<i>48 Hours:</i> Front Line of A 'New' War

Special Anti-Terrorist Squads Train In Virginia

If there is going to be a new face of war, as President Bush and his advisers warn, it might well involve the specially trained Marine Corps anti-terrorist squads who are practicing their tactics at a remote base in Virginia.

“You have to be aggressive in this environment or you're gonna get eaten up,” Sgt. Phil Chaney tells 48 Hours Correspondent Richard Schlesinger as he directs an exercise with live ammunition. It’s being done in a specially constructed building they put up – just to shoot down.

“If you’re not willing to move in this violent kind of environment, you’re in the wrong business. We’re gonna hit ‘em and hit ‘em hard,” he says.

It’s the kind of exercise these anti-terrorist teams have gone through dozens of times before. But Marines like Ricardo Sebastian, a 28-year-old from Miami, know their usual training is now anything but routine. Given the events of Sept. 11, the likelihood that they will need to put their training into practice is exceedingly high.

“Sometimes maybe you could laugh at your mistakes,” Sebastian says. “Now, you look at your mistake and you think, ‘Well ,that could have cost me my life.’ So you make sure you make a mental note. ’ll I’ll NEVER do that again. ’ll And you never make that mistake again.”

Sebastian and the other members of these teams are called on when terrorists attack or threaten Americans overseas. The Marines sent such teams in when the USS Cole was attacked in Yemen and when American embassies were bombed in Kenya and Tanzania.

As realistic as their training is, the threat of actual war never seemed that real.

When they signed up for the Marines, many expected to be lending a hand to other countries. Few expected to fight a war to defend their own country and protect themselves and their families.

And while this may be a new type of warfare, some of the old rules never change. None of the men going through this training knows where he’ll be sent, or when, or even if he’ll go anywhere. But there is always one team -a platoon of about 50 men - who have to be on call, ready to go anywhere on 24 hours' notice.

For now, Sebastian can go home at the end of the day, where his parents, Carmen and Hugo, have come to be with him and his wife, Kelly.

If Sebastian gets that call, Kelly vows to “support him the best way I can here at home.

“I will pray that he can get the job done that would allow us to live like we have lived till now - without fear - in our own country,” she says tearfully.

Sebastian and Kelly have been married for just 14 months. She works in a medical office with other military wives and knew what was in store as soon as she heard about the Sept. 11 attacks.

“My first thought was, ‘Oh no, Rick’s gonna be going somewhere if this is terrorism,’ “ she recall. Since then, she and her husband had the same conversations military couples have been having for generations.

“I make him promise that he’ll be home and he’ll be fine, “ she says. “And of course, he tells me not to worry - he’ll be OK.”

When they were married, she expected Sebastian to go through his normal enlistment and come home, no questions asked.

Now, there are a LOT of questions, many of which Sebastian can’t answer.

“It’s not that I don’t like to talk about it, “ he says. “It’s that there are too many ‘what ifs’- what if, what if, what if” how can I answer what if”?

Soldiers have always faced that question. Despite all the talk about a new kind of battle and the new face of war, it doesn’t feel all that different to Sebastian and the other Marines here. The tactics are new, the weapons are more advanced, but on the personal level, nothing’s changed very much at all.

“War has always been war, “ Sebastian says. “It always come down to that. Man against man. It’s not gonna change from that.”

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