CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. -- During their rapid advance north into Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom, American forces bypassed pockets of enemy resistance who in turn attacked the increasingly long allied supply and logistics train. Often, the task to destroy these forces fell not to infantrymen, but support personnel such as truck drivers, mechanics, supply specialists, and administrators. In fact, some of the first Marine casualties in the war were administrators assigned to Task Force Tarawa.
In light of the fluidity of the modern battlefield, and in order to ensure its Marines possess the skills to not only survive on the battlefield, but emerge victorious, the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit recently required its junior enlisted leadership and Marines to undergo training at Camp Lejeune's Battle Skills Training School.
During two evolutions of the course, the Marines refamiliarized themselves with field combat skills many have not put into use since Marine Combat Training.
"The students performed day and night land navigation, threw fragmentation grenades, and conducted day and night patrols," said Gunnery Sgt. Fred Smelt, of Tallahassee, Fla., the BSTS Director. "They also set up a platoon-sized defensive position and applied all these lessons learned toward a defensive exercise."
According to Smelt, the BSTS prepares the non-combat arms Marines, who represent a wide range of occupational specialties, for preparing rear area security, a likely mission they may be tasked with during their upcoming deployment.
"The course is designed to build unit cohesion during training in defensive tactics which pertain to the rear area security mission, all with an emphasis on small unit leadership," he said.
Smelt and fellow instructor Gunnery Sgt. Al Woodle, of Baxley, Ga., are both activated reservists assigned to 2nd Force Service Support Group, the school's parent organization. Both instructors bring a wealth of experience to the school. Smelt, who in civilian life is a deputy with the Leon County Sheriff's Office in Florida, is a military policeman by trade with experience in the supply field, while Woodle is an infantryman also with a supply background. Additionally, staff noncommissioned officers from throughout the MEU served as squad advisors to the Marines, teaching classes, providing motivation, and ensuring the Marines were well cared for during the extensive, and exhaustive, training program.
"Going through the BSTS was like looking back to MCT with our learning the general infantry skills and our squad interaction in a field environment," said Pfc. Christian L. Mitchell, of Newark, N.J., a food service specialist serving with the MEU's Camp Commandant section. "This is knowledge all Marines should have because it taught us what we need to know to survive in a combat situation. I feel more confident in my abilities now."
Lance Cpl. Robert A. Sturkie of Saluda, S.C., commented that the rapidly-changing scenarios the Marines faced provided the students with perhaps the greatest challenges. For example, during the defensive exercise, 'casualties' forced the Marines, especially those in the lower ranks, to assume leadership positions most had never before experienced.
"Everyone in a lower rank should be ready to step up and take control of the situation at hand," said Sturkie, a combat photographer assigned to the MEU's Public Affairs section. "The training gave the Marines experience and confidence that, should a combat situation demand it, they could take command and get the get done."
The school's culminating event, and perhaps the most memorable, was the endurance course, a grueling four-and-a-half mile trek through a heavily-wooded section of Camp Lejeune. In addition to numerous wall obstacles, the Marines were forced to negotiate barbed wire entanglements, hurdles, and seemingly innumerable water and dirt-filled trenches and pits.
"The endurance course was really good," said Cpl. Nelson I. Silva, of McAllen, Texas, an administrator with the MEU Personnel Administration Center. "If you put out the effort, by the end you were worn out."
Silva's squad completed the course in 48:47, scraping past a long-standing record by 30 seconds. At the end of the course, upon receiving their BSTS completion certificate, they received special recognition for their achievement.
"Every Marine a rifleman" is perhaps the Marine Corps' most widely known edict. It illustrates, in the most simplistic terms, the Corps' desire to infuse into every Marine the fighting spirit and ethos upon which the organization has relied for more than 227 years and continues to do so. As the 22nd MEU continues down the road to deployment, the BSTS and similar training evolutions will ensure the Marines of the MEU Command Element are prepared for any eventually they may face abroad.
For more information on the organization, mission and status of the 22nd MEU, visit the unit's website at www.22meu.usmc.mil.