MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. --
Growing up, we all wanted to be number one – first picked in gym class, top grades in school and fastest kid on the playground.
Marines of the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, Battalion Landing Team 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, have their own group of men who are first, in a slightly different way. They are the first through the door, first to step into the room, first to stare the enemy eye-to-eye.
“At first it is scary as hell,” said Cpl. William Ash, squad leader, BLT 1/6. “The first time I walked out the gates of Ramadi as point man I was scared to death, but once I did it the first time and had confidence in my training, that I knew I could do it, it was easy.”
There are no tricks, no gimmicks, to avoid confronting the reality of the situation – just try to relax.
“I try and clear my head; not to think about anything. I try not to think about home, the only thing I am thinking about is the mission – what we have to do. We have to get in the house and take down the house,” recalled Ash.
The ability to morph fear into tranquility and lead the way into an unknown house for a dozen Marines is a necessary skill for the men in front. Just as Ash’s mind eased after completing his first patrol, Marines from BLT 1/6 gained experience intended to steady their nerves during raids at the Combat Town training area here.
As previous point men like Ash advance to team and squad leaders, new Marines step in. During the Mechanized Raid Course, Special Operations Training Group instructors helped the battalion transition personnel.
They put Marines through rigorous scenarios, progressing from slow walkthroughs of houses to full-speed raids with role-players firing back at the Marines. At each step of the training, the instructors were at the ready.
“They don’t have a lot of knowledge or experience, and by us critiquing them constantly throughout the week we make them start using their brains. We give them a lot of experience through the training, so they can maturely make decisions,” said Sgt. Louis Pope, a SOTG instructor.
“As the point man he is protecting the whole stack, he is going to be the first one to see a threat if he is going down a long hallway,” explained Pope, a former 1/6 squad leader.
Over and over, Marines rushed from armored vehicles, lined up in tight stacks against the wall, and piled into rooms.
“I can’t see anything while waiting in the (armored vehicles), so it’s a little disorienting when the door comes down,” said Pfc. Halelynn Maris, point man, BLT 1/6. “It’s a little bit nerve racking knowing you are the first one in, which means you are the first taking fire.”
Being in front gives the point man a responsibility to speak up and take control of situations, even when it means the most junior man in the squad has to address his senior command – for the point man completing the mission is more important than rank.
“If you see something dangerous (you need to) let someone know. Because me personally, I’m not going to walk guys past an IED. I’m going to butt heads with people because I’m not going to walk the rest of my guys past an IED or what I think is an IED,” explained Ash. “They put me up there for a reason so they better listen to me.”
These point men carry the safety of their friends on their shoulders and with that come a unique blend of bravado and fear.
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