Benefits of NTC

by Capt Dan Sullivan, USMCR

1stLt N. Van Taylor’s article (MCG, Jun99) about the benefits of training at the Army’s National Training Center (NTC) at Fort Irwin is right on the money. In February 1995, 1 was a platoon commander with Gulf 2/5 when we deployed to Fort Irwin for a month and were attached to the opposing force (OpFor) there. For a variety of reasons, I still consider that deployment the best overall training I have experienced in the Marine Corps.

First, the OpFor at NTC places a high value on having Marine units as attachments. Our “gung-ho” mentality and high motivation compare favorably to the National Guard units that are often tasked with augmenting the OpFor. Consequently, although we onlv had about 120 Marines in our company at the time, we were always tasked with important and challenging missions throughout the entire 30-day exercise.

Second, the training at NT(: is vely realistic, principally because, as Lt Taylor notes, you are fighting against an opponent with an opposing will. In our case it was the entire Army Ist Division-the Big Red One. The highly sophisticated use of MILES (multiple integrated laser engagement system) gear on all weapons systems makes this opposing will all the more real and “deadly.” This has a tremendous impact on developing tactical skills and leadership at all levels; as officers, staff noncommissioned officers (SNCOs), and NCOs are regularly “killed” in battle, all Marines must be ready to step in and lead their company, platoon, squad, or fire team at a moment’s notice.

Finally, at NTC you get firsthand exposure to Army doctrine and tactics. We in the Marine Corps sometimes have a tendency to assume that our way is inevitably the right way. Often this is true, but not always. Whether it was setting up defensive positions by properly utilizing intervisibility lines (i.e., subtle reverse slopes in a desert environment) or being required to dig fighting positions 6 feet deep with at least 18 inches of overhead cover, I learned a lot from the Army during this deployment.

My only disagreement with 1stLt Taylor’s article comes in the conclusion. He states that the Marine Corps must choose between Combined Arms Exercise (CAX) or NTC deployments. This is a false choice. There is no reason why both types of deployments cannot be incorporated into unit training schedules. When possible, CAX and NTC should both be a regular part of all Marine Corps unit training.