Terrain dictates leadership at JWTC

LCpl Colin J. Hoffman provides rear security with his rubber M16A2 service rifle Feb. 15 at the Jungle Warfare Training Center while his squad evacuates a simulated casualty during the endurance course. The casualty was secured to an improvised stretcher fashioned from tree branches and utility blouses, as Marines maintained a combat mindset and had to work only with what they could find in the jungle and brought to the course. Hoffman is a military policeman with 3rd Law Enforcement Battalion, III Marine Expeditionary Force Headquarters Group, III MEF. Photo by Cpl Mark W. Stroud.

CAMP GONSALVES, OKINAWA, JAPAN (February 21, 2013) - The endurance course stretches for miles, filled with winding, dense jungle and nearly vertical slopes. Marines encounter rivers, flooded trenches and submerged tunnels filled with waist-deep mud and cable bridges that must be traversed to reach the end.

Members of 3rd Law Enforcement Battalion, III Marine Expeditionary Force Headquarters Group, III MEF, used small-unit leadership techniques to overcome the course's challenges Feb. 15 at the Jungle Warfare Training Center on Camp Gonsalves as the final event of the basic jungle skills course.

"The basic jungle skills course is more focused on the small-unit leaders. Success will depend on if the squad leaders make sure the Marines are doing the right things," said LtCol Thomas B. Noel, the commanding officer of JWTC. "Platoon commanders have a limited amount of control once Marines start pushing through the jungle — you get in 50 to 60 meters and suddenly you can't see someone 10 meters away, so the priority becomes getting the fire team and squad leaders to take charge."

The squads worked together during the weeklong course to learn skills needed to operate in a jungle environment, including obstacle crossing, rappelling, rope bridge crossing, patrolling and land navigation. The Marines used everything they learned throughout the week to complete the endurance course.

"The Marines' decision making and task management have definitely improved over the last seven days," said LCpl Caleb W. Walcott, an instructor at JWTC. "I saw a growth in terms of leaders taking charge and Marines listening to and understanding orders to accomplish their mission."

The increased emphasis on small-unit leadership provides opportunities for junior Marines to step up during the course and assume leadership roles within their squads.

"Some of the Marines who are typically quiet are the ones that end up calling out the commands and telling the other Marines what to do when they get into a situation like this," said Walcott. "(The course) brings out the confidence in them."

Developing junior Marines' leadership qualities was an emphasis for 3rd LE Bn. as it conducted the basic jungle skills course.

"We are a fairly new unit, that has only been in existence for the last eight months, so we are developing our junior Marines' leadership internally," said Capt Cory L. Holiday, company commander, Company B, 3rd LE Bn. "(The course) forces individuals placed in leadership positions to give verbal commands in a tactical environment, which is not something we have many opportunities to do in garrison."

Instructors with the training center designated Marines as casualties at certain points during the course, forcing the already fatigued Marines to work together to cross the remaining obstacles while carrying their wounded comrades.

"During a deployment, it is going to be a high-stress environment anytime you leave the wire, so being able to function under stress while tired and experiencing mental and physical strain is something the Marines need to be able to do," said Walcott. "Training in these types of conditions is how they learn to do that."

The Marines rose to the challenge of the high-stress environment to complete the course and demonstrate their internal leadership at the squad and fire-team level.

"Being out here definitely brought the teams together," said Holiday. "It forced the lance corporals to take charge of a squad and get the Marines through the obstacles."

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