. Coates had summed up the objective of the training phase.  “Brilliance at the fundamentals of our craft—being able to shoot, move, and communicate.”  This reflects a long-standing attitude in the Recon community; there are no advanced techniques, there is only brilliance at the basics.

His definition of “Shoot, move, and communicate” were rather wider than just shooting a rifle, humping a ruck, and using a radio.  Most of the fire elements were sent to Eglin AFB in Florida to qualify as Joint Tactical Air Controllers.  The radio recon element went to Yuma, Arizona and spent a month sending reports via radio back to Camp Pendleton.  On July 7th, the Reconnaissance element began their Weapons and Tactics package at Range 130 on Camp Pendleton.  Range 130 was the Special Operations Training Group’s home and workspace, consisting of several square bays, a demolitions bay, and a kill house.  Most of the Marines of the Recon Element were quite familiar with the range already, having trained there many times with 1st Force Recon Co.

After a week on the range, they moved into patrolling, team tactics, more marksmanship, infiltration and live-fire attacks, culminating in a 10-mile infiltration to a live-fire raid on the kill house at 130.

Weapons and Tactics wasn’t just limited to the Recon Element.  Col. Coates insisted that every Marine in the Detachment had to be trained the same way.  All the support Marines had to do Weapons and Tactics, as well as several of the other patrolling exercises, building the “strong backs, hard feet” that are the cornerstone of the Recon community.  Of course, they had to keep their other jobs up, as well, making it even harder.