Training with the Marines

 This is the second blog entry for Master Sgt. David Wolfe, a security forces Airman from Scott Air Force Base, Ill., who is training at the Marine Corps Staff NCO Academy at Camp Pendleton in southern California. He volunteered for it after learning slots were available for Air Force senior NCOs.

“I knew this would be a challenge and the opportunity to work with the Marine Corps for seven weeks sounded like an awesome chance to grow personally and professionally,” said Sergeant Wolfe, who enlisted in the Air Force in 1992 and has served all over the world, to include the Middle East, Germany, Italy, Alaska and Wyoming. “My wife did three years in the Marine Corps and my oldest son enlisted last summer just after I left for Iraq, and is currently in tech school, so we have some family connection to the Corps as well.”

You can read his first-week experience HERE.

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Week 2.  

With just over two full weeks under my belt, things are beginning to take shape.

This week’s PT regimen was especially taxing, but considering the Gunnery Sergeants here are on average 6 years my junior, I think I am holding up well despite my extra wear. Perhaps the most grueling session this week was called Mateo Loop. The total distance of this run was 6 miles, starting with a one mile formation run to the start point. The base of the hill did not look too bad at first. After cresting the hill, and thinking we were home free, we realized we had just begun to climb. A second hill of longer distance and more incline put us on top of Mateo with a nice view of the rest of Camp Pendleton. Several smaller rolling hills followed until we finally finished near the base of our start point.

Also worthy of note, this was a “Popsicle stick” run, meaning as each person crossed the finish line, he or she was given a numbered Popsicle stick based on overall finish order. The platoon with the lowest overall total was given immunity from clean up day on Thursday, and while I am not sure how much my finish helped the team, my platoon won the overall prize! Our RECON/JTAC Marines and drill instructors must have carried us nicely. There were some good hearted jabs from members of my platoon to others, something like “we beat you, and we have the Air Force guy!” We were all very pleased with our victory. The competition element of PT keeps people motivated.

And then there was the “Spartan Run”. Sounds fun, right? Actually, it was fun, and was competitive like Mateo Loop. This time, a one mile run, 20 push-ups, 20 crunches, 20 air squats, followed by another mile run, then 30-30-30 of the same exercises, then another mile run, ending with 50-50-50, same exercises. In the end – a 3 mile run and 300 repetitions. Another great PT event was Casualty Evacuation day. First, we completed the individual effort portion, consisting of 2 minutes each of push-ups and sit-ups. Then the team portion started with a ten-minute pull-up competition where we lined up alphabetically and took turns on the pull-up bar by platoon. Our score was determined by total pull ups done by the entire platoon. Then, as a platoon of twenty, we were issued flack vests, Kevlar, and weapons ranging from M-240G machine guns (the infantry version of the 240B Security Forces uses), M-249’s, and dummy M-16’s. We were given two litters, several 30lb ammo cans, and two full five-gallon water jugs. Our task was to carry two casualties and all the gear a distance of about 1 mile. The casualties were our platoon members, and each had to weigh 170lbs each.

After a Kevlar-toss competition to determine starting position, my platoon was on the poll position thanks to a perfect throw by our Platoon Sergeant Gunnery Sergeant Jeffrey Wright. After moving as fast as possible down the dirt road and back to the starting position, our platoon finished just seconds behind another platoon. Did I mention our attire was what the Marines call “boots and utes”? That’s just another way of saying we did it in ABU’s minus ABU top. We also took our first written academic test this week. The test was largely based on infantry concepts, most familiar to me from my background in airbase defense. We are also working this weekend on an operations order, and my group has been tasked to write an order to defend an airfield.

One piece of the academy I am enjoying most is the use of a concept called “values based training”. After each PT session, one of the cadre or a student gets in front of the group and discusses a topic. These range from unit cohesion, to teamwork, to combat readiness. There is a reason why we do everything we do – to ready us to perform under pressure. When the chips are down, if we have trained hard and taken advantage of the adversity we have been given, we will be ready. This concept is a pre-designated mentoring session. It’s something we do in the Air Force as well, but not with structure and maybe not as often as we should. After the first two plus weeks, things are going well.

Tomorrow morning, we hit a 4-mile incline called Baby Tears.

Trust me, there is nothing about it that looks easy.