MOUNTAIN WARFARE TRAINING CENTER, BRIDGEPORT, Calif. –– Some bonds are inherited, like the bond we share with family. Other times throughout life and with the experiences we share, people are united through hardship. Once established, these bonds are difficult to break.
Pfc. Rico Morales, a machine gunner with weapons platoon, Echo Company, 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, performs a disassembly and assembly drill while being timed by his squad leader, Lance Cpl. Justin Harris, at Mountain Warfare Training Center in Bridgeport, Calif., March 27, 2013. (U.S. Marine Corps photo Photo by Lance Cpl. Suzanna Lapi)
Sometimes the strongest bonds are the ones that have been forged in the toughest of conditions, like the camaraderie of brothers in arms. These squads of military men are united as one through long hours of strenuous training and the constant presence of sacrifice.
Just as the rounds of a machine gunner's belt are linked together, so are the Marines themselves. This bond is the glue that holds this family of brothers together. Lance Cpl. Justin Harris and Pfc. Rico Morales know what it takes to create and keep their brotherhood intact.
Harris, a machine gun squad leader with weapons platoon, Echo Company, 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, strives to teach his Marine, Morales, what it means to be apart of a brotherhood by passing on the lessons he has learned.
Harris, a native of Deer Park, Wash., said his journey as a Marine began because of his uncle, Fred, who was also a Marine.
“I remember as a kid, he would always bring me Marine Corps shirts,” Harris said. “I would look at his picture and think, ‘That's what I want to do.' So three months before I graduated high school, I walked into a recruiter's office and told them I wanted infantry, to be on the front lines and experience combat like my uncle did in Iraq and Fallujah.”
After completing training at School of Infantry–West and getting stationed at Marine Corps Base Hawaii, Harris went on a unit deployment program to Japan to complete jungle warfare training for two weeks. He said he was a team leader as a junior Marine.
“Being a team leader while in Japan was really important to me since I was new and it was my first time,” Harris said. “It was a good experience because I also had the opportunity to be squad leader when my squad leader was on duty. I would be the one to step up, and it prepared me for what I'm going through right now being squad leader, with training junior Marines like Morales.”
Morales, a machine gunner with weapons platoon, Echo Co., 2nd Bn., 3rd Marines and native of San Angelo, Texas, said he wanted to become a machine gunner because he likes the confidence the Marines in this field display, and wanted that quality in himself.
“In SOI, we (carried) the most weight on the hikes, and I wanted to do that,” Morales said. “When other sections would fall out and they weren't carrying as much weight as I was, I wanted the bragging rights. It gives me a sense of pride.”
Morales said he was anxious and excited to begin working with the machine guns and to meet his seniors. He said as a senior, Harris stands out from others.
“His leadership style is great because he helps me when I need it, and when we do physical training, he pushes me,” Morales said. “He gives me that motivation to push myself further, and when I need help with anything, he is there for me. I'm excited to learn from him and work with him to get all the knowledge that he has. In doing that, I can apply it myself and in the future with any junior Marines I may have.”
Staff Sgt. Richard Martinez, acting first sergeant and company gunnery sergeant with Echo Co., 2nd Bn., 3rd Marines, said the bond his Marines have is important for the mission.
“Machine gunners give suppression to riflemen to proceed to their objective,” Martinez, a native of Lubbock, Texas, said. “So everything from the trust they have in each other to the weapon systems has to be second nature for them to be successful. They live and breathe all of it, and strive to become leaders to pass on their knowledge.”
Harris said the bond established in leadership is important during training and translates to the battlefield.
“When we train, we want our junior Marines to respect us because in combat, if someone yells, ‘Hey, get down!' no one should think twice,” Harris said. “We instill respect because we need that trust. That's why we train the way we do during machine gun drills. We run and get their heart rate up so they know how to react under pressure. They recite knowledge as well so everything becomes instinctive.”
Morales said the bond he has developed with Harris was built through the struggle during training.
“When he pushes me, it brings us closer together,” Morales said. “I know I can trust him because he wants me to do better. If we find ourselves in combat, I have confidence that he is there for me, that he has my back. I feel the same way for my other Marines that I went through boot camp and SOI with. I have a bond with them. We know we have each other's backs no matter what.”
The bond built in training carries these Marines through the stressors of combat. They know when they look to their left or to their right, they can trust the person they see beside them.
“As leaders, we try to be hard on our juniors, but not too hard,” Harris said. “That way we build trust. I trust them with my life. We are looking for the same thing from them. If we don't have that, we will fail. We need the confidence and trust and bond between each other to succeed and survive.”
By USMC Lance Cpl. Suzanna Lapi
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