MARINE CORPS MOUNTAIN WARFARE TRAINING CENTER BRIDGEPORT, Calif. --
It takes a special group of Marines to administer and oversee the training of fighting forces from all around the Marine Corps and even the world.
The Marines with the Unit Training Group are the men behind the scenes who provide what many consider some of the best and most overlooked training the Corps has to offer. From water purification, to surviving in cold weather and mountainous environments, UTG Marines are experts in their trade and pass their knowledge on to each company, battalion and foreign military unit that travels to the training center.
“At UTG our instructors shadow company and platoon commanders to provide tactical advice and feedback about operations in complex, compartmentalized, mountainous terrains,” said Capt. “Doug” Ferreira, the executive officer for UTG. “They also conduct debriefs after company and platoon training events based on specific [standard operating procedures] that battalions identify as mission essential tasks.”
As with all things related to the Marine Corps, safety is paramount, so instructors work very closely with unit personnel to minimize accidents.
“A battalion training here sustains many more routine and priority casualties in the field compared to exercises aboard other training centers,” said Ferreira, of Charlotte, Vt. “While battalions are responsible for executing their own casualty plans, our instructors provide advice to the on-scene commanders regarding route selection, link-up points, and [landing zones] to aide in casualty evacuation when requested.”
Sgt. Jeremy Kanitz, an instructor with UTG, said the Marines around him make his job the most fun.
“There are a lot of good guys here,” said the Olney, Ill., native. “This area, the guys I work with and the mountains make this place an awesome place to be stationed.”
However, becoming an instructor with UTG is no easy task, Ferreira said. To become qualified, Marines must go through several courses aboard the training center, and it can take up to three years to reach the unit’s highest rank of Mountain Warfare Instructor III.
“Our fully qualified instructors, called ‘red hats,’ have the same requirements as instructors at Formal Schools,” Ferreira said. “In fact, Marines frequently move between UTG and Formal Schools,” he said. “After completing both Summer and Winter Mountain Leaders Courses, our instructors are required to attend additional rock, alpine and ski clinics taught by the master trainers for advancement.”
Staff Sgt. Steve Dunn, an instructor with UTG, joined the unit in May and attested to the difficulty of the training.
“It’s fun training, but it’s physically challenging at the same time,” said the St. Louis, Mo., native. “I’ve just finished some of the instructor training and I’m looking forward to getting out in the field to start training units.”
While conducting the center’s Mountain Warrior Exercise, a three-week course designed to teach navigation, combat and survival skills, instructors commonly spend the entire time in the field.
“Every platoon and company headquarters element has an instructor assigned to them,” Ferreira said about the exercise. “It is not uncommon for instructors to spend 18 to 21 days in the field, 24 hours per day, with a unit. There is usually a five-day gap between battalions when our Marines conduct teach-backs and annual training, so the hours they work are long.”
Ferreira added that being in the field for extended periods of time is what his instructors enjoy most.
“We're grunts doing grunt things, and that's what keeps us going,” he said. “This isn't a B-billet where Marines ride a desk or get to spend a lot of time with their families. They are staying in their [military occupational specialty], increasing proficiency and are harder men when they leave here.”
The instructors recently completed a training evolution for members of 1st Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, based out of Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Calif., and will see a break in their training schedule. However, even though UTG only has one more Mountain Warrior Exercise for the rest of the calendar year, the instructors do not plan to sit back and relax. The unit plans to use that time for instructor and annual training.