Leadership Stories – Marine Corps Boot Camp Infantry Training

This is a continuation (Section 16) of the leadership stories I am providing about my Marine Corps Boot Camp Experience. This particular story is about Infantry Training.

When people think of Marines they can't help but think of the first ones into battle.

The President can order the Marines into battle if they wish. More so than any other service.

So when we arrived at Infantry Training I knew this is where I needed to pay attention. We had just come from the Rifle Range where I had qualified as a Marksman. Although I was glad that I qualified I knew I could have done a little better.

My Dad was an expert marksman. He participated on many rifle and pistol teams when he was in the service.

Once we arrived and settled into our barracks we were issued our combat gear. It consisted on a helmet, pack, canteens, cartridge belt, entrenching tool, shelter half, sleeping bag, and other odds and ends.

Almost immediately we loaded up our packs and went on a long forced march. A forced march is a march where you carry your full issue of combat gear and rifle. Then you march out over open terrain.

Since we were at Camp Pendleton it wasn't a jungle like atmosphere but nonetheless, it was not that enjoyable.

Leadership Stories – Marine Corps Infantry Training

This was during a time when it wasn't that important to make sure we had enough to drink, i.e., water in our canteens. We were allowed every now and then to get one or two swallows from them.

What I clearly remember was when we finished marching out we had to pair off and set up our two person tent. Each person carried one half of the tent, i.e., the shelter half.

What I remember most was that we were lucky enough to set up our tent right over tarantula spider nests. What I soon learned was they actually had small holes in the ground where they lived, and we were right on top of them. You saw them a lot. They didn't seem to be that aggressive, but it was still nerve racking.

Leadership Stories – Marine Corps Infantry Training

I didn't get any sleep that night wondering and watching to make sure we were not invaded. I saw a couple outside the ten which was open at both ends, but we had plugged the holes that were under us. You see the tent was just big enough for two people, but like I said it was open on both ends.

The other thing was that we had to sleep with our weapons. I really didn't mind this at all. The rifle was our life. If we lost it, it could ultimately mean death on the battle field. I placed the sling through my arm and wrapped it around a little loosely and kept it close by me all night. I knew by now that the DI's would try to take them if they saw an opportunity. Wasn't going to happen to me or my partner.

Another thing I remember clearly was the C-Rations. They came in cans then. To be honest they tasted great when you were in the field. We would heat them up right in the can with Sterno that was provided with the C-Rats. In most cases you would trade what you didn't like with someone else.

Leadership Stories – Marine Corps Infantry Training

Back then they came with a couple of cigarettes so I was always able to trade them for real food.

It was a blast living out in the field.

We learned many things about survival in the field under combat conditions. We also learned about camouflage, booby traps, moving through the jungle, fire fights, sectors of fire, close combat, and much more.

One of the things that sticks out about the booby traps was the Claymore mines. They would usually be set off with a trip wire. They consisted of a somewhat flat simi circle canister that was filled with BB's. Almost like a shot gun blast only much worse. It would definitely take you out or blow off a limb depending on where it caught you and how it was set up. I still think about them for some reason. They were a nasty weapon.

Leadership Stories – Marine Corps Infantry Training

We also learned about other types of booby traps, like covered holes that would have spikes sticking up at the bottom, and other types of small blasts.

The purpose of the sectors of fire would have been if you were side by side with two or more Marines you would each be assigned a certain area to cover. That way not everyone was covering all the areas. Sort of took the pressure off of everyone. But you would need to pay attention if someone got taken out, so that you would cover their area also. In some cases you would place a stick into the ground on each side of the barrel of your weapon so that you would know what your sector was. Made a lot of sense then.

Digging fox holes was no fun but necessary I suppose. The other thing you would use your entrenching tool for (e-tool) was to dig a trench around your tent so that if it rained it would keep any running water out for the most part. A lot of that depended on how much, and how hard it rained.

Keeping dry in the field was critical to your long term health. The last thing you wanted in combat was to get a rash, or athletes foot. Other concerns were a tooth ache or small cuts that would become infected. Anything that took your mind away from the real battle was not good.

Leadership Stories – Marine Corps Infantry Training

I thoroughly enjoyed the field then. Funny thing is today when my kids want to camp out I don't have any desire to do so. My idea of camping today is a motor home or hotel room.

On another day we got to practice throwing live hand grenades. They weighed about eight pounds if my memory serves me correctly. Throwing the first one was a little nerve racking but I enjoyed it after that. Pulling the pin and then counting a couple of counts then throw. I wanted to throw it immediately, but I guess the last thing you wanted was for someone to pick it up and throw it back.

We also got a chance to experience the gas chamber. The gas chamber was a small building where you went in with your gas masks on and then once everyone was in they would make you take them off. We also had to breath in, so if you think you could just hold your breath, the DI's had another plan in mind. The gas hit you like a ton of bricks. It was absolutely the worst thing ever. You could not breath once you sucked in your first breath. Once outside it took quite a while to regain your normal breathing.

I hated it with a passion. Your eyes burned! Your skin itched! It was miserable.

Leadership Stories of Marine Corps Boot Camp – Section 18!

While we were at Infantry Training I never felt more like I was in the Marine Corps, then during that time.

This was what being a Marine was all about! Everything else was just preparation for this.

The discipline, the physical endurance, the attention to every little detail, and the in your face on every little issue was just preparation so that in combat we would be ready.

Leadership Stories - Marine Corps Boot Camp Infantry Training

The fact was that nothing could ever absolutely prepare one for combat except combat itself.

But, one must do whatever they can to prepare anyway prior to the actual thing. Good leadership skills demand it!

One of the exercises that we prepared for was to move through a wooded area that led to a small village. In that small village was the enemy (actually Dl's) that we were to take out. After we accomplished this, if we accomplished it, we were to move through another wooded area that led to a small hill.

Leadership Stories - Marine Corps Boot Camp Infantry Training

At the top of this small hill was more of the enemy (more Dl's) that occupied a machine gun nest. The wooded area also had booby traps set up for us.

Since I was a squad leader of the fourth squad, I was in charge of leading my squad through this course. There were judges on the course that would tell who had been taken out (killed or wounded) and who had not. We had blank rounds so the feeling was real except for the actual firing of a live round.

Leadership Stories - Marine Corps Boot Camp Infantry Training

A blank round is a cartridge that is filled with gun powder but does not have the lead bullet in it. So when the weapon is fired the explosion of the round still makes the same type of noise. The weapon still feels like it went off. A cartridge shell is still ejected out of the weapon. It is a very real feeling.

So I learned early that good leadership skills meant that you get your troops ready. If I was responsible for these guys I was not going to take it lightly. Even thought this was only training I thought in terms of life and death.

If you remember I was only seventeen years old, but I was aging quickly here. I was gaining experience as fast as you can imagine. The DI's didn't care if I was seventeen or seventy, the pressure to succeed was the same. Not succeeding in combat meant death. I was allergic to death, so I was trying to avoid it at all costs!

Leadership Stories - Marine Corps Boot Camp Infantry Training

So when we met just prior I went over the normal hand and arm signals. The squad was broken down into three four man teams. I matched up the personalities on each team so that I could take advantage of each ones strengths.

As an example I had one guy from Chicago that was from an area that was a little more rough than normal. Well, maybe a lot more rough. This was based on the stories he used to tell. It was always interesting listening to his stories.

Anyway, I knew his strength was that he was aggressive. He could think on his feet a little quicker than most. He was a leader in a little more aggressive way.

So I wanted to capitalize on that, without losing control of the situation.

Being aggressive can be a good thing or a bad thing depending on how you use it.

As an example going through the wooded area that had booby traps I wanted to make sure that he understood the consequences of being too aggressive. So in this instance I wanted him to be following at a distance someone a little more careful.

Leadership Stories - Marine Corps Boot Camp Infantry Training

I instructed my entire squad not to take any normal path through the wooded area. In other words it was critical no matter what to stay of the normal trail.

That would be where someone would most likely place any booby traps. And not just stay off them, but well off them.

Also I instructed them to follow at a distance that would keep them all from being taken out if one of them tripped a booby trap such as a claymore mine (fake one of course).

I also had all of us taking a slightly different path in our groups of four, but moving in a way so that I could still give hand and arm signals when necessary.

Hand and arm signals were signals that you could made so that you would not have to speak.

I wanted everyone to regroup once we made it to the village. I know I had a little advantage since normally we would not know what our challenges would be, but this was a training exercise so we knew.

Leadership Stories - Marine Corps Boot Camp Infantry Training

My plan would be to split up at the village to approach it from all sides, not just the one they explained to us to attack from. My feeling was that this is what they expected. I wanted to leave one fire team in that area while the other two fire teams would circle around through the wooded area and then attack.

This would be a timing issue since once the other two groups left to circle around we would not know if they were ready or not. The signal to attack would come from the original group when they began firing.

This would distract the enemy while we hit them from the rear and side.

Leadership Stories - Marine Corps Boot Camp Infantry Training

We would take the same approach when we attack the hill. I would have one group approach and attack from the front where they expected us, while the other two groups circled around to the side and rear.

Under normal conditions I would have never known that there was a machine gun next unless we came upon it. If we had I would have done the same thing, only after they probably took one or more of my guys out.

So I put our plan into action.

Leadership Stories - Marine Corps Boot Camp Infantry Training

We carefully moved through the wooded area without any incidents. Everyone did exactly as we had planned. It was a little more difficult moving through the wooded area, since it took us longer to move around or through bushes, trees, dead and fallen limbs, but it was worth the extra time.

Once we arrived outside the village, I sent the two groups separately to the areas that we had talked about. One group went to the rear, while the other group went to the side. We had the wooded area as cover. However, prior to sending them we talked quietly about our plan.

I specifically talked about the direction of fire. It was to be understood that at no time would anyone approach the village and fire rounds off into an area that we may be on the other side of. So when I say to the rear I mean only a little over two thirds of the way around.

I reminded them that I would be firing off the first round, but they were to wait a brief amount of time after I began the fire fight to try and determine which buildings the firing was being returned from. This would allow the other two teams to focus only on those and not waste time with empty buildings.

Leadership Stories - Marine Corps Boot Camp Infantry Training

The last caution I gave my Marines was to be aware that the enemy may enter the wooded area also to attack them. I explained that there are no hard and fast rules in combat and to be aware of everything. In other words expect the unexpected. This was just another part of building upon my good leadership skills.

I allowed about fifteen minutes for everyone to get into place and then I was to fire off the first round. I waited the fifteen minutes and I fired off the first round. The three Marines with me based on the sector of fire I assigned to them began firing also.

We could quickly see where the return fire was coming from. It was so realistic. I truly felt as though this was for real. The team I left with me we're spread out just enough to appear to be more than just a total of four.

With perfect timing the other two teams began their assault and quickly seized the small village We had completely caught the DI's off guard, which I found to be great. I had run a risk of stepping outside the hypothetical box, but it paid off.

Leadership Stories - Marine Corps Boot Camp Infantry Training

We then went on to the next intended target The wooded area with the machine gun nest at the top of the small hill.

Before beginning this phase of our exercise, I reminded everyone of our plan again. It would basically be the same type of plan. The only thing we didn't know was how steep the area was behind the top of the hill. I cautioned the team that would be hitting it from that angle, which was the team with the guy from Chicago!

I informed them they should go way out and around to avoid drawing any attention to themselves.

I again stayed with the team that would be assaulting from the front. I again had us spread out a great distance apart. After firing a round they were to remain down until the next round was fired from a different member then move up and sideways, but never keeping the same pattern.

Because I did not know the terrain behind the hill I decided to begin the fire fight with the group from the side firing off the first rounds. They were to move up the hill with the other team and check out the rear angel then they were to move back into their position and begin the fire fight.

Leadership Stories - Marine Corps Boot Camp Infantry Training

This plan worked out great also. We took the DI's position in record time.

It worked out so great that at the conclusion of the training exercise we were recognized as the only squad to have succeeded in accomplishing all targets. They pointed out that we moved away from the norm and was able to think on our own.

I couldn't have been more proud of my squad. We worked together perfectly. I would have taken them into battle with me anytime, anywhere.

Leadership Stories of Marine Corps Boot Camp – Section 19!

Another combat exercise that we participated in placed my squad and me in the defender role instead of the attacker.

Our mission was to hold a specific location that was on a pretty good size hill. This hill was not wooded so natural protection was a little scarcer. There were lower spots and large rocks that allowed for some protection though.

Leadership Stories - Marine Corps Boot Camp Infantry Training

Our position to hold was near the top, but not at the top.

Prior to the exercise beginning I surveyed the entire location especially at the top and behind us. I wanted to know where we could go if things heated up. What I noticed was that there was a great place just over the top of the hill.

The way the hill was set up was that anyone going up over and going down the other side was completely left exposed. In addition, just below that area was the perfect location to provide cover to those coming over the top of the hill.

I positioned one of my fire teams in this location to do two things. The first was to make sure no one came up from the back side of the hill and caught us from behind. The other reason was that if we had to give up our location on the other side of the hill, we had cover to do so.

Leadership Stories - Marine Corps Boot Camp Infantry Training

I learned early in life that good leadership skills always include preparation and back up plans

The other two fire teams I positioned on the other side, but before doing so we went over an exit plan that we hoped would draw the attackers over the hill into our trap, if we got placed into that predicament.

The reason I was thinking in these terms was because I did not like the position they had put us into. The specific location we were to hold was horrible. Maybe they did this on purpose I don't know but under normal conditions I would have never set up in that place. It would leave us much too vulnerable.

So once in our position everyone knew the plan in the event we would have to move back up and just over the hill to where my third fire team was stationed.

We had done the best we could with what we had to provide cover for us.

The exercise began!

Leadership Stories - Marine Corps Boot Camp Infantry Training

We waited to see if we could identify the enemy approaching which as a different squad.

Their mission of course was to take the hill we occupied. They were not fully aware where we were on the hill except that we were there somewhere.

I could quickly see that they were able to move up the hill under cover while we were not able to successfully take them out. Under normal conditions I would have either shelled them with mortar fire or hand grenades, but we were not permitted to use this strategy. On the other hand we would have been sitting ducks if they could have done the same.

So as they came up and we returned fire, I sent my fire teams individually back and over the hill to our planned location. We would do this as we would fire off several rounds, they would move back a small amount.

Leadership Stories - Marine Corps Boot Camp Infantry Training

On the final move up and over I wanted to give the impression of retreat so I would be the last one over and I wanted them to clearly know I was moving over in a retreating fashion.

I did this and through this portion of the exercise everything was going as we had planned.

Once over we positioned ourselves and then waited. I instructed that we would not begin firing until we counted nearly thirteen, or when they would have been in the best spot to take out as many as possible. They were to begin on my first shot.

It seemed like a life time but we saw one slowly moving over the crest of the hill. We saw the top of his head first then more and more of them. Then we saw another and another until we counted all of them.

I fired off the first round and that began the fire fight Within moments we had taken them all out and had won the fire fight.

What a realistic feeling and a real sense of accomplishment.

As I mentioned earlier it was a good lesson in preparation and always having a backup plan.

Thank you and May God Bless You!

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