KINGWOOD, W. Va. -- Toes to the edge of a cliff in the mountains of West Virginia, Lance Cpl. Luke Turner faced his fears and put trust in what he learned as he leapt from one cliff to another -- about eight feet away.
The confidence jump marked the halfway point for Turner, a student in the Assault Climbers Course. More importantly, the jump was a symbol of his transition from basic to advanced climbing skills in the intensive, three-week class.
Turner, a rifleman from Brunswick, Ga., with Company K, Battalion Landing Team 3/8, 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit, and 14 fellow 26th MEU Marines took the Special Operations Training Group, II Marine Expeditionary Force, course in May as part of the MEU's pre-deployment training cycle.
Assault climbers took 26th MEU Marines, most of whom had never had any formal rock-climbing experience, and taught them critical skills to negotiate any route regardless of vertical or near vertical terrain. This ability expands the MEU commander's options for conducting complex expeditionary operations in challenging terrain.
“If any of the MEUs were to come up for a beach landing which had a cliff or any sort of compartmentalized terrain that they need to overcome," said Sgt. Abraham McCarver from Memphis, Tenn., an SOTG instructor, "they would be able to implement the assault climbers and make it to the top to set up lanes for their platoon and or companies to get to the objective in a more timely manner than moving around the obstacle.”
This flexibility helps make 26th MEU an agile force able to project power forward in any environment, according to students in the course.
“It is important if you have vertical terrain and you need to move your gear in a timely manner - you need Marines who are specialized to move it up,” said Cpl. Jared Reutter from Gretna, Va., a rifleman with Company K, Battalion Landing Team 3/8, 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit. “It will be beneficial in places like Afghanistan and you have to move a whole company up the mountain in a timely manner to out-maneuver the enemy who might not have that capability.”
Early into the "crawl, walk, run"-paced training, students learned critical knot-tying, protective gear placement, and basic climbing skills. As the students progressed, they learned top-roping, bridging and how to get their teammates and gear over difficult terrain.
Moving into more complex techniques, the Marines learned advanced lead-climbing and how to apply their skills on a unit level. They learned to analyze the rock face and choose the fastest and safest route.
Their training progressed and the Marines learned multi-pitched climbing, where the lead climber ascends to a certain point, assists the second Marine up, and that Marine then becomes the lead climber. They continued in this fashion up Cooper's Rock in the West Virginia mountains until both Marines reached the top. The Marines also learned aide-climbing in which they used protective gear to create artificial hand or foot holds.
All of this knowledge allows 26th MEU Marines to conduct operations at a time and location of their choosing, an advantage in any situation.
Following Assault Climbers, the Marines returned to Camp Lejeune to continue their pre-deployment training cycle. 26th MEU is scheduled to deploy aboard the Kearsarge Amphibious Ready Group in the fall.