following is the second part of a 3 part article spanning 4 issues of
The Accurate Rifle.
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Part II : Training
Admission into Force is by means of a lengthy and demanding selection process. Any Marine, regardless of Military Occupation Specialty (MOS) may apply. The applicant, regardless of rank, needs first and foremost to be a proven performer (generally for 3-5 years). The Company is looking for first class people--those who perform well in the Physical Fitness Test, who are strong swimmers and good shooters. He needs to have a GT score of 105. Ideally he will be from an infantry battalion, but there are several Warehouseman and Motor Transport Marines in the operational platoons. (One major plus in the selection process is that all Marines have attended Boot Camp and the School of Infantry. No matter what their MOS, they have shouldered a rifle, read a map, and patrolled day and night).
On the last Thursday of every month, applicants are invited to attend the indoctrination test. Previously a less formal affair, it has been standardized and is administered without harassment. There is nothing demeaning about the indoc. The standard is set, and is not subject to change. The platoon administering the test accompanies the applicants throughout the day--physical fitness is a never-ending thing here.
Because Force Reconnaissance Marines are amphibious by nature, the pool is next. A series of swim exercises follows. And if he is still hanging in, he is ready for a 10 mile "boots and utes" hump--over the hills of Las Flores and down along the beach, with a 50lb. pack and a rubber rifle.
If he successfully completes this physical test, he is afforded a psychological screening and then an interview. For Officers, it is with the Company Commander. For enlisted Marines, it is with the Company Sergeant Major and several of the senior enlisted operators. They are looking for that special fire, a mean gene inside of the Marine to ensure he will hang tough under the most difficult of circumstances.
The candidate may be dropped for any reason during this process, though he can retake the indoctrination at a future date. (Many do. It is not unusual for a Marine to make it after three or four attempts).
The percentage of those passing the indoc fluctuates, but it is always closer to zero than 50%. What has been noted is that an individual who passes the indoc will usually complete 100% of the schools and successfully be integrated into a platoon. It shows that the Marine has properly prepared himself mentally and physically, and has made a commitment to succeed.
There is no automatic acceptance into the Company. A Marine reporting in from any other Reconnaissance unit must still take the indoc.
Before he can join the Company, his Commanding Officer must agree to release him--and this is not always easy. There has always been an institutional dislike of Force by the rest of the Marine Corps. Many believe that Force sucks up the absolute best men and an unbelievable amount of money to perform their missions. That is absolutely true. But the tour for enlisted men is five years, with a possible two-year extension, and eventually these Marines go back to other units. When they do they bring with them a tremendous amount of expertise and confidence. (This is unlike the special forces of the sister services, where they have a career field. They may stay forever if they choose, and the inability to remain in Force Recon is something that irks many in the Company).
In spite of not having a career path, the re-enlistment rate in 1st Force, not only among operators but also support personnel has been near 100%. The Marines want to stay in the Company, and for many reasons. There is a sense of mission and purpose here that does not exist in most of the DOD establishment.
The work is hard, but they are hard men and accept the challenge.
Training within the Company is outlined by the Mission Training Plan (MTP). It follows a systems approach to training, and the emphasis is to train as they expect to fight. While this is often paid lip service to in other units, it is the gospel here.
A quote from the MTP says it all. "The best form of WELFARE for our Marines and sailors is first class training; this saves unnecessary casualties".
The Mission Training Plan has five phases, and is based on a two-year platoon cycle. Training is ongoing and continuous, and functions as if it were a loop.
Phase 1 Individual Training Phase
Phase 2 Unit Training Phase
Phase 3 MEU (SOC) Training Phase
Phase 4 MEU (SOC) Deployment
Phase 5 Post Deployment
Phase 1 will last approximately six months, and begins when a deployed platoon is returned to the Company. The primary focus of effort here is the development of those basic skills necessary to create an MOS qualified Marine (8654) new to the Company. For those already qualified, it is the time to develop advanced reconnaissance skills.
Additionally, Professional Military Education (PME) requirements (NCO Course etc.) must be met.
At the end of Phase 1, the platoon is fully formed and ready to begin unit training. Listed below are the minimum skills resident in each platoon at that time.
Basic Airborne School - All members
USMC Combatant Dive School - All members
SERE School - All members
Military Free Fall School - All members
Ranger School - All team leaders and above
Static Line Jumpmaster Course - 2 per platoon
Military Free Fall Jumpmaster Course - 2 per platoon
HRST Master Course - 2 per platoon
Dive Supervisor Course - 2 per platoon
LAR V Technician Course - 2 per platoon
Ammunition Drivers Course - 2 per platoon
USMC Scout/ Sniper Course - 1 per team
Mountain Leaders Course (Summer) - 1 per team
Mountain Leaders Course (Winter) - 1 per team
Laser Operators Course - 1 per team
Once accepted into the Company, the Marine attends the Phase 1 Basic Qualifications.
These qualification courses are the eight week long Basic Reconnaissance Course at Little Creek VA. or Coronado, CA. While all Marines have received basic scouting and patrolling at the School of Infantry, it is here that the Marine learns the skills necessary to operate in the reconnaissance environment.
Next is the Combatant Dive Course at Panama City, FL. During this eight-week course, the Marine is introduced to closed and open circuit diving, dive physics and laws, dive medicine, underwater searches, and other related subjects.
He then attends Basic Airborne Course at Ft. Benning, GA. During this three-week school, he will make his five qualifying parachute jumps.
At some point he will attend Survival Evasion Resistance Escape (SERE) school at North Island, or SERE Instructors School at Ft. Bragg.
Advanced schools include Ranger School at Ft. Benning, GA; Military Free Fall (MFF) School at Yuma, AZ.; Static Line/ MFF Jumpmaster School and Pathfinder School at Ft. Benning, GA; Summer and Winter Mountain Leadership Course in Pickle Meadows, CA; Applied Explosives Course, at SOTG or Quantico; Dive Supervisors Course at Panama City, FL and the Helicopter Rope Suspension Training (HRST) Course in Camp Pendelton CA or Camp Lejeune, NC.
For the Sailors, the schooling is similar--with some notable differences. The Navy Corpsman assigned to the Company are a special breed. While one would normally think of medical personnel being non-combatants, working in a reasonably secure environment, that is absolutely not the case of the Special Amphibious Reconnaissance Corpsman. When assigned to a platoon, they are shooters first, and caregivers second. As Senior Chief Robert Fitzgerald states, "Fire superiority is the best type of combat medicine". (Senior Chief is the senior SARC in the Navy, and another genuine hard guy in the midst of a bunch of other very hard guys). In a platoon, the Corpsman is assigned to the headquarters team. He will usually carry that teams M249 SAW.
It starts with the 7-week Field Medical Service School at Camp Pendelton or Camp Lejeune, where he learns basic medical skills and how he will function in a Marine Corps unit.
Next are the 12 week Basic Reconnaissance Course, the 3 week Basic Airborne Course and the 8 week Combatant Diver Course.
The Corpsman breaks from his Marine brothers, and attends the 8427 specific schools. The first is the Amphibious Reconnaissance Corpsman Diving Medicine Course at Panama City, FL. From there he moves to the 24 week Special Operations Combat Medics Course at Ft. Bragg.
And finally, the 22-week long Special Operations Medical Sergeant Course also at Ft. Bragg. The famous 18-D course is extremely demanding, and trains the Corpsman to independently assess and provide minor and acute long-term medical care for a variety of medical conditions, including minor surgery.
Once the Corpsman joins a platoon during the Phase 2 iteration, he attends all of the platoons training. In the field he is indistinguishable from the Marines he serves with. He is a member of a team, and functions exactly as every other member of a Force Reconnaissance Platoon. (There have been Corpsman designated as Team Leaders).
Prior to 1998, the operational platoons were responsible for the conduct of their own training. This was identified as being deficient. While there is a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) for the conduct of training, there was no consistency in how the training was applied. Additionally, the platoon headquarters was tasked with supervising the training, and therefore not able to be trained--an obvious and glaring deficiency.
The Commanding Officer instituted a Training Cell from Company assets comprised of experienced Staff Non-Commissioned Officers and operating from the S-3 shop. The T-Cell has the mission of organizing and conducting Phase 2 Training. This removes the responsibility of coordinating training from the platoon headquarters, and permits them to train with their men (rather then to just oversee the training). As the platoon headquarters may act as a 4th Team under certain conditions, this training is necessary).
An additional and no less important advantage to the T-Cell is that it acts as a training ground for future platoon sergeants. Those assigned to the T- Cell are all highly trained and experienced operators. Some have deployed as platoon sergeants, and some have not. Those that have not will gain vital experience not available elsewhere for the very tough and very rewarding job of Platoon Sergeant. The T- Cell has been extremely effective in all aspects, and its addition to the Company has paid off in spades.
Phase 2 is the Unit Training Phase, and is six months in duration. The platoon is formed, and all new members have completed, at the minimum, all of the basic qualification courses. The main purpose of this phase is to allow the platoon to train in the collective team and platoon skills required to execute amphibious and deep reconnaissance missions. Additionally, the Company staff receives training in reconnaissance mission planning and related procedures. The following is a list of courses completed during Phase 2.
The Advanced Long Range Comm package is three weeks long and is conducted by the Company Communications Section. As the term Deep Reconnaissance indicates, the platoon will operate well forward of other forces. In order to report observations, call for fires or extract, all members need to have a complete and thorough knowledge of the sophisticated comm equipment carried. It includes manual Morse Code, and long-range High Frequency (HF), satellite, multi- band, and digital communications.
The Weapons and Tactics Package is three weeks long and is conducted aboard Camp Pendelton, CA. It covers the MEU (SOC) .45 caliber pistol and the M4A1 Carbine with the SOPMOD kit. Week 1 and 2 occur on the Special Operations Training Group facility at Range 130 (however, the training is conducted by the T-Cell). Each Marine will fire 5000- 8000 rounds during these two weeks, becoming intimately familiar with both weapons.
The third week is spent on the Live Fire/ Maneuver Ranges (LFAM) conducting immediate action (IA) drills according to the Patrol SOP. Rotary wing support (utilizing AH-1J Cobras for Close Air Support, CH-46D Marine Corps transports, Army National Guard UH-60's, and Navy Seahawks from HSC-5).
The platoon also receives force on force training, utilizing the Special Effects Small Arms Marking Systems (SESAMS) for the CQBW and MEU (SOC) pistol. The SESAMS is a militarized Simunitions ™ kit. Sims adds a whole new dimension to training.
The Threat Weapons Familiarization package (one week) is conducted by U.S. Army personnel at the National Training Center (NTC). The ability to utilize your opponent's weapons may mean the difference between surviving and dying. All current threat small arms are covered in this package. (Interestingly, the Marine Corps formerly had resident subject matter experts in this area. The Foreign Material Acquisition and Exploitation Unit (FMAEU) had as a secondary mission the training of Marine Corps units in the identification and use of Soviet and Non- Soviet Warsaw Pact (NSWP) equipment. In a fit of negative brilliance, it was stood down on 01Aug90--one day prior to the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait.)
The Force Fires Package takes place at Nellis AFB, San Clemente Island or 29 Palms in CA, or in Yuma, AZ. During this 2-week package, the Marines refresh their basic knowledge of calls for fire, with special attention to fixed and rotary wing CAS (Close Air Support) and NGSF (Naval Gun Surface Fire). Laser designating equipment is taught and utilized to control CAS.
The 3 week Advanced Airborne Package is to transition the platoon from Low Level Static Line parachute techniques to High Altitude High Opening (HAHO) using the MC-5 Ram Air Parachute, culminating with night combat equipment jumps into unmarked Drop Zones from 24,999 feet.
This package is successful for many reasons. One is the quality of the instructors. GySgt. Dennis Walsh, GySgt. Monte Genegaubus and their assistants provide absolutely top-notch instruction. There are few in the DOD establishment who can match their expertise.
Another reason is the quality of the equipment. One interesting and useful piece of gear is the virtual reality trainer. Set up in the Paraloft, jumpers are put through a series of exercises including malfunctions, variable wind conditions and so forth. When he finally gets to tail gate a C-130 at 10,000' he has been through the simulations a number of times and the procedures are familiar to him.
The Amphibious Training package (2 weeks) refreshes long-range nautical navigation, and refines the platoon SOP for conducting hydrographic surveys. Launch and recovery is from a variety of naval vessels, including surface combatants and submarines. This training takes place at Seal Beach and San Diego, CA.
The Combatant Dive Package (2 weeks) focuses on utilization of the LAR-V (MK-25 MOD2) closed circuit breathing apparatus in team infiltrations.
Mobile Reconnaissance package is to develop basic driver and mechanic skills in order to employ the platoon HMMWV's and IFAV's (Improved Fast Assault Vehicle) in a desert environment where mobility is essential in the intelligence collection effort. Location varies, but usually at Yuma or 29 Palms.
The final course is the Combat Trauma Package. This extremely intense and realistic course enables the individual Marine to identify injuries and render appropriate emergency care to battle casualties under fire, and for secondary care on evacuation platforms.
Several full mission profile exercises are conducted, including Mountain/Temperate Environment Patrols at Ft. Lewis, WA and Ft. Polk, LA; Desert Environment (the Kuwaiti Scenario) at Ft. Irwin CA., or Yuma, AZ.
These are complete packages. The Company Headquarters also deploys to set up a Reconnaissance Operations Center (ROC) and support the platoon.
At the end of Phase 2 Training, the platoon is completely stood up in all aspects of the Deep Reconnaissance mission. More importantly, they have spent 6 months of intensive platoon oriented training together. They have been operating as a going concern, a full year prior to deployment.
Phase 3 Training is the MEU (SOC) training. The platoon prepares for MSPF Direct Action missions under the cognizance of the Special Operations Training Group (SOTG). The Maritime Special Purpose Force (MSPF) is a Task Organized form of the Marine Air Ground Task Force for the purpose of executing a special operation. With elements of the MEU (specifically the Command Element) and using assets from the BLT, it will have the Force Plt. as the strike element. If required, aviation support from the ACE is included. The embarked SEAL Plt. may also be attached if required.
This 6 month phase covers the CQB Course, Explosive Breacher Course, Applied Explosives Course, Urban Sniper Course, Inter-Operability training with the MSPF, Training in Urban Environment (TRUE), Urban Reconnaissance & Surveillance, Fleet Exercise, Joint Task Force Exercise (if an aircraft carrier is present), or a SOCEX- (Special Operations Certification Exercise).
Phase 4 is the Deployment phase, 6 months long, in the Persian Gulf or Western Pacific for west coast Marines, or in the Mediterranean Sea for East Coast Marines. Sustainment training occurs on a daily basis under the cognizance of the MEU staff.
Phase 5 is the Post Deployment phase. After 18 months of training and deployment, the platoon is granted 30 days leave. Approximately 50% of the platoon will leave, their time in Force having expired.
Getting qualified applicants to take the indoc has always been difficult. Having people pass the indoc is more difficult still. Several steps have been taken to expose more people to the system without diluting quality.
One thing looked at is to start a recon pipeline from the Recruit Training Depots. The plan was to feed qualified Marines into the Reconnaissance Bn. and perhaps eventually into Force. While this is still in its infancy, the Company prefers that those wanting to be in Force Recon be infantry Corporals or Sergeants with a proven background as a top performer.
Because the pipeline is long, the Company has an in house Combat Replacement Training Program, utilizing support personnel assigned to the Company.
All Marines receive basic infantry training at the School of Infantry. They all know how to shoot, move and communicate, at least at the infantry squad level. At the Company they learn to add "think" to that equation, and are trained with, or parallel to the platoons during portions of the Phase 2 cycle.
Regardless of MOS or rank (the CO, XO, S1, 2,3,4,6, SuppO, CommO, SgtMaj, ammo drivers, admin clerks, mechanics and drivers), all are out there during the Weapons and Tactics package as slots permit.
They receive patrolling, comm, and combat trauma training. Most attend at least airborne school, and others as the quotas permit.
The theory is that during sustained operations, qualified 8654's will be difficult to come by. The in house replacements may not be fully up to speed, but they will have a working knowledge of what reconnaissance is and how to accomplish it.
A deeper and more underlying reason is that the commanders' intent is for every member of the Company to be a gunfighter. He wants them to understand that if the Supply Officer goes into a meeting, he is not there as only the SuppO. He is there as a gunfighter representing other gunfighters, and that he had better be successful in his mission.
No Marine joins to be anything less than that. The reality is that there are a great number of support billets that must be filled so that some may have the honor of doing the fighting. The Combat Replacement Training fills the need for Marines to fill the gap when required, and the additional training gives each Marine a better sense of mission.
Certain of the sister services have been infused with "Consideration of Others" (COO) training, and a general feminization of assets--particularly their combat assets. The current political administration, in their dislike of those possessing the warrior spirit, have attempted to initiate certain social programs into the armed forces, in order to provide the disenfranchised with a platform and dilute the power of the warrior. Fortunately this perverse attitude has no place in Force Reconnaissance.