Guards questioned the four Afghan strangers dressed in robes as they approached their camp, apparently seeking work, but there was a language barrier; none of the Sailors present spoke Dari.
“What do they want?” one Sailor asked.
“Work, maybe?” another said, pointing to the strangers’ picks and shovels.
The Sailors opted to let the group through the first checkpoint, figuring they were villagers looking for work on base. The second checkpoint was a little tougher.
“Radio higher headquarters, check to see if these guys are on a job.”
They weren’t, prompting a quick reaction force to come in and help firmly usher them back out.
Luckily, this was just a training exercise, and the strangers in robes were fellow Sailors.
“This is their first time out there,” said contractor Al Silva. “We expect mistakes, but they’ll get the basics they need here.”
At the Home Station Training Lanes (HSTL) at Naval Base Ventura County, Point Mugu, members of the military and local law enforcement can participate in a variety of training scenarios, including improvised explosive device (IED) identification and countermeasures, convoy tactics, room clearing, search tactics and mission planning strategies.
HSTL is managed by the National Expeditionary Combat Command and sponsored locally by the 31st Seabee Readiness Group, but it’s not just for training Seabees.
“We’re primarily a counter-IED training area, but we can adapt to pretty much anything here,” said Silva, a counter-IED instructor at the facility.
HSTL is open for use by non-military organizations, too.
“We have law enforcement agencies from the local area come in when there’s time in our calendar,” Silva said. “They do get suspicious packages. It’s maybe not as complex as we see in Afghanistan, but it is dangerous.”
Seabees from Naval Mobile Construction Battalion (NMCB) 5 recently took advantage of the facility to train on entry control point (ECP) operations, which is essentially manning and controlling gate access.
“NMCB 5 Bravo Company often serves as the reaction force team on training exercises and ECP at the gates and sometimes on deployment,” said Mass Communications Specialist 2nd Class Ace Rheaume.
Under the watchful eye of instructor Hector Herrera, Seabees set up checkpoints, conducted searches and interacted with “locals,” played by fellow Seabees.
After the exercise, Herrera gave the Seabees pointers and advice.
“Never assume. Radio and check,” he said. “Be polite, but firm. You’re in control, but you can be courteous.”
Instructors at HSTL have years of experience in the military and have served in Iraq and Afghanistan. Their knowledge and familiarity with the terrain and the mission add critical on-the-ground realism and information to the exercises, said Utilitiesman 1st Class Kevin Swanson.
“I’ve been through the training many times, but it’s always good to have a refresher,” he added. “I’ve been to Afghanistan twice, but things are always changing.”
NMCB 5 completed IED and house-clearing training at HSTL prior to their last deployment, practicing in houses designed to mimic the construction of Iraqi structures, complete with furniture and signs in Arabic. Now the signs have been changed to better represent the Afghanistan-focused mission the Seabees face.
For civilian, non-military organizations, HSTL’s location is as critical as the instructors’ expertise and the immersive environment.
“They have a place they can come that is separate and secure,” Silva said. “They can run scenarios without impacting the local populace or being distracted.”
For more information or to schedule training, contact Andy Martens at 805-603-9311.