CAMP DAWSON,West Virginia -- As the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit completes its fourth week of pre-deployment training, Marines and Sailors are learning necessary skills, which will prepare them for their deployment to the Mediterranean Sea in Spring 2001.
For the last four weeks, Marines from the MEU's Battalion Landing Team 2/8 have been under the scrutiny of instructors from Camp Lejeune's Special Operations Training Group (SOTG) during Assault Climbers Course, at Camp Dawson, W. Va.
This course is designed to train Marines and other military personnel on how to approach and overcome objects (like a building, or a mountain) perceived as obstacles.
"The training we provide for these Marines gives the MEU the ability to consider something that would normally be an obstacle as an avenue of approach," said Pittsburgh, Pa. native, SSgt. Timothy Tackett, SOTG Lead Instructor for Assault Climbers Course, Mountain/Arctic Branch.
In order to be eligible for the course, Marines had to complete a screening process, which included sprinting one-and-a-half miles, completing a physical fitness test and climbing Murphy's Mountain (a 34-foot simulated mountain at the SOTG Compound at Stone Bay Range) in less than four minutes. In case there was any doubt, push-ups have also recently been added to the test. 28 Marines met that challenge and are now participating in the training.
The first two weeks of the training take place at Camp Lejeune, where Marines learn basic climbing techniques for overcoming obstacles and how to tie the 27 types of knots that are used throughout the rest of the course.
The next phase of the course takes place in the mountains of West Virginia - Coopers Rock State Park.
There, they learn two-party climbing/top-roping.
In two-party climbing/top-roping, each climber ascends mountains with just the aid of ropes and/or 'Pro' [protection - metal anchors that climbers insert into grooves in rocks to be used as safety catches]. Two climbers provide safety for each other and work as a team.
Other climbs these Marines will learn during their stay in West Virginia are 'A-frame vertical' hauling and 'A-frame suspension-traverse' hauling. Additionally, rappelling and mountain medevacs are other techniques covered.
Once these Marines have mastered the technique of overcoming mountainous obstacles, they are then faced with the challenge of teaching the rest of their company.
One team, comprised of Cpl. Earl Hall, of Chesapeake, Md. and Cpl. Jason Ash, of Saline Ville, Ohio, both Golf Co. Infantryman, agreed that this is a very challenging course that improves Marines on a personal and professional level.
"This is physically and mentally challenging, but it gives us a chance to work on our personal leadership skills," they said.
"We're doing something that not many people in the Marine Corps get to do," said Ash.
"Many of us are learning the true meaning of teamwork, because we're developing a personal trust in our partner," said Hall. "And some of the Marines are learning how to conquer fears of heights and falling."
According to Sgt. Christopher Knight, SOTG Assault Climbers Course Instructor, Mountain/Arctic Branch. "The confidence that the Marines learn in the course is not by accident."
"We've all done the climbs they're about to learn, and so our level of confidence with this is evident," said Knight. "The confidence is a major impact on the students and it makes the training easier on both sides."
"This course builds their leadership skills, physical strength and confidence level," echoes Sgt. Steven Brown, of Bridgeport, N.Y., also an SOTG Instructor.
"This is probably one of the most physically challenging courses in the Marine Corps, because it requires full-body physical strength, not just upper-, or lower-body strength."
PFC. John Zonneveld, Fox Co. Anti-Tank Assaultman, from Sacramento, Calif., sums the course up pretty well.
"It's a hard course and pretty physically demanding," he said. "But it's awesome learning the rappelling, the bridges and the knots. And the instructors are cool too, because they push us into being more confident, so we can teach others."
Follow the 24th MEU pre-deployment on their website at www.usmc.mil/24meu.