Pendleton Instructors Train Marines To Reach New Heights
(February 10, 2011)
|Joshua Tree National Park, Joshua Tree, Calif. (Feb. 4,
2011) – Marines can fight in every clime and place, but
sometimes they have to climb to get there.|
Lance Cpl. Thomas Dixon (right) and Pfc. Anthony Bureau, refresh after a tough climb and prepare for another Feb. 1, 2011, after scaling a cliff in Joshua Tree National Park in Joshua Tree, Calif. The Marines have been working with Special Operations Training Group assault climber's course instructors from Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Calif.
Fortunately for Combat Center Marines, they have a
world-renowned rock climbing locale just a rock's throw from
the main gate in Joshua Tree National Park, in Joshua Tree,
Forty warriors of 2nd Battalion, 7th Marine
Regiment, took advantage of this proximity and near-perfect
weather to strengthen their vertical climbing skills during
a month-long Assault Climbers Course at the national park
Feb. 1, 2011.
The three-stage course began Jan. 11
at 25 Area, Camp Vado del Rio within Marine Corps Base Camp
Pendleton and is currently in its second stage
in Joshua Tree. Those who survive Joshua Tree
will return to Camp Pendleton's Range 133 to
take on steep earth, cliff assaults, and urban
climbing techniques. Those who make it to the
crest will graduate with either a Tactical Rope
Suspension Team or Lead Climber certification
during a ceremony Feb. 11 at Marine Corps Base
Camp Pendleton, Calif.
Marines began the first stage Jan. 11 at Camp Pendleton,
after highly experienced instructors with the Special
Operations Training Group, placed the students in teams, or
TRSTs. In their teams, Marines were taught all aspects of
assault climbing in extreme terrain, from tying knots to
scaling cliff faces as a lead climber. They also learned to
rappel, use climbing anchors and apply belays correctly,
said Gunnery Sgt. Eric N. Johnson, the staff
non-commissioned officer in charge of the assault climbers
section, with SOTG.|
“We began teaching them every
knot to tie, and for the first two weeks it was just them
tying the 14 knots and learning the 11 rope systems.”
Johnson said the first two weeks are a mental challenge.
“Right now we're in our fourth week of training.”
Unfortunately, half of the original 40 students dropped out,
figuratively, that is. That is consistent with average
attrition rates, he said.
Although Marines may be
able to master the rope and climbing techniques at ground
level, doing so atop the steep slopes of a giant, slippery
rock at Joshua Tree can be too daunting a task.
first two weeks is especially a mental challenge,” said
Johnson. “It gets hard physically, but still that's all
mental. It can be easy for [the students] to lose their
nerve and not think they can make a climb.”
Marines who make it past the second week typically get over
any fear of heights quickly, said Johnson. This will pay off
during the unit's next deployment this summer when they
become Battalion Landing Team 2nd Battalion, 7th Marines,
the ground combat element for the 31st Marine Expeditionary
Unit, based out of Marine Corps Base, Okinawa, Japan.
Second Lt. Keefe Murtaugh, the 1st platoon commander of
Company F, and a Chicago native, said the course is a tough
test, but will pay off greatly when they execute their
mission as BLT 2/7.
“A lot of the Marines sent here
will be on the boat company,” said Murtaugh. “That mission,
which will include raids, will require Marines to lead the
way when tasked with cliff assaults.
assaulting a beach, there will be cliffs we'll have to
scale,” said Murtaugh.
Lance Cpl. Corey Murphy, a rifleman with Company F, 2nd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, shimmies his way up a crevice in Joshua Tree National Park in Joshua Tree, Calif., Feb. 1, 2011. The Marines have been working with Special Operations Training Group assault climber instructors, from Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Calif., in the park.
Having a handful of Marines
with climbing skills who can provide security at the top for
the rest, will greatly increase the odds of the mission's
success, he said.
Twenty-three days into the course,
Murtaugh said, the mental and physical strain on the
students is obvious.
“Most of us have little or no
experience when it comes to climbing. A lot of the Marines
are fairly fresh from [the School of Infantry] and this
doesn't apply to anything they've experienced in the Marine
Corps,” said Murtaugh.
“All our hands are getting
torn up,” he said. “One thing we've been taught is the
fist-jam – to make a fist inside the rock. Murtaugh said it
works, but it is hard. “Yeah it hurts, but the alternative
of falling is much worse.”
Lance Cpl. Corey Murphy, a
rifleman with Company F, from Tucson, Ariz., said he expects
to make it to the next stage and eventually graduate, but
said he quickly discovered scaling the face of a cliff was
going to be harder than he thought.
“Just looking up
at the side of the rocks, you'd think there'd be
all kinds of places to plant your feet or grab
with your hands. But when you're up there in a
tight spot, you just want to second guess
everything,” said Murphy. “Of course the
instructors taught us how to climb in combat
and how to place protection to stop you from
hitting the ground,” he said. “But when you're
up there, it's a whole different story.”
Article and photo by USMC LCpl. Michael Nerl|
Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center, Twentynine Palms
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