ABOARD USS TARAWA --
The leadership decisions a corporal makes on the ground can make or break a mission.”
The wisdom in these words from Cpl. Joseph A. Vera, landing support specialist, from Carlsbad, N.M., was one of the reasons he was voted by his peers to be the recipient of the “Leadership Award” during a graduation ceremony for the 11th MEU’s Corporals Course Class 1-08 here today.
Vera, who is with Combat Logistics Battalion 11, 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit, Camp Pendleton, Calif., served as 1st Squad Leader during the class and was also named the 2nd Place Honor Graduate for earning over 95% in final examinations and scoring at least 285 out of 300 on his physical fitness test.
Cpl. Cristina Mont, CLB-11, was the corporals course Honor Graduate.
Participants of the class included Marines and Sailors from the MEU’s ground, logistics and aviation combat elements respectively. These are Battalion Landing Team 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, and Combat Logistics Battalion 11, both from Camp Pendleton, Calif., and Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 166 (Reinforced), from Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, San Diego.
The two-week course took place during the MEU’s deployment through the Western Pacific Ocean and Arabian Gulf region.
The corporals and petty officers were given classroom lectures on traditional topics such as history and customs and courtesies in the ship’s library. They also spent many hours in the sweltering heat and humidity of the ship’s hangar bay and flight deck practicing basic drill movements and the proper use of their noncommissioned officer sword during formations and ceremonies.
“We used the same curriculum used at the Camp Pendleton Corporal’s Course with one exception, said 1stSgt. David A. Wilson, Weapons Company 1st Sergeant, BLT 1/5. “We added an optional “war-fighting block” that focused on urban battles, improvised explosive device training” and other modern-day tactics, techniques and procedures. “The urban warfare class focused specifically on the “Three-Block War” concept that stresses that in today’s close-quarters conflicts, a Marine must be prepared to shift between combat mode, establishing peace and security and a humanitarian assistance role, all within a small area and during the same operation.
“No other military branch or service in the world places the amount of responsibility we place on the shoulders of our corporals,” said Staff Sgt. Carlos A. Granados, corporals course instructor, Company C, BLT 1/5. “So we challenged their minds as much as possible.”
The curriculum included taking part in tactical decision games with no right or wrong answers and squad missions that encouraged maximum participation. “We expected the leaders to rise to the challenge and they did,” he said. But he also said he saw a few who didn’t necessarily come to the course of their own free display a “born-again motivation” that was infectious to the group.
Granados said he was also encouraged by the mentoring and “cross-pollination” that occurred. “Many corporal made contacts from different job fields they can call on in the future for support,” he said.
“We live in a challenging time,” said Granados. Today’s combat environment poses complex questions that are difficult to answer. To find those answers, instructors pointed the corporals to their past.
“History was a big part of our lesson plan,” said Granados. Learning about the heroic actions of Marines who came before them, connects them to their past and motivates them to do great things, he said. But it’s more than that said Granados, Marines were taught to mine the lessons of their past and apply them to the battles of today. Granados pointed to the similarities between the urban battles of Hue City during the Vietnam War in the 70s, and the fierce battles fought in Iraq and Afghanistan in the recent past.
However, the most learning occurred when the corporals were given an opportunity to share their experience with each other in interactive discussions, said Wilson. “This is one of the most experienced class I have seen. I would say that at least 60% of these Marines have seen combat,” said Wilson. “There are more than a few corporals here who were young veterans of the fierce battles that took place in Fallujah, Iraq in 2004 and other battles since then.” The aim of the instructors was to get these corporals to talk to each other and share some of the lessons they learned first hand, he said.
Vera, who has been a corporal for a little over a year said he had a few lessons-learned to share. He recalled during his last deployment in Iraq’s Anbar Province, when he and two junior Marines were ordered to join a convoy that was headed to an airfield in Ramadi many miles away. Although he had less than a month in Iraq and only two weeks as a corporal, he was the senior landing support person on this mission. Once at Ramadi, he was tasked with tracking cargo and personnel movements between airfields during several landing support missions.
Vera said he made a few mistakes, but the experience taught him a valuable lesson in leadership. “A corporal has to always adapt, take charge and not be afraid to make decisions or mistakes. He has to lead.”
For more information on the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit visit their website athttp://www.usmc.mil/11thmeu.