MARINE CORPS AIR GROUND COMBAT CENTER TWENTYNINE PALMS, Calif. --
As a bus full of students from the University of Southern California rolled through the Combat Center
’s front gate, a Marine jumped aboard and quickly took charge, yelling at the students to put their heads down, not speak, or even make eye contact as the Marshall School of Business Leadership Challenge began Feb. 26.
The installation’s Staff Noncommissioned Officer Academy opened its doors to more than 40 USC business students who volunteered to participate in a unique two-day leadership experience no classroom could provide, said Aren Nazarians, a Masters of Business Administration student at USC, and member of the Marshall Military Veteran’s Association. The MMVA is comprised of MBA students who have previously served in the armed forces.
“We came and went through this last year,” said Nazarians, a Glendale, Calif., native. “It went really well last year, but this year it has gone above and beyond our expectations. The Marines have done an amazing job.”
Gunnery Sgt. Benjamin Suter, the deputy director of the Combat Center’s Sergeants Course, said they gave the students a taste of “boot camp” when they first arrived to shock them out of their comfort zones and force them to work together as a team.
The students’ first opportunity to show leadership and teamwork skills came when they had to make their own beds before going to sleep. After they sat through a ‘rack-making class,’ they were given two sheets, a blanket, a pillow and three minutes to make their beds exactly as they were shown – with faculty advisors yelling and getting in the way.
When the advisors saw the students not working together, or making their beds wrong, they pulled all the sheets to the floor and made them restart. It took the students more than 45 minutes to complete the basic task.
The next morning, the students woke early to begin their leadership challenge. As the faculty advisors tried to get account for the students, they asked for four volunteers. The four students who showed initiative and jumped up first were designated as squad leaders and put in charge of the other students.
They were taken to the Indoor Simulated Marksmanship Trainer at the Combat Center’s Marksmanship Training Unit and taught how to shoot a wide variety of weapons in the Corps’ arsenal.
While one squad fired, the other squads received classes on equal opportunity, ethical decision making, mentors in violence prevention, and the importance of leadership throughout the Marine Corps.
Although the students still showed respect by standing when speaking and providing a ‘sir’ or ‘ma’am’ after they spoke, the atmosphere became more relaxed than the night before, and they were able to ask the Marines questions about their jobs and military life in general.
“I’m glad to be one of the few people to get this experience and see what the Marine Corps is all about,” said Ted Evans, a USC student who participated in the challenge. “There is absolutely no possible way I would be able to do this for a living. This is hardcore stuff, but it really makes me proud to have these guys defending this country.”
The students’ final challenge encompassed physical fitness, mental fortitude and leadership – running the Marine Corps Communications-Electronics School obstacle course. After running the course, the students were given four metal poles, three tires, strings and rope, and a barrel filled with sand. Without rolling the heavy barrel or letting it touch the ground, the students had to find a way to move it one mile to another obstacle course.
First squad quickly took the lead, creating a stretcher with the poles and string. With 2nd and 3rd squads quickly closing in, 1st Squad pushed through their fatigue and pain and crossed the finish line first. With pinched bleeding fingers, and one busted lip ignored, the faculty advisors pushed the squad to maneuver through the final obstacle course.
“I have been on retreats where we had to work as a team, but it has never been with a 500-pound barrel,” said Evans, a Los Angeles native. “What we just accomplished was teamwork to the max. If even one of us had given up, all of us would have failed.”
Suter, a Hutchinson, Kan., native, agreed with Evans, saying the students did exceptionally well by working together and applying what they learned.
“Their true colors showed when they completed the task,” Suter said. “They were extremely motivated as they moved toward accomplishing their mission.”
Suter said the students left the Combat Center knowing they achieved the leadership skills they were looking for, and hopes they will apply what they have learned to further the future of America.
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