MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. (Feb. 8, 2008) — During 73 days of some of the most physically arduous and mentally grueling training in all of the militaries around the world, two Marines from Marine Special Operations Advisor Group, U.S. Marine Corps Forces, Special Operations Command, persevered to become the first MARSOC Marines to earn the title of “Lancero.”
Capt. German E. Duarte and Sgt. Roberto P. Sanchez, graduated from the Escuela de Lanceros Dec. 5, 2007, where the Colombian National Army and servic emembers from friendly foreign militaries gather to endure Lancero training and develop themselves into highly-skilled warfighters.
“I would say this has been the toughest and the craziest out of all courses I have been through or heard of,” said Duarte. “Without Marine Corps training, I don’t think we would have even made it.”
According to U.S. Army Maj. Edgar J. Alvarez, Lancero instructor and exchange officer, 7th Special Forces Group, the Lancero course began in Dec. 6, 1955, after members of the Colombian National Army went through U.S. Army Ranger school and used what they learned to form their own special forces school in Colombia. Today, the Escuela de Lanceros is designed to develop its students into experts in small-unit tactics and irregular warfare. More specifically, it prepares the Colombian military to combat terrorist groups who utilize guerilla tactics in their country.
Duarte and Sanchez said that much of the course is culture based. They learned techniques, tactics and procedures of the Colombian armed forces and gained a better understanding of the Colombian culture.
According to Duarte and Sanchez, the course is broken up into several phases: adaptation/acclimatization, irregular/urban, mountain and jungle warfare, and finally, graduation week.
In the adaptation/acclimatization phase, Duarte and Sanchez acclimated to the heat and humidity and instructors led intensive physical training to prepare students for the duration of the course.
“You get used to not sleeping and eating well and beating your body down with PT,” said Sanchez. “They teach you weapons familiarization, land navigation and the Colombian (military) planning process.”
After two weeks, the students moved on to irregular/urban warfare and learned close quarters battle tactics similar to those used by U.S. armed forces.
“You do patrols and hikes at a training center and you come back in the morning and immediately start planning for the next patrol. Then, you get two hours of sleep before going out on that patrol,” explained Sanchez.
According to Duarte, the main part of the course was the last four weeks, which encompassed both mountain- and jungle-warfare phases. The most difficult training evolutions fell within these weeks and included multiple hikes that ranged from eight kilometers to a 36 kilometer hike known as the Marca de la Muerte, or March of Death.
“The hikes were definitely the most difficult part of the course because the terrain is rough, there are no breaks and you carry 60-70 pounds on your back as you go up and down mountains and through the jungle,” said Duarte. “It’s not like (Marine Corps hikes) where you go for so long, and you take a break and drink water. Over there, you get water, but on the move.”
During the jungle phase, Duarte and Sanchez spent a difficult eight days in a mock concentration camp. Students were deprived of food and subjected to various physical and mental stresses in an effort to break their spirits. Duarte and Sanchez persevered and were impressed by their fellow Colombian students.
“There is a culture of machismo,” said Duarte. “Some of the things they do you wouldn’t do in the Marine Corps or anywhere else, but they do it because they have to show they are men.”
Despite the difficulty of the final four weeks of the course, both Duarte and Sanchez say it was their favorite part of the Lancero course. The two Marines serve together in MSOAG to train, advise and build relationships with foreign militaries. The Lancero course honed their skills both as infantrymen and as special operations advisors.
“I have done two foreign internal defense missions in Colombia,” said Duarte. “For the Colombian Army, being a Lancero is kind of like being a Ranger in the (U.S.) Army. Most of their infantry officers go there to gain knowledge and prestige.
“Marines help Marines wherever you go,” said Duarte. “It’s the same for Lanceros. When they see another Lancero, they say, ‘Hey, how can I help you?’ or ‘What can I do for you?’ They are always looking out for each other.”
Active duty Marines and sailors interested in joining MARSOC can contact the Marine Special Operations School at (910) 451-0099/3349 (DSN 751-3349/3123) or visit us online at www.marsoc.usmc.mil.