ABOARD THE USS IWO JIMA -- For its young leaders, the Marine Corps can seem like an iron-clad locomotive that never wavers from standards that proud men, wearing high leather collars, introduced in Philadelphia after raising their beer glasses in Tun Tavern. Upon promotion to corporal, newly minted non-commissioned officers are expected to keep pace and weather the shock that comes with a move from train passenger to troop conductor -- a prospect that can leave the unprepared and ill-equipped feeling as though they’ve stepped on a third rail.
To avoid a leadership “train wreck” and ensure that NCOs are equipped with the knowledge and skills necessary to fend for themselves -- even while deployed -- 54 Marines with the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable) graduated Aug. 13 from an 11-day Corporals Course designed to provide them with the necessary tools to become effective leaders, said First Sgt. Derek Fry, Battalion Landing Team, 1st Battalion, 8th Marines, Headquarters and Support Battalion first sergeant and course director.
“The course gives them a leadership foundation from which they can grow,” explained Fry, who hails from Hartshorne, Okla., adding that the course will allow the Marines to develop professionally. “The corporals I saw on the first day of the class grew immensely, through the use of teamwork, to the last day. They’re all from different MSEs (Major Support Elements) and they all worked together as a team.”
Evaluated through a series of exams, close-order drill and sword manual, the NCOs learned to deal with everything from assigning proficiency and conduct marks to the technical aspects of warfighting, said Sgt. Andrew Parker, a Combined Anti-Armor Team section leader with Weapons Company, BLT 1/8 and native of Williamsburg, Va. According to Parker, a squad advisor for the course, the training forced the Marines to become adept in skills that may not necessarily relate to their daily work with the MEU.
“They gain confidence in handling a platoon and learn more about things like the Uniform Code of Military Justice,” explained Parker. “They learn about the ins and outs of the Marine Corps, things they don’t get in their day-to-day jobs. The instructors are gunnery sergeants and first sergeants – guys with a pretty wide knowledge base -- and they’re doing a good job.”
“This definitely benefits the Marines,” added Gunnery Sgt. Jason Urban, a weapons platoon sergeant with Alpha Co., BLT 1/8, and a course instructor. “This course is a steppingstone for those that are staying in the Corps and gives them a foundation for the Sergeants Course. Overall, the Marines performed well.”
Corporal Jonathan Nash, a squad leader from Minden, La., with Weapons Co., BLT 1/8, and a graduate of the course, said that even though he was prepared to attend, he still benefited from the instruction, concluding that the course was “good to go” and that he gained a new level of confidence from leading Marines during the close-order-drill evaluations.
The course honor graduate, Cpl. Christopher C. Cunningham, a motor transport section chief from Chariton, Iowa, echoed Nash, stating that the course was challenging and that he learned useful information that he “would have never even heard about.” He Finished the course with an overall grade point average of 95.5, Cunningham credited his instructors’ experience in helping him succeed and said that the class is a building block that he can use for the rest of his career.
“I love the job,” Cunningham said. “ It’s something I can’t get away from.”
“They all felt that the course was challenging,” said Fry, who acknowledged that the Marines were apprehensive at the outset. “They were working some long hours with instructors leading them, and after the first test they regrouped and have performed well.”
With the course behind them, graduates can return to their daily work with the MEU, ready to face leadership challenges with their newly acquired skills and advanced knowledge of what it means to be an NCO in the Marine Corps – the first step in making certain that the train will never stop, never quit and never waver from its duty.