CAMP LEJEUNE — After a decade taking the fight to the terrorists in the hills of Afghanistan, the Marine Corps has spent $20 million to bring a little slice of Afghanistan to Camp Lejeune.
It took about a year to convert an old warehouse on base into the 32,000-square-foot Infantry Immersion Trainer, a high-tech re-creation of a rural Afghan village replete with the clucking of chickens and the smells of meat cooking in the marketplace - and the concussive sounds of gunfire and roadside bombs. The trainer, built by private contractors, opened this month.
Col. Dan Lecce, commander of Camp Lejeune, said the project, which feels like an elaborate movie set, ultimately will save the lives of Marines in combat.
"In the Marine Corps, we call this graduate-level training," Lecce said before media were let into the facility to watch two squadrons of the 1st Battalion, 8th Marines go through exercises.
When he was a young recruit 26 years ago, Lecce said, "We had dirt ranges with a few wooden obstacles. Anything you would simulate, you would simulate with your mind."
War games have evolved in the past couple of decades.
Marines coming into fictional Logahalam (pronounced LOG-uh-lham) Thursday for the first time worked through this scenario:
The night before, they had witnessed an attack by the Taliban on workers in a poppy field. They were to go into the village where the men lived and gather intelligence on local Taliban fighters from residents and community leaders, leave the village and come back a second time to act on what they learned.
The way the Marines conducted themselves on the first visit - how they interacted with locals, how much information and assistance they gained and how much they understood of what they saw and heard - would determine how well their second trip would go.
If they made a positive impression on villagers the first time, things would go much more smoothly than if they alienated or offended the residents.
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