Photo Information

Lance Cpl. William C. Ray, a mortarman with the 81mm mortar platoon, Weapons Company, Battalion Landing Team 2nd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit, lead-climbs up a cliff, May 12, during the assault climber's course at the Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Training Center in Pickel Meadow, Calif. The Marines learn a large spectrum of skills over the roughly three-week course that will aid the 26th MEU during its scheduled deployment in fall 2008.

Photo by Cpl. Aaron Rock

26 MEU Mounts Tough School

14 May 2008 | Cpl Aaron Rock 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit

MARINE CORPS MOUNTAIN WARFARE TRAINING CENTER, Calif. (May 14, 2008) –At 7000 feet above sea level, the enemy doesn’t always carry a weapon.  For the Marines and sailors of the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit taking on the assault climber’s course training at the Mountain Warfare Training Center, some of the biggest obstacles were the lack of oxygen in the thin mountain air, extreme temperatures, and the rocky ground waiting for them if they fell.

The students were persevering through the taxing course as part of the 6-month predeployment training period the 26th MEU must undertake before its scheduled deployment in early Autumn.

Twenty-one Marines, representing most of the companies from the 26th MEU’s Ground Combat Element, Battalion Landing Team 2/6, traveled from the East Coast to take the course, which lasts roughly 3 weeks, and were instructed by Marines from II Marine Expeditionary Force Special Operations Training Group.

The training prepares Marines for work in mountainous terrains, said Staff Sgt. Robert A. Ballance, lead instructor for the Assault Climber’s Course.

Balance said the Marines will learn lead-climbing on rock faces, casualty evacuation methods and moving gear and equipment up a vertical obstacle.  They'll also learn to cross streams to get personnel over fordable rivers in a timely manner, he said.

A MEU must be able to operate anywhere on the earth unsupported for weeks at a time. The ability to execute missions in any clime and place is essential for MEUs, said Ballance.

“You never know what might happen out there,” he said.  “You might go to a mountainous area, or you might be called to a humanitarian assistance mission where these skills may come in handy.”

Adding to the difficulty of working in a mountainous environment is the elevation, which leads to lower oxygen content and lower temperatures.

The training gives the MEU students an appreciation for the differences between working at higher elevations as opposed to those at sea-level.

“The assault climbers will push forward of the battalion carrying their extra gear, set it up, push the battalion through the obstacle, get their gear and then push forward again,” Ballard said.

To better prepare the students for the sheer physical exertion , physical training is a major part of the course, with students running arduous courses up and down the mountains in preparation for even more arduous  climbs up sheer cliff faces.

Despite the difficulty, the Marines in the class enjoyed it.

“It’s something new, something we’ve never done before,” said Cpl. Jay D. Manuel, a Tube launched Optically tracked Wire guided antitank missile (TOW) gunner with Combined Anti-Armor Team 1, Weapons Co., BLT 2/6.  “Hopefully it will apply to our upcoming deployment, I would like the chance to use it.”

26th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable)