CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. -- Boot camp is only the beginning. Recruiters throw the first pitch to prospective Marines. They come in with a spotless uniform and perfect throw and set the stage for "Team Marine." They tell the prospects about the team's history, lineage, even the team colors. Then the Recruiters ferry the prospects onto the bus to Boot Camp to get ready for their debut. There the prospects are called recruits and learn all of the above and more. The Recruits learn how to walk, talk, even eat like Marines. Still, they're not yet ready to take to the field. Here on Camp Pendleton, much like Camp Geiger in North Carolina, Marines go through a second phase of training before they are taught their military specific job. In this training, they learn how to fight like Marines.
After boot camp every Marine must complete Marine Combat Training. Though they've earned the right to wear the uniform, they're still months away from joining the Fleet Marine Force.
“We’re training to keep ourselves and our fellow Marines alive,” said Pfc. Mitch C. Staker, a student with Fox Company.
The new students snap to attention as their combat instructor coaches them on how their first day will go. For some, it'll be like another round of boot camp, counting down the days until they go on to their respective schools. For all of them, it's the next chapter in their Marine Corps story.
They'll be drug tested, checked for pre-existing injuries and assigned to a platoon upon check-in.
The students are then loaded up with helmets, body armor, eye protection, ponchos, sleeping bags, magazines, magazine holders, drop pouches, canteens and sacks to carry everything in, in addition to their boot camp-issued gear, personal hygiene items and rifles. It's a lot of weight, but in order to graduate they'll have to carry the equipment through a series of hikes leading them up and up and up the many hills of Camp Pendleton.
Where Camp Geiger is known for its swamps and humidity, Camp Pendleton is about hills. Hills with daunting nicknames like the Ankle Breaker and Old Smokey. Hills so steep some have said they’ve seen the soles of the boots of the Marines in front of them as they climbed. Hills that will shape them into war-fighters.
Pfc. Staker is an amphibious vehicle crewman by trade, or at least he will be when the Marine Corps is done with him. But for now, he's getting ready to spend a month hiking, shooting and learning the combat game plan.
“I don’t really know for sure what we’ll be doing.” said Staker. “According to Youtube, we’ll be sleeping in holes and shooting a lot of stuff.”
Over the next month Staker will be equipped with an entirely new arsenal. Not only will he continue to shoot the M16A2 service rifle that had been introduced to him in boot camp, he'll throw grenades and fire weapons such as M203 grenade launchers and AT-4 rocket launchers. He'll learn to place claymore mines, call for fire and evacuations on a radio and the basics of military combat in an urban environment.
He’ll spend hours digging fighting holes and defending his position. His uniforms will be muddy and torn from running down fields and dropping to the ground to shoot. His limbs will ache from the daily hikes from range to range with a full assault pack.
At the end of it all, every student will be equipped with the game plan for combat and the Marine Corps creed will be clear. Every Marine, no matter their job, is a rifleman.
“It’s a huge part of the Marine Corps heritage,” said Staker. “Every Marine is a rifleman. You never know when you’re going to be put in a position where you have to defend yourself and your fellow Marines.”
The Marines will have a combat instructor to coach them through their combat training, similar to the drill instructors that guided them though boot camp. These coaches come from a variety of occupations in the Marine Corps and, having completed their own training course, are well equipped to instruct the Marines in this next phase of their career.
Staff Sgt. Fred A. Rodriguez, from Los Angeles, hadn’t planned to become a combat instructor.
“I was planning to go on recruiting duty,” said Rodriguez. “This isn’t what I expected, but being a combat instructor is the best thing that’s happened to me.”
Rodriguez is a distribution management specialist by trade but is now responsible for coaching young Marines in the skills they’ll need to be successful in their Marine Corps career.
“They’ve just left the recruit depot so they’re used to getting yelled at. Now it’s more talking to them so they understand and learn to think on their own,” said Rodriguez.
Combat instructors pick up where the drill instructors left off, shaping the next generation of Team Marine and further promoting the team creed.
“Every Marine is a rifleman in the sense that we teach them how to use a rifle and how to engage an enemy,” said Rodriguez. “It’s getting them ready should they ever be in a combat situation.”
The mission of the Marine Combat Training Battalion is to train Marines to be basic combat riflemen in order to prepare them for world wide deployment in the operating forces.