Range 400: A Marine Corps Infantry Company’s Rite of Passage

No Marine Corps infantryman worth his salt has missed out on this iconic company attack range at Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms. It is known as Range 400, and it is one of the most complex and advanced ranges at any military installation in the world. The limits to what can be done, and how the range can be completed do not exist. It is the true culminating event for a Marine Corps Rifle Company, and is the test that must be passed by commanders at all levels before the Marines go to war.

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A Marine Corps Rifle Company. reinforced with engineers and heavy weapon systems from a Battalion Weapons Company, is a force to be reckoned with in any part of the world today. Often times, these units are deployed abroad on ships, with a simple mission statement. “Be prepared to put boots on the deck in any clime and place against any enemy that presents itself to us or our allies.” Range 400 is the final exam these small units take before they are allowed to step off with this mission.

At the range, they are graded by their brother Marines who are subject matter experts from all military occupational specialties. These “Coyotes” are hand selected and follow the Marines down range painting the image of what the enemy is doing, and taking notes on how the Marines are responding to situations as they arise. If Marines are failing to meet the standard, the Coyotes continue to make the situation deteriorate across the entire range. When one piece of the combined arms attack begins to fail, they communicate this to each other and have it directly impact the movement of other Marines on the range.

Commanders only have one attempt at this range in their current leadership position. It is the final exam of their lives, and the hard work and dedication the Marines put into their skill-sets before hand will ultimately pay off as they conduct a large scale operation with more moving pieces than any other range that the Marine Corps has to offer.

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The range begins at the beginning of morning nautical twilight. Early in the day Marines stage in their attack position, and wait for their attached engineer units to prep the breaching charge. Several Bangalore charges are moved to a minefield that the enemy has set up to keep the Marines out. Simultaneously, the Battalion 81mm mortar section moves into a position to support the company in their attack. When they begin their fires, the Bangalore charges are detonated and the attack begins.

The Company’s medium machine gun section leads the charge through the breach, as they need to get themselves on top of a hillside that overlooks the battle space, and prepare to conduct overhead fire with tens of thousands of rounds. The companies attack cannot truly begin until they have effectively established a base of fire, and an acceptable level of accurate suppression that allows the rest of the companies three platoons, mortar section, and anti-tank assaultmen (RIP) to maneuver on the objective.

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As the Rifle Company advances, they have to clear several sections of trench line, deal with several armored vehicles and bunker-like positions, and defeat the general chaos that is being caused by every small failure of every individual Marine. Communication is paramount between commanders, as they often need to communicate success or failure to each other in order to set the conditions for the next phase of the attack, and they often need to do so with failing radio communications as the terrain naturally hinders the unit’s radio systems.

At the conclusion of the range, Marines set up and prepare for a counter-attack. They exploit the enemy, and finish the range. Afterwards unit commanders from the company down to the fire team level debrief. This is often a brutal process. Every mistake is taken in, absorbed, and learned from. Remediation will come in the future, but the Marines have finished their work for the day. In total, Range 400 will generally take anywhere between one and four hours to complete depending on the units proficiency. They will also expend more ammunition here in this single day of training than they will at any other place in their workup to deployment. It is one of the few places in the world where training happens at the highest level, and Marines are pushed to work at the edge of their capabilities, and beyond.

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In the video below, you can see a short video of Marines conducting Range 400. If you ever ran Range 400, come back to the comments and tell us your story on Facebook.

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