USS DENVER, At Sea -- Standing tall as the deck underneath him gently sways, he focuses on the commands being called to his left. The morning sun tries to foul his movements by rendering him blind, but he doesn’t need to see. His right hand flies across his hips and confidently clamps down on the pommel of a sword at the bark of “draw….”
Marines with Company F., Battalion Landing Team 2nd Battalion, 4th Marines, 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, practiced the non-commissioned officer sword manual portion of their Corporals Course class here, Sept. 14. The majority of their training, which is designed to develop leadership, has been done while patrolling the Asia-Pacific region as part of their regularly scheduled Fall Patrol.
Twenty-one Marines of Fox Co. started the course at Camp Hansen, Okinawa, in June prior to embarking with the 31st MEU aboard the ships of the Bonhomme Richard Amphibious Ready Group. Once at sea, the class faced numerous challenges trying to maintain the quality of training in the confines of the ship.
“We don’t have the full equipment or space as we usually would in garrison, such as a frog and belt for the swords, or a drill field, but we improvise,” said Staff Sgt. Mindo D. Estrella, a 31-year-old platoon sergeant with Co. F., BLT 2/4, 31st MEU. “The flight deck served as our drill field and our (Marine Corps Martial Arts Program) belts became our sword belts. We tailored everything for the ship without sacrificing any classes or knowledge.”
The Marines have only been able to conduct classes on ship due to the exercises they participated in during their three-month patrol. Classes were put on hold during exercises Talisman Saber 13 and Koolendong 13, both bilateral training events involving the 31st MEU and Australian forces.
Despite the frequent breaks from the course, Marines still found ways to build and maintain their newly acquired skills.
“I remember one day when we finished a live-fire range, we gathered some sticks and practiced sword manual,” said Cpl. Tristain A. Cacho, a 23-year-old intelligence specialist with Co. F., BLT 2/4, 31st MEU, and a native of Honolulu, Hawaii. “Improvise to educate. We did what we could, given our situation, to keep the knowledge fresh in order to pick up the pace again when we got back on ship.”
Corporals Course is not just about marching and sword manipulation. The Marines received a significant amount of classroom instruction, learning administrative leadership skills like assigning proficiency and conduct marks for junior Marines and writing official letters of instruction. The classes also provide the students a better understanding of the Marine Corps as a whole.
While Corporals Course on ship challenged the instructors to provide the full curriculum, it was an opportunity for the students to learn more than what is usually taught in the garrison environment.
“The Marines are getting a little bit more out of this particular class than usual because of the environment they are in,” said 1st Sgt. Michael C. Waters, the 40-year-old company first sergeant for Co. F., BLT 2/4, 31st MEU, and a native of Dallas, Texas. “The knowledge they gain through the course is invaluable and pertinent across the board, but they also are gaining experience executing operations from ship, which ties in to what they are already learning.”
The Marines are scheduled to graduate from the course in a ceremony held on Camp Hansen before their friends and peers. They will graduate with the skills and knowledge of a leader and the unique expeditionary experience of having deployed with the 31st MEU.
“These Marines will be better small-unit leaders following their time in the course and will go on to lead and instruct those placed under their charge,” said Estrella, a native of East Chicago, Ill. “They will also be able to tie in their new amphibious experience and any previous combat experience with those new skills to be even more effective on the battlefield, on ship or in garrison.”
The 31st MEU is the Marine Corps’ force in readiness for the Asia-Pacific region and is the only continuously forward-deployed MEU.