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Fire disruption good training for Marines, commander says

Camp Pendleton:

Fire disrupted training at Camp Pendleton to an unprecedented degree, says the base commander, Col. James B. Seaton III.

Training for Marines preparing to deploy to Iraq was halted as Marines were forced to move away from the raging Horno fire. The School of Infantry remains shut down. Families in three housing areas had to be relocated, one at 2 a.m.

Marines had to escort civilians from Fallbrook as they traveled through the base to Interstate 5 to escape the Rice fire. The 72-hour gut check for recruits called the Crucible remains halted. Communications remain down at some portions of the base.

Seaton, who commanded an infantry battalion during the assault on Baghdad in 2003, is looking at the bright side.

"This had great training value," in testing Marines' ability to make quick decisions and handle "nonstandard" missions, he said. Part of the test changed directions quickly and seemingly in a quixotic fashion as the fires shifted.

"Marines know that the enemy has a vote and can change tactics," he said. "In this case, the enemy was wind and fire."

"We're an 'any clime, any place,' force. This was a different clime, but the place was our home."

-- Tony Perry

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