The Marines at Camp Lejeune have a new state-of-the-art facility in North Carolina that goes to great lengths to make soldiers feel like they are on other side of the planet. A 32,000-square-foot warehouse is filled the aromas of roasting meat and cedar; a walkway of made of dirt and gravel -- even faux roadside bombs which can be detonated at a misstep. Afghan natives wait inside for the Marines during every training run.
“Before they come in here they are not sure what to expect and they don’t really know what it is,” said the infantry immersion trainer site lead Vince Soto. “After they go through it, it is usually -- wow.”
There are more than two dozen adobe buildings set up like a maze. Marines must navigate through homes, a market place, a school, a jail and a mosque. Avatar projections line the wall of the school -- making it look like children are present and there are scent generators throughout the facility. Even the homes have bedding, making the entire warehouse feel like the real-deal.
During each mission, the Marines are greeted by Afghan villagers who act as local doctors or spiritual leaders. The missions vary but in order to accomplish each one, they need to understand the cultural consequences of their actions.
Lance Cpl Devin Daly is only 20-years-old but he’s already been deployed to Afghanistan and he says the trainer is very realistic.
“If you go into a village and you are mean and you start kicking down doors and you disrespect their churches and mosques – they are not going to want to help you out and give information,” Daly said. “”So it’s really key to the mission to sit down, have food with them, talk to them about their families and their histories and their culture’s traditions. Really get to know them so they will be open with you and form that relationship.”
Officials say this training exercise puts real-life stress on the soldiers; it prepares them for the explosions, the terrain and the feeling of combat.
“When you are in here and you are doing the training in here, it is completely different from doing it out in the field, you just get a whole different kind of feel for where you are going,” Lance Cpl. Bradford Hollingsworth said. “You’ve got to keep in mind that they speak completely different language. They don’t know anything about what your culture is like or what you do.”
Only two other bases have similar facilities, one in California and one in Hawaii. It costs $20 million to build the facility at Camp Lejuene but for someone such as Soto, he says the training is invaluable.
“It is something I wish I had when I went [to Afghanistan] for the first time,” he said.