USS KEARSARGE, At Sea --
A matter of chance gave Gunnery Sgt. Paul Riley, platoon sergeant of Combined Anti-Armor Team 1, Battalion Landing Team 3/2, 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit, the ability to unify skillsets from multiple military courses to help develop a technique to aid lowering gear during Helicopter Rope Suspension Technique exercises and operations.
Riley said when he was with the 26th MEU as a lance corporal back in 1999 he wanted to start rock climbing. He never had any experience with rock climbing, but he got his wish and he attended the Assault Climbers Course. Checking back into BLT 3/2, Riley was afforded the opportunity to continue his learning.
“I was basically at the right place at the right time,” said the Philadelphia native. “I just checked into BLT 3/2 and they had an opening that needed to be filled. After I completed Mountain Leaders course and got back to Camp Lejeune, I found out they had a spot for the HRST School. Since I learned a lot about knots in Mountain Leaders it made sense to send me to the HRST School.”
Although the courses have different learning objectives, the two courses have some similarities, especially in the gear utilized.
“I went through Mountain Leaders Course up in Bridgeport, [Calif.],” said Riley. “It is a seven week school. It covered mostly mountain climbing and a little bit of alpine. It mostly focused on systems called [Tactical Rope Suspension Techniques]. For about six weeks we focused on climbing mountains then the last week was all about glacier climbing. In the HRST School we learned about one rope bridges, suspension traversing and gorge crossing. Learning how to tie knots was very important in both courses. Marines lives are on the line so if you can’t tie knots correctly and they come untied people could at the very least get hurt.”
Most recently, Riley put his knowledge to the test and helped develop a technique to help with the 26th MEU’s HRST procedures.
“A few weeks back India Company was trying to figure out ways to lower gear while they were fast roping without having to put the gear on their Marines backs,” said Riley. “With my experiences from my climbing courses I was trying to find a way to get the gear down without putting too much strain on the Marines. After racking my brain I started to incorporate a way we belay Marines while climbing. There really isn’t a [standard operating procedure] for HRST when lowering gear, so I kind of married climbing and HRST together. We put it through a couple scenarios with it and it seemed to work out.”
In order to add ideas and foresee possible problems, he requested knowledge from two assault climbers in weapons platoon.
“There is nothing in the HRST masters course on lowering gear,” said Cpl. Dylan Reitz, a State College, Penn., native, and an assault climber assigned to Weapons Company “Figuring out, step-by-step what we were going to do was pretty exciting. A few things failed, but we figured out how to do everything safely. It was nice knowing we took care of a problem that would have definitely been a problem for future units.”
Teaching younger Marines is something every good Marine does. Riley is no exception.
“Gunnery Sgt. Riley is a great leader. Everything he knows, he tries to pass on to us,” said Cpl. Anthony Lester, an assault climber from Streetsboro, Ohio, assigned to Weapons Company. “We got to work with him in Jordan and he was teaching us as much as he could. He is extremely smart when it comes to HRST so it was nice to be able to share knowledge and learn everything we could.”