MARINE CORPS AIR GROUND COMBAT CENTER TWENTYNINE PALMS, Calif. --
Twenty-eight Marines began a journey March 31 that took them out of their usual routine and challenged them mentally, physically and as leaders. They underwent hours of training every day and three weeks later their progress was challenged with one final test.
Students of Martial Arts Instructor Course 2-14 underwent their culminating exercise at the Combat Center April 17.
The course trains Marines to become instructors in the Marine Corps Martial Arts Program during 117 hours of instruction in the classroom, on the mats and in the dirt. Upon completion of the course, Marines earn the right to wear a tab on their MCMAP belts that announces their level of training as an instructor.
But before earning the tab, Marines first must pass their final examination. The five-hour test was a culmination of their training and took them through 6-miles of obstacles and fighting, as well as mental and leadership challenges.
Their final day of the course began at 6 a.m. in the morning. The students gathered at what had been their school and dojo for the past 18 days. There was tension in the air as they stretched and went through their handbooks and MCMAP moves with one another, the last few minutes of study before their long day began.
The group consisted of a wide variety of Marines. There were enlisted and commissioned officers ranging from an assortment of military occupational specialties and units. They had come together during the past few weeks to better themselves as Marines and leaders. Now they were bonded through their hardship.
“We talk about how other units come here for the [Integrated Training Exercise] have heat casualties and cramping up,” said Cpl. Christopher Trevino, squad leader, 2nd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, and student, Marine Corps Instructor Course. “But we were born in the sand, baptized by sugar-cookie.”
The inevitable moment arrived and they grabbed their gear and split up into three squads. Each Marine carried a total of 60 pounds, including their flaks, Kevlars and a pack filled with MCMAP equipment and a 35-pound ammo-can they had been carrying around since the beginning of the course.
“Throughout this entire course, the past three weeks we’ve gotten to know each other,” said Staff Sgt. Marc Fulgencio, lead instructor, Marine Corps Instructor Course. “Everyone always says I don’t understand why the ammo-cans are the biggest burden.”
According to him, that would be revealed at the end of the day’s trials.
Their trek across the Combat Center began with a formation run, during which a mental aspect was included. The Marines were tested on their knowledge on topics concerning the importance of leadership and combat, such as physical aspects and the importance of leading.
All the while, one foot after the other they stepped.
After a few miles of running, they stopped and circled around in the sand. They conducted some exercises to wear them out further. Once they were done and well fatigued, they kicked off classes.
A Marine was called forward to give a class to the rest of the squad on a topic decided by their instructor. The first Marine was still gasping for air as he tried to find the words to describe the fog of war. It was a fitting topic. All the Marines carried sweat on their brows and finding mental clarity in a weary state made it more difficult to think clearly and find the next words. Each Marine was called up after him, one by one, until the whole squad was done.
Once again, they stepped.
The three squads converged at the Combat Center’s obstacle course, where they dropped their packs. Still carrying the weight of their flak and Kevlar, each squad worked together to run through the course three times. The lifted themselves over high walls, jumping over logs and climbing the rope at the end of the course. They were panting and covered in sweat.
The next portion of the pitted the Marines, squad versus squad. The squad fought against each other in a three matches, using training knives, bayonets and their bare hands. The Marines kicked up sand as they worked together to defeat the opposing squad during the grappling and bayonet fights. However, when they picked up their training knives, the odds were changed.
The squads were faced outward during the rounds of engagements and brought into the center to fight with random odds. Some Marines were put against two others and some were faced against greater odds.
“I said it day one, one promise I made to all [the Marines],” said 1st Sgt. Jeffery Vandentop, instructor of the course. “That [we] will make sure [the Marines] earn this belt.”
They moved from the fighting to their testing portion. The Marines were tested through practical application of their MCMAP skills. But there would be no rest.
The squads picked up their packs and moved after every testing a technique.
Their next movement was to the top a mountain, their last obstacle. But before they began, they first added a 15-pound bag of sand to their packs.
They’re tired and now they add more weight, Fulgencio said. It’s a mental block.
Tired and worn out, the Marines ascended to the top of the sandy mountain, step by step. Squad after squad reached the top, ending their journey at the top of the mountain, a symbolic act.
“You can stand on this hill and look down at all the terrain [conducted] during this course,” Vandentop said.
The Marines dropped their all their gear. Beneath their flaks, their desert cammies darkened with sweat.
Fulgencio ordered the Marines to grab their ammo-cans and form a circle around him.
The Marines emptied the sand below their feet, only to find a surprise within. Through the weeks of training and their arduous day they had carried those cans. Inside, had been their belts being carried with them the whole time.
The Martial Arts Instructor Course takes place once every quarter. The next course will begin July 17. For more information or to sign up for the course, call 830-0290.