CAMP DAWSON, W. Va. -- Today's Marine Corps mission of battling terrorism wherever it may be could take Marines to any corner of the globe.
When the pursuit takes America's finest into mountainous regions, the enemy can switch from human to nature when it takes the form of land, extreme weather and a slew of natural obstacles.
Twenty Marines from Battalion Landing Team 2nd Bn., 2nd Marine Regiment, 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit, took up the challenge of learning how to combat nature's obstacles and completed the Rough Terrain Familiarization Course, here, Sept. 22. The 10-day training experience introduced them to negotiating natural mountain obstacles and took them up and down the many cliffs and mountain features in this area.
The course, conducted by the Mountain/Artic Branch of II Marine Expeditionary Force's Special Operations Training Group, began with two days of classroom instruction covering tactical, medical, route planning and weapons care considerations in cold weather and mountain environments.
The opening of the course, which was an abbreviated version of the six-week Assault Climbers Course, also introduced the students to more than 15 knot-tying techniques and numerous rope-handling procedures that would prove essential to creating the systems they would use to move up and down vertical obstacles and across horizontal ones throughout the duration of the training.
From the beginning, the students were taught that attention to detail on their knot-tying and rope-handling skills could mean the difference between life and death on the mountainside.
"Human error is very possible," said Capt. Mauro R. Sanchez, the officer in charge of the Mountain/Arctic Branch. "Without that extra effort and attention, a Marine can be going for a very long and unwanted ride."
The inherent dangers of working daily over dizzying heights meant safety was always the first focus of the course and its instructors, he added.
The group of students quickly mastered the knot-tying skills, because some had previously completed the Helicopter Rope Suspension Training course, which requires learning many of the same knots.
"The fact that we had so many HRST trained Marines here definitely helped out," said Sanchez.
With the introductory lectures out of the way, the course moved to the nearby cliffs of Cheat Lake and Greer Stone Quarry.
The Marines learned numerous ways to use rappelling to move large numbers of troops down a vertical surface, along with a unique method of crossing streams, rivers and gorges using a system known as the one-rope bridge, a method that uses ropes and carabineers to traverse horizontal obstacles.
"It's definitely a useful system to know," said Cpl. Michael A. Shepherd, a squad leader with Golf Company, BLT 2/2. "If you have Marines who know how to put it together quickly, it could really save you some time in river crossings."
The course also taught the Marines various ways to move mountain casualties quickly and safely to an extraction point.
Most of the casualty movement techniques centered on the use of a sked, a lightweight, highly portable stretcher. Once securely fastened into the sked, a casualty can easily be lowered or raised up or down mountain obstacles.
When it came to climbing, the Marines learned how to construct fixed ascent lanes using cable ladders and ropes that allow a larger force and their gear to quickly follow up and over a cliff face or steep slope.
The students were also introduced to two tree-climbing methods. The first, gaffs and straps, uses metal stirrups tipped with long spikes for tree climbing. The second method uses a system of ropes and pulleys.
The tree-climbing techniques were taught in the context of recovering downed pilots, who could possibly eject from an aircraft and end up dangling helplessly from a tree by their parachutes.
The skills taught to the Marines during the course are certainly helpful in a mountainous environment, although their use does not end there, said Staff Sgt. David Parker, the lead instructor for the course.
"In the mountains, you are going to have to overcome obstacles," he said. "But the skills we teach can be used in any terrain to safely move Marines, gear and casualties."
"Those basic skills of rope management and knot tying and how to apply them are so helpful," he said. "It's important that we continue to teach these things, because we never know when practical skills like these will come in handy."
The training wrapped up with two rigorous days of tactical field exercises which required the students to employ every movement system they had learned to accomplish their objective of moving through the mountain region.
After completing the course the Marines are now ready to fill an essential role for the MEU, as a core group of experienced climbers ready to assist a certified Mountain Leader or Assault Climber in quickly and safely preparing mountain obstacle systems to aid moving a sizeable force through treacherous terrain, said Sanchez.
The Marines who went through the training agreed the course was more than just informative and insightful.
"I love this kind of training," said Sgt. Nick B. Archut, a squad leader with Weapons Co., BLT 2/2. "It's the kind of stuff I've always wanted to do in the Marine Corps."
"I really liked the physical activity the course included and the attitudes and experience of the instructors," he continued.
After completing the course, the students will join the rest of the MEU at Fort Pickett, Va., for the unit's Training in an Urban Environment and Marine Expeditionary Unit Exercises.
The Rough Terrain Familiarization Course, TRUEX, and MEUEX are all part of the 26th MEU's robust, six-month pre-deployment training program which will culminate in a scheduled 2007 deployment in support of the Global War on Terrorism.
For more information on the 26th MEU, please go to www.usmc.mil/26thmeu