April 1, 2015, Marine Corps Base Quantico – Nothing in his background of close quarters combat prepared Cpl. Tyler Zeller for the challenging test assignment given him during his final week as a student at the Methods of Entry School.
Armed with limited initial information, Zeller took his turn serving as the Lead Breacher for a Marine team charged with violently breaching the door of a house where armed suspected Afghan insurgents held captives while planning attacks against American service members. Zeller had just 90 minutes to assess the simulated mission, assign specific tasks to his eight-man team and rehearse before executing the mission.
A tall order by any standard.
?It?s a little nerve-wracking,? Zeller allowed after successfully navigating the mission at the Goettge Demolition Range on March 17.
But critical thinking and effective mission analysis on the fly were just the skills school instructors hoped to see as the 16 students inched toward graduating from the arduous three-week course designed to educate students on the finer points of successfully breaching doors, windows, walls and other fixtures of man-made structures to get the bad guys and rescue captives.
The five methods of specialized breaching taught at MOES include manual, mechanical, thermal, ballistic and explosive techniques.
Safety is always paramount, but preparing for any contingency is critical, said Chief Warrant Officer 4 Timothy H. Buckles, officer in charge, Methods of Entry School.
?The whole point of the exercise is to minimize the amount of explosives to obtain 100 percent penetration of the target while minimizing collateral damage in the target area,? he said. ?There?s no room for error. You can?t make a mistake.?
Each student took a turn at directing a mission as the Lead Breacher, with a passing grade coming only if he successfully completed the mission within the required time over the course of two days of testing. The final exam included a simultaneous assault on a simulated Afghan town by each of the two eight-man teams in the class, complete with live fire and other simulated combat conditions.
The students managed despite consistently facing unexpected challenges along the way. Better to learn under the watchful eye of a cadre of combat-proven Marine instructors than in a far-away land where mistakes and indecision could cost lives.
?They have to be able to react to any situation that may come about,? said Master Sgt. Jerry Slattum, instructor, Methods of Entry School.
The two days of testing saw the students run as many as five missions a day, with each one a little different to avoid redundancy.
Founded in 1986, MOES runs eight classes per year with Marines assigned to Reconnaissance and Force Reconnaissance units, Security Forces Regiment Recapture Tactics teams, Military Police Special Reaction teams, Explosive Ordnance Disposal units and Marine Special Operations Command units. The next MOES class begins in April, Buckles said.