FORT A.P. HILL, Va. -- Marines from I Company, 3rd Battalion 8th Marines, Camp Lejeune, N.C. conducted an exercise here Nov. 17-22 that tested their ability to perform a new mission that requires discipline, area familiarization and quick response.
Dubbed "the new normal," the mission breaks from past doctrine that stationed Marines only at permanent bases and on ships and focused on combat operations.
Under "the new normal" select Marine infantry units will be deployed overseas to respond to trouble spots in a geographic area. Should an American embassy in their area be threatened, the Marines would deploy to protect it or evacuate American citizens if the ambassador deems the situation too dangerous.
Capt. Brian Hronchek, an Operations Officer with 8th Marine Regiment Headquarters said the exercise was designed to help Marines transition from fighting wars to being a force in readiness, able to respond quickly if a situation develops in another country that threatens American lives.
"Basically we're adjusting our readiness and focus to new areas, adjusting the organization a little bit and now we're training to that new standard," said Hronchek.
"Everyone has been focused on combat operations, now we have to change the whole mentality and turn over to a more of a peacetime and security mission," he said. "The purpose of this exercise is to help everyone change that thinking."
Hronchek said one of the key differences between combat and the new normal is the rules of engagement. Marines protecting an embassy must exercise greater restraint when attacked and may not be able to shoot back when someone shoots at them.
"Combat rules of engagement allow for more of an ability to protect yourself; in this type of situation you may not be able to shoot back," he said.
Hronchek said the Marines under fire will have to take cover and not shoot, a challenge to a force trained to return fire when fired upon.
"They may have to stand fast and hold their cover…allow it to happen just so they don't cause an international incident. It's a very different way of thinking, a different mission with different boundaries and different controls."
During their training exercise, more than 100 Marines and local security guards protected the embassy compound while about 70 local national role players shouted threats and entreaties from the other side of the fence.
The role players were born and raised in the area in which the Marines will operate. They speak the languages, know the culture and can offer valuable insights to the Marines.
Capt. Jim Oliveto, the commander of I Company, 3rd Battalion 8th Marines, said he and his Marines deployed to A.P. Hill on Sunday Nov. 17; they were followed by a platoon of Marines from K Company to reinforce their numbers.
The exercise scenario called for the situation to escalate quickly and become hostile. Given the threat to the Americans in the embassy, the ambassador decided to begin the noncombatant evacuation.
The Marines rounded up the noncombatants and moved them securely to landing zones to await evacuation by V-22 Ospreys flown by pilots from VMM 162 and 264 based in New River Marine Corps Air Station, N.C.
Oliveto said the last evacuees departed Friday morning Nov. 22. All that remained was to redeploy his company. As his Marines waited by the landing zone, Oliveto said he was very pleased with the training exercise.
"It was fantastic training and the facilities here are outstanding," he said.
Oliveto said he and his Marines will deploy soon to their area of responsibility.
"This is the first time an infantry company has done this, prepositioning small Marine units around the world to respond," Oliveto said. "This is the wave of the future for the Marine Corps."