CAMP GONSALVES, Okinawa — Marines with 1st Platoon, 3rd Fleet Antiterrorism Security Team, broke the routine of their normal jobs by learning survival skills at the Jungle Warfare Training Center here during the Jungle Survival Course, July 28 – August 1.
The FAST platoon is currently attached to the Commander 7th Fleet in Yokosuka, Japan, encompassing the Asia Pacific region as its area of operation for six months, said Gunnery Sgt. Edward Palacios, the platoon sergeant for 1st Platoon.
The normal duties of the FAST Marines are to detect, deter and defend against terrorist activities, according to their motto.
"We are responsible for protecting any national asset vital to national security," Palacios said. "Just as an example: if an embassy was to get attacked, we would actually go and retake the embassy."
Because the team is in the region, the command decided to capitalize on the opportunity to teach the Marines new skills.
"We saw this as a good opportunity to have the Marines come down here to pick up some different skills – jungle survival skills as opposed to their normal jobs," Palacios said.
The FAST Marines will eventually rotate to infantry battalions, and these Marines will bring valuable survival knowledge to those units, added Palacios.
"These Marines will bring to the battalions a different aspect of training that is not normally taught in the infantry battalions," Palacios said.
FAST Marines are typically trained in close quarters battle techniques, vessel boarding, searches and seizures as well as recapture security missions, according to Palacios.
"My main reason for bringing them out here was to stress them out, and to see how they perform under the stress of the heat while surviving in the jungle with a lack of food and a lack of sleep," Palacios said.
According to Palacios, the survival mindset stressed in the course not only applies to the jungle but any environment where survival is a necessity.
The students were taught how to collect and purify water to make it potable, how to build shelters to protect themselves from the elements by improvising the use of materials found in the jungle, as well as how to build a fire without the use of matches, lighters or starter fluid.
These fire-starting supplies may not be available during a survival situation where the Marines will have to rely on their training to survive, said Staff Sgt. Benjamin Luna, the chief instructor with the Jungle Warfare Training Center.
"Out there in the middle of nowhere, it’s just you and the wilderness, and you’re not going to find any (matches or lighters) there," Luna said. "Around here we stick with a flint and magnesium block to create a spark."
Teaching the students how to create a fire ensures they will be able to make a heat source to keep warm and cook the food they catch.
During the course, students were also taught how to kill and prepare certain animals they may encounter in the jungle. Preparing the kill is not only a matter of trimming off the meat. Certain organs are also edible, and the bones of larger animals can be used as tools.
Students were taught not only to live off the land but how to navigate through the terrain. In a combat environment, a Marine in a survival situation will need to stay on the move to evade the enemy.
Survival land navigation is an integral part of surviving in the jungle, according to Luna.
The students learned to navigate by primitive methods using the sun and stars to determine direction of travel. The methods are not as accurate as using a compass or global positioning satellite system.
"It’s not an exact pinpoint direction, it gives the person a general direction of which way is north and south so they can better orient themselves," Luna said.
Regardless of the details taught in the course, Luna feels the most important part is teaching the survival mindset. The attitude and the determination to survive is what he feels determines a casualty or survivor.
The students felt the same way.
"I think, in general, the whole survival training will help us no matter where we are," said Sgt. Rocky Bosman, a squad leader with the FAST platoon. "They’re not just teaching us jungle stuff. They’re teaching us things we could use anywhere, in any type of environment."