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During the month of June, I had the privilege of attending Corporal’s Course at the Staff Non-Commissioned Officer’s Academy at Camp Johnson, N.C. This course is the first in a series of professional military education classes at the academy that provides Marines with leadership training to enhance their professional qualifications as they take on greater responsibility.
I was eager to attend this course for a few reasons. One, it will be a requirement to be promoted to sergeant during the next fiscal year so it was best for me to take advantage of it as soon as possible. Two, I wanted to better myself and learn some of the administrative duties of a NCO. Three, I wanted to get out of the office and hang out with my fellow Marines.
There were 87 Marines in my class and we were divided into six squads of about 14 Marines each. A little more than half of the Marines enrolled in the course were grunts (infantry). The rest came from other job fields that ranged from supply clerks to food service specialists. My squad consisted of six grunts, an intelligence specialist, a flight equipment mechanic, an administrative clerk, a tank crewman, a military policeman and myself, a combat correspondent.
Each squad had a faculty advisor assigned to them who acted as a mentor to the Marines. My squad’s advisor, Cpl. Shane Newby, was a squad leader in 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, who recently returned from a deployment to Afghanistan. Newby graduated in the class before ours and had done so well, that the SNCO Academy decided to make him an instructor.
Over a period of three weeks, we were taught a variety of lessons that focused on leadership, the duties and responsibilities of a NCO, traditions, drill and, most importantly, warfighting. The lessons were mostly held in a classroom and the advisors utilized the “Socratic method” which allowed for the Marines to have discussion and, sometimes, debate between each other concerning the lessons. More often than not, Newby and the other advisors would take their squads out of the classroom to have individual group discussions on topics such as leading by example, ethics and how to apply them in combat and in garrison. The instructors even used the physical training sessions as teaching points concerning the Marine Corps’ core values. We had to complete homework assignments and there were exams over the coursework including practical application where Marines were judged on their performance. However, there was no grading system – students either passed or failed.
One of the practical application events was for each Marine to stand up in front of his or her fellow Marines and teach a short class about something they would be tasked to do at their respective unit. It forced the Marines to get out of their comfort zones and engage in public speaking, a skill vital to being a leader. The infantry Marines in my squad gave classes on how to effectively employ the weapons system they specialize in, while I gave a class on monitoring website content. I will admit that particular task is not as exciting as shooting a Javelin missile or sighting in a 60 mm mortar, but I tried to make it relevant to them.
Toward the end of the course, the lessons focused mainly on warfighting. I felt this was very fitting considering we have been engaged in sustained combat operations for 11 years. We received lessons concerning joint operations, operational culture, land navigation, patrolling, defensive and offensive operations and leading troops into combat.
All of this material was old news to the grunts in the class. All of them have been extensively trained in the application of warfighting and the majority of them have served multiple combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. Warfighting is their business and business has been good. However, their familiarity with the subject did not cause them to become uninvolved or bored with the lessons. Rather, they became our instructors concerning the material. They were all more than willing to share their extensive experience with the rest of their squads.
The instructors encouraged this type of participation throughout the course to the point that each student was just as much of an instructor as they were. For me, that was the real strength of the class: Marines from different job fields, units and backgrounds coming together under one roof and sharing experiences with each other. Everyone, regardless of their job field, had something to teach to the class.
The final exercise had each squad conducting a patrol in a simulated combat environment on Camp Johnson. The objective was to patrol through three different checkpoints, stopping at each one to pick up an item such as ammunition cans, while engaging any enemy forces (played by the instructors) and avoiding simulated improvised explosive devices.
Our squad was divided into three fireteams, which is the smallest and most efficient tactical unit in the Marine Corps. The grunts in our squad refrained from taking any leadership roles so the rest of us could learn how to lead a patrol. I was a fireteam leader and Cpl. Joseph Tomiello, an administration clerk, was the squad leader. Granted, neither of us would probably ever be required to lead a fireteam or a squad on patrol, but it showed me how much you need to know in those types of situations. The grunts advised us from time to time and pointed out any mistakes we were making and showed us how we could improve.
Overall, I was very impressed with the course. The instructors were very informative and allowed open discussion on any lesson that was being taught. I personally believe the Marine Corps needs more integrated training between infantry Marines and non-infantry Marines. The infantry Marines can teach us skills that we can use in combat and we can show them how we can be used in order to better support them.
I recommend this course to any corporal or lance corporal. It does not matter if you just became a corporal, have been one for a while, have multiple combat tours, the size of your unit or if you are looking to get out of the Marine Corps as soon as possible. It is extremely beneficial in terms of education and will definitely broaden your perspective of the Marine Corps.