Marines strive to stay mentally tough

9 Apr 2003 | Sgt. Roman Yurek

The risk of injury, fear of expected danger, lack of knowledge of the enemy, discomfort of one's surroundings and fatigue from exertion.  These are but a few of the stresses that Marines may face in combat that can impede their performance and endanger themselves and their fellow Marines.

Being exposed to these stressors and understanding their potential devastating effects are key to preparing Marines for combat and enabling them to successfully complete their missions.

As the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable) awaits orders to support Operation Iraqi Freedom, Marines from 2nd Platoon, Charlie Company, Battalion Landing Team 1st Bn., 8th Marine Regiment (Reinforced), use any space they can find on ship to mentally and physically prepare for possible combat.

These Marines keep their skills keen through physical fitness training, classes, and tactical decision games, applied in "real world scenarios," explained Staff Sgt. Ronald S. Cauley, the platoon sergeant for 2nd Plt.

The confined spaces of the ship force Marines to be more creative in their training.  For example, small units like 2nd Platoon can often be found hiking countless laps around the USS Iwo Jima's hanger bay carrying approximately 50-60 pound packs or running laps on the flight deck while donning field protective or "gas" masks and flak jackets.

"We find a small hole on the ship and make use of it anyway we can," said Lance Cpl. David J. Carlini, a fire team leader with the platoon.

One type of training given in these small "holes" is a series of current event classes.  Current events are used to not only keep the Marines up-to-date on what is going on in the world, but also as a combat training tool.

Some of the situations happening around the world, for example, such as the handling of enemy prisoners of war and dealing with mines are important to examine, explained 2nd Lt. Sunny Risler, 2nd Platoon commander.  Just as coalition forces are currently dealing with these dangerous situations, the platoon trains for it, as it is likely to face similar conditions should the MEU deploy into harm's way, Risler said.
"We teach the Marines that it is the little things that win the big battles," Cauley said.  "Day-to-day, we teach them the little things."  Little things from weapons maintenance to the step-by-step processing of detaining EPWs are essential to preparing the Marines, he said.

Another key training point is teaching Marines how to cope with the fatigue that often follows an operation.  When Marines engage in a firefight or any other fast-paced operation, for example, they get pumped up with adrenaline.  When the mission is complete or they move into a consolidation phase to account for their personnel, their remaining ammunition allocations per Marine and assess their current medical needs, they start to come down from this "combat high."  Risler explained that after this high, Marines often become fatigued and more vulnerable to counter attack.  It is his job to teach his junior leaders how to overcome that fatigue.  Keeping them focused on the mission at hand and establishing planned rest periods are a few of the ways he mentioned to deal with this problem. 

Another way that Marine leaders overcome fatigue is just good old-fashioned Marine subordinate leadership, explained Risler.  "The billet holders... the sergeants and corporals and other junior leaders keep the young Marines' heads in the game and keeps us sharp should we need to react quickly to any enemy counterattacks," he said.  Besides training and classes, there are other ways that the unit prepares the Marines for combat.  One is through "rumor control."

While the 26th MEU (SOC) has not received any official tasking to support the current war in Iraq, many Marines on ship are still very susceptible to rumors about where the MEU may be headed and what its role might be, once it gets there.  Risler stays in constant communication with his junior leaders to uncover these rumors as they unfold and then passes the official word to the troops to keep his Marines informed and less susceptible to false information and speculation, he said. 

In addition to being professionally prepared for the unknown, an infantry Marine or Sailor is also a person - a person with a family and friends about whom he cares and who care about him.  In order to ensure that his young Marines are focused and ready should they receive a mission, Cauley and his fellow leaders recognize the importance of talking with his Marines to build their trust and share details of their personal lives. 

If a Marine is having financial problems, for example, we try to help him deal with them before they become a problem and a distracter on the battlefield, Cauley said.  Even the simplest of problems can sometimes seem overwhelming, if left to face alone, and then it could become an unnecessary distracter in combat.  When lives and mission accomplishment are on the line, we rely on everyone's undivided attention. 

Helping them to take care of their families back home, communicate to them that they are safe and keep their other personal affairs in order brings the Marines' focus back to where it needs to be, Cauley said.  This kind of open communication with my Marines is essential to mission accomplishment, he said.

"Morale is very high," said Carlini.  "The MEU [pre-deployment] training is the best that the Marine Corps has to offer.  I am confident that we can do any mission we are
tasked with."

Having completed a rigorous, eight month pre-deployment training program before their March 5 deployment, the Marines and Sailors of 2nd platoon, along with the rest of the Marines of the 26th MEU (SOC), feel prepared for the unknown and mental and physical rigors of combat, if they are called to perform there.

"I am proud of my Marines everyday," Risler said.  "During the work-ups, these guys performed very well throughout every operation.  We're ready, but I can always find something to make us sharper and more lethal."

To learn more about 2nd Plt., Charlie Co., and the on-going training of the 26th MEU (SOC), visit their website at www.26meu.usmc.mil.