Target: Petersberg

Marines Test Their Skills In Virginia

Petersburg, Virginia, is no stranger to combat. During the Civil War, bloody battles were fought there. Until now, the guns have been silent.

But this fall, a battle of sorts took place there. The target is an abandoned warehouse occupied by Marines posing as terrorists. The mission: members of the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit must capture the building and deal with the terrorists. It’s a training mission where the men shoot with paintballs. But it’s very real. Richard Schlesinger reports.

"This is serious business," says Major Scott Campbell. "We don't get the latitude of failure. We don't get the chance to fail - fail means people die." Campbell should know; he served in Somalia. He knows what's at stake. Campbell and his men are scheduled to ship out within months.

"The next time we do this, it may be real," he says. The Marines now on the ground in Afghanistan went through this same kind of special operations training just a few months ago. Campbell's men don’t need to be told what they would be fighting for.

"There's a sense of rage within all the Marines," he says. "It's a powerful thing these cowards did, and a constant reminder that this is a serious business."

As night falls, Campbell's Marines get ready for the attack, pumping up on heavy metal. The plan calls for two groups of Marines to slide down ropes from hovering helicopters to the roof of the building. This requires precise coordination of men and machine in almost total darkness.

"We're coming to a target we've never seen before. You come into a city like Petersburg you can't even begin to think of all the ways we can find problems," says Campbell.

Campbell's forces are facing twice as many men as they expected. Then comes a surprise counter-attack, from two different directions. Campbell's men make some critical errors. They chase the terrorists out into the street, exposing themselves to enemy fire.

The Marines accomplished their mission, wiping out the opposition, and capturing the building. Campbell's forces withdraw under clouds of billowing smoke bombs, but they still have a lot of training ahead of them before they are ready to go.

Since then, the unit's training has continued every day. The 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit is at this moment at sea, expecting orders to be sent out - into harm's way.

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