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24th MEU takes martial arts training to a higher level

1 Aug 2002 | Gunnery Sgt. Mike Dougherty 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit

If you see a group of camouflaged Marines drenched in sweat and running on all fours, they are not undergoing some unusual punishment. Instead, they are probably midway through a "power circuit", a thirty-minute drill of intense physical training that the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable) incorporates into its Martial Arts Training Program.

While some units complete the martial arts training course for the tan belt in two or three days, the MEU's course lasts five days and demands a maximum effort from its students. "Our standards are much higher, but in the MEU, that's the way we work," said Sgt. Alex VanBreukelen, course instructor. 

One of the things that sets the MEU's training apart is the length and intensity of its power circuits, said Petty Officer 2nd class Michael Beeler, 24th MEU religious program specialist and an assistant martial arts instructor.  Power circuits incorporate exercises that are more innovative and require additional teamwork, he said. 

Students learn the "bear crawl", where they travel about 100 meters on their hands and feet, the "crab walk", which is an inverted bear crawl, and the pistol belt drag, which is perhaps the most difficult.  It puts the students back into the bear crawl stance while dragging a Marine lying on his back who holds onto the "towing" Marine's belt.  These exercises increase combat fitness, flexibility and physical endurance, Beeler said. 

Training while physically and mentally tired creates not only mental memory, but also "muscle memory", Beeler said. 

Other power circuit exercises reinforce the sense of teamwork that the class develops, said Beeler.  While doing "squad lunges", classmates lines up shoulder-to-shoulder, entwine their arms and move as a single unit, going down to one knee, then the next.  If one student cannot continue, it becomes the responsibility of the others to carry him or her.  In the "squad pushup" exercise, students place their feet on the shoulders of the Marines behind them, so the Marines in the rear of the formation are pushing their own weight plus that of the Marines in front.

Another challenge unique to the MEU's program is the use of "drills," said VanBreukelen.  Drills may last 60 or 90 minutes and incorporate many of the exercises from the power circuits, plus rapid practice of all techniques learned, and a run or two of the obstacle course.  Drills are designed to allow students to practice the techniques in a tired state to simulate actual combat, he said. 

The tan belt syllabus teaches the class more than four dozen different moves, and also includes "tie-ins", said VanBreukelen.  Tie-ins are guided discussions on subjects like leadership, suicide prevention and core values.  They give the students a rest from the course and allow them to exchange ideas in a close forum. 

One of the highlights of the course is the bouts that the students undergo, with pugil sticks and with gloved fists.  Despite the very challenging and combative nature of these events, safety is a primary consideration in the bouts and in every aspect of the course, said VanBreukelen. 

VanBreukelen plans to continue the training throughout the deployment, and will be offering the gray belt course for those who have a tan belt and the score required to move up.  "I'd like to see martial arts training implemented as part of our routine throughout the Marine Corps," he said.