ABOARD THE USS PELELIU -- Marines from the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable) also known as America's rapid-reaction force, sharpened the tip of their spear by conducting fast rope refresher training aboard the USS Peleliu March 10.
According to Staff Sgt. Earl D. Budd, chief Helicopter Rope Suspension Trainer, known as a HRST Master, from Battalion Landing Team 1st Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, Camp Pendleton, Calif., the MEU's ground combat element, this is one of many specialized training evolutions the Marines of the MEU will go through to prepare them for whatever comes their way during their scheduled six-month deployment through the Western Pacific and Persian Gulf.
According 1stSgt. Kenneth M. Hasbrouck, company 1st sergeant, Company C, BLT 1/4, his fast-rope-trained Marines give the MEU Commander Col. J.W. Bullard another weapon for his arsenal by allowing him to insert Marines into a combat or crisis situation via rope where helicopter landings are impractical.
According to Budd, the Marines began their helicopter fast rope training last month at Camp Pendleton and then continued it aboard the Peleliu March 8 and 10. The Marines used a parked helicopter on the edge of the flight deck at the front of the ship and slid down a 60-foot-rope onto the hangar bay.
Budd and four other battalion H.R.S.T. Masters, Sgt. Herbert Sam III, Sgt. Calvert C. Wallace, Sgt. Landon M. Gant, Cpl. Joseph G. Casillas, used the static helo to teach the Marines fundamental techniques prior to fast-roping off of a CH-46 Sea Knight helicopter hovering over the flight deck and just feet away from the Western Pacific Ocean. Some of the techniques included looking down at the landing spot, how to slow their descent, using proper lockout procedures to stop their downward progress.
"Some of the inexperienced Marines try to slow or stop themselves by just using their hands instead of proper leg and foot pressure," said Budd. "They find out quickly how hot those gloves can get and some Marines will let go of the rope and fall." That's a painful lesson to learn, but a lesson they need to learn now rather than in combat or in a crisis, said Budd.
To keep Marines from having to learn the hard way, Budd, his HRST masters, Hasbrouck, and a host of other company personnel used the traditional tried and tested Marine Corps teaching methods of a whole lot of yelling mixed with some genuine concern and compassion. Throughout the different phases of the training, there were at least a half-dozen set of eyes out there to monitor safety procedures and to observe each Marine's use of the fundamental techniques as he made his descent. After the slide the Marines were either praised and given positive reinforcement or given constructive criticism and told to do it again.
According to Hasbrouck, the training is conducted on a gradual, step-by-step basis, where a Marine must master one set of skills before going on to the next.
"It's like building a house," said Lance Cpl. Ed A. Guillory, machine gunner, weapons platoon, from Lake Charles, La. "They build a foundation by starting us off with one skill and then they build from there."
Budd and his instructors also rely on one of the Corps oldest and most basic teaching techniques, repetition, known by Marines as remediation.
"We just keep doing it until we get it right. If we screw something up, they tell us to try doing it this way or that way, and pretty soon, we’re ready to move to the next level," said Guillory.
But according to Budd, remediation does not always work on the most primal of feelings, fear.
"Sitting on the edge of a platform, some Marines get a little nervous and for one reason or another don’t want to come down,a" said Budd.
"Some of the new guys start shaking when they come up because they're scared of heights," said Cpl. Joshua C. Bryant, machine gunner, weapons platoon, from Lee County, Ga. "And it's kind of funny, because once they're up there, no matter how scared they are, they don't have a choice on how to get down," he said.
Guillory admitted that during this training, he was one of these Marines. When it was his turn to slide down the rope, Guillory hesitated and for a couple of moments he lost his focus and failed to go down the rope on command. The Marines around him yelled. The pressure was on him and as he sat frozen on the ledge Guillory said that the two minutes he was up there seemed like an eternity.
Guillory composed himself and eventually slid down. What got him down were the words of Gant, his squad leader, and the encouragement of the Marines around him. "When Marines you look up to tell you it's going to be fine, then you know it will be O.K."
After the ordeal, Guillory said his Marine buddies didn't give him a hard time. It became one of those things you just look back on and laugh, he said.
Although the skills Marines like Guillory learned were very helpful, according to Bud, the most important thing the participants take away from training like this is self-confidence. "They learn that fear can be conquered."
Given the present state of the world, said Bud. This is not a bad lesson to learn.
For more information on the 11th MEU, visit the unit's web site at http://www.usmc.mil/11thmeu.