Fire and maneuvering drills, mock IEDs and RPG attacks, and scrambled medical evacuations are just some of the exercises Marines and sailors conduct during their training at Mojave Viper.
The "Viper" takes place in Twentynine Palms, California, the largest training base of the Marine Corps.
Although each scenario the Marines encounter is under strict supervision, it's the closest thing to war young infantrymen are exposed to before going toe-to-toe with the real enemy.
To make the setting as real as possible, the combative minds behind the training keep a few surprises in store for those who dare train in the desert landscape.
1. The role players are out to beat you
Although this is training, the hired role players who pretend to be the enemy are plotting all types of sh*t behind your back. Just like while deployed, the enemy will smile to your face and then shoot you in the back when it comes time.
Lance Cpl. Mary C. McKenna (center) uses a HIDE system to document the iris of a man displaying suspicious behavior during Mojave Viper. (Photo by Lance Cpl. Mark Stroud)
2. Those are real amputees you're dealing with
To make it as real as possible, when an IED attack occurs and all hell breaks loose, the government spares no expense. They cast role players who have previously lost limbs to help better immerse the Marine or sailor into the setting.
It's pretty fun at times.
3. They use Hollywood practical effects
Just like in the movies, practical effects are used to make the chaos feel more organic. Hollywood makeup artists and special effects personnel are brought in to add realism to the mock suicide bombings and carnage.
Marines have no clue when something will pop off, so they must be ready at all times.
Marines with 3rd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment treat casualties from at mock explosion during a first responder drill in a mock Afghan town at Range 215, as part of Mojave Viper. (Image from Wikimedia Commons)
4. You can be taken as a POW
Remember when we said, "the role players are out to get you"? Well, we weren't kidding. Some of the role players, like Kelvin Garvanne, were given the okay to kidnap Marines when the situation called for it.
Once a Marine is taken as a POW, it's "game-on" for a rescue mission.
"We kidnapped Marines," Mr. Garvanne explains. "One of the things we wanted to do in real time was capture a Marine."
Kelvin Garvanne teaches these Marines cultural immersion. The Leathernecks learn about Afghan culture and customs from the experts.
5. The stars at night are big and bright deep in the heart of Mojave Viper
People, we sh*t you not!
Although the desert is hot all damn day long, once the sun drops off the horizon and the stars come out, you'll forget where you are.
Cue the cheesy music.
Stargazing at Joshua Tree. (NPS photo by Lian Law)
6. Although it's training, you can still get hurt big time
To make it as real as possible, most of the training scenarios include plenty of live fire live, not excluding artillery and mortar rounds. With all this gear and tech being used, Marines can get all kinds of hurt.
And let's not forget about all the freakin' snakes that live in the area.
Running into this fang-filled snake could ruin your day in a heartbeat.