The Dominion Post
About 1,800 Marines and sailors will flood the streets of Morgantown the first three weeks of May for urban combat drills.
In groups of 150-200, members of the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit out of Camp Lejeune, N.C., will raid abandoned buildings in downtown Morgantown, downtown Fairmont and other areas in the region to simulate real-life situations they may encounter while they are deployed.
Capt. David Nevers, public affairs officer for the MEU, said the missions cover everything from full combat to peacekeeping. The MEU is a combination of air, sea and ground troops who perform highly-classified and often covert operations. The 24th MEU is one of only three in the world.
The point of the drills is to make the situations as realistic as possible.
But the challenge is to cause as little disturbance as possible in the city.
"It's very likely that plenty of Morgantown citizens will notice when we are there," Nevers said.
Helicopters will fly overhead to pick up and drop off the members of the MEU during the exercises. When they hit the streets, the Marines will be clad in combat gear and armed with semi-automatic weapons. Residents will hear gunshots.
Nevers said the weapons will be loaded with blanks in most instances, but a select few of the Marines will have real bullets in their guns.
"A few of the Marines will be doing sniper training, and under very controlled circumstances, they will shoot into a bullet trap inside an abandoned building," he said.
In much the same way a mitt catches a baseball, Nevers said the bullet trap will catch the bullet and prevent it from ricocheting and causing damage to the surroundings.
Nevers said this sniper training is necessary for the type of missions the MEU handles.
He said the mock drills and the real-life situations have included capturing a high-value target like a terrorist, or taking out a target.
One of the 24th MEU's more publicized missions was the rescue of Air Force Capt. Scott O'Grady from Bosnia on June 8, 1995. O'Grady's F-16 was shot down six days earlier, and the MEU went into enemy territory to retrieve him.
The 22,000-member unit is trained to mobilize quickly and be self-sufficient for 15 days before requiring resupply. Nevers said the MEU specializes in several areas, including urban combat. One of the most important aspects of the training is going into the city undetected.
However, he said, residents in the surrounding areas will be warned far in advance on the days of the urban combat exercises.
"We like to make the citizens very aware of everything that's going on. This is very important training for us, and we want the people to understand," Nevers said. "It's probably the most important training we will conduct."
Morgantown Mayor Ron Justice said the city has been in contact with the Special Operations Unit of the MEU that is in charge of the training, and he does not anticipate any problems within the city while they are here.
"They'll work everything through the city manager (Dan Boroff), and it shouldn't cause any concerns," Justice said. "It will all be highly coordinated. No one will be in danger."
Justice said the aircraft that the MEU will use during the drill will be fueled at the Morgantown airport. The city anticipates at least $250,000 in fuel sales alone while the Marines are in the city.
Nevers said the accessibility of the airport and Camp Dawson in Preston County, where the troops will be staying, in combination with the urban setting make the area ideal for their training needs.
Similar urban combat training exercises have taken place in Orlando, Fla., Atlanta and New Orleans.
Justice said he has been assured the drills in Morgantown will take place after the WVU students have left for the summer.
Nevers couldn't give an exact date of the Marines' arrival because part of the training is mobilizing the whole unit with little notice.
The MEU's Special Operations Unit "has assured me that it won't be a situation where people think it's a live-type thing, something that is actually happening," Justice said. "They've assured us that daily life will not be disrupted."
Justice said area residents will also get a chance to view the MEU's aircraft and see limited portions of the training.
"People in Morgantown will have an opportunity to see something that a lot of other communities would like to have."
30 mins south of me, damn wish I couold have watched.