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Beseiged dayton ohio { November 26 2002 }

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Tuesday, November 26, 2002
Dayton, Ohio, takes on role of beseiged city for urban fighting exercise

By Sandra Jontz, Stars and Stripes
European edition, Wednesday, September 25, 2002

DAYTON, Ohio -- The towers. Maj. Drew Cukor hadnít seen the radio towers.

"If this had been done at night, in a Third World country and there werenít any markings on the tower, could you imagine what might have happened?" asked the 34-year-old Marine, worrying aloud about his helicopters slamming into the towers as they tried to insert Marines.

It wasnít a Third World country. It wasnít even a real mission. It was an exercise in urban training in southwestern Ohio. But that gave no comfort to Cukor, who for weeks had studied Dayton from the sky and space, using the latest in technological surveillance equipment.

The towers didnít show up in any of the imagery captured by the radar and imaging systems from satellites, helicopters and the Navyís P-3 Orion surveillance aircraft called in to participate in the exercise, he said.

Cukor, who leads the intelligence unit of the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit, watched fellow Marines fast-rope onto the warehouse rooftop of their "objective" that housed the enemy.

"There is no room for glitches," he said, verbally beating himself up.

He knows the city better than most lifelong residents, he said. But it wasnít until Monday that he actually saw it in person.

"Iím anxious and nervous and excited," he said, as he watched the second of three situational exercises as a handful of the MEUís Marines trained for their next deployment. "Iím usually on a ship. They never let us out of the green room."

About 300 Marines from the MEU, based in Camp Lejeune, N.C., landed in Dayton on Sept. 12 for two weeks of urban training. And while the concept behind Training in an Urban Environment Exercise, or TRUEX, isnít new, the urgency for such training is.

"This training is invaluable, but never as important as right now," Gunnery Sgt. Joseph Yager, 34, an instructor with the Corpsí Special Operations Training Group, said of Iraqi President Saddam Husseinís threat to lure forces into the cities if his country is attacked.

"You can train on base all day long, but that is such a controlled environment. Here, we have tall buildings, we have civilians. Itís doesnít get more Ďreal world.í"

From the word go, the MEU members have six hours to plan a conventional amphibious or a selected maritime operation.

In Mondayís simulated attack, a team of reconnaissance Marines fast-roped from helos onto the rooftop of a six-story building, blasted their way in, and secured the facility within 14 minutes -- killing 12 enemy fighters.

They had one casualty of their own.

Street fighting -- itís the deadliest kind, said a young Marine.

"We know thatís the most dangerous of jobs. We know you easily can die," said Cpl. Mitchel Leavitt, 22. "Thatís why weíre here."

The Marines trained to raid tall buildings and respond to attacks on critical sites like radio and television stations, railroad facilities and tracks, airports, villages, industrial areas and water, sewer, electrical and nuclear power plants.

Pilots are learning to trail enemy movement on the ground -- making sure to keep the tail without being spotted. Ground forces are learning to deal with complications like losing communication signals. In urban areas, cellular phones wreak havoc on military communication systems -- even in Afghanistan, said Cukor, who deployed to the war zone with the 26th MEU in November.

"Everyone everywhere has cell phones. Unless youíre a nomad. But even the nomads had cell phones," he said.

About every year, the Marines descend upon a U.S. city that meets certain criteria -- the top of which is a willingness to participate -- for hosting such an elaborate exercise, said Bob Aldrich, the national coordinator for law enforcement, public safety and civil support for the Corps.

He works about 18 months out of a scheduled exercise and scours the East Coast looking for cities with tall buildings, adequate fire and rescue systems, and a trauma-level hospital, to name a few of his requirements.

Some of the cities the Marines have performed TRUEXs include Jacksonville, Fla.; New Orleans; Atlanta; New York; Miami and Philadelphia. The MEUs out of California do the same thing and have used cities such as Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Logistics surrounding a TRUEX are nightmarish, at best, Aldrich said. Fire, rescue and police departments typically have to schedule overtime for personnel to be on standby. Streets are closed during the raid. Local residents are notified, usually in person by a Marine, of the training exercise.

And the Corps even coordinates with the Federal Aviation Administration to close down the airspace to commercial airliners around a training site, said Aldrich, a former FBI agent hired by the Corps a year ago.

"We donít play around. This is serious stuff," he said.

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