KEY WEST, FL — Sixty-nine Marines hit the beaches at the Ranger Amphibious Assault Course during the second phase of the Marine Corps Special Operations Command’s Individual Training Course in Key West, Fla., March 19 – 30.
This is just one of the many courses these Marines must complete in order to become a Critical Skills Operator and join the ranks of the Marine Corps special operations forces.
Ten years of land-locked warfare in Afghanistan and Iraq, MARSOC has not strayed from its amphibious roots, according to Staff Sgt. Chris Dowd, Marine Special Operations School Ranger Amphibious lead instructor.
Capt. Stephen Detrinis, class 1-12 officer in charge of phase 2, stated that sustaining the Corps’ amphibious doctrine directly ties to the Commandant of the Marine Corps, Gen. James F. Amos’, priorities for the Corps, and getting back to this core mission is also important to SOF.
“[Hitting the beach utilizing Zodiacs] is just an insert technique, but it makes us more well rounded and more employable worldwide with some of the partner-nation forces we train with down range, and the skill is inline with our commandant’s priorities,” said Detrinis.
During this course, the students accomplished basic amphibious training with the Zodiac, a rigid hull inflatable boat. The Marines going through the course are also taught scout swimmer techniques, confined space maneuvers, and small craft operations, to include beach reconnaissance type reporting.
The scout swimmer instruction taught the students how to maneuver without detection while operating under clandestine insertion, and some of the small craft operations skills included the ability for the students to right a capsized Zodiac, the ability to quickly put the Zodiac together and learning to navigate the craft as a team.
Each day the students were required to swim 2 km of open water in full gear and ruck-sack, using only their dive fins. To successfully pass this portion of training, they were required to complete the distance within one hour by the end of the two-week course. They also received classroom instruction on a variety of topics, to include nautical navigation, piloting, how to conduct surveys and how to conduct reconnaissance on a beach. After the classroom instruction, the students hit the water and put the learned techniques into action.
The course culminated in a final exercise where the students demonstrated their proficiency on all of the concepts taught.
“This is a very labor intensive block of training, not only for the students but also for the instructor staff,” said Dowd. “I just can’t get that out enough that these guys are working hard and they are putting out maximum effort at all times, both students and instructors.”
The training is difficult and consists of long days, and this is just one course in more than seven months of intensive training, but according to one student, “it’s a no-brainer” as to why he chose to try and become a Critical Skills Operator.
“I see this as being the next step in my progression,” said Staff Sgt. Richard Powell, ITC student. “I want to work with the most professional Marines that are out there, [and] this is where I believe to be the place where they are at.”
The instructors have high expectations for the students–they expect them to grasp the concepts in the classrooms and then have the wherewithal to apply these concepts in practical application exercises.
“I think it’s important for the Marines to grasp the concept initially and I think that’s where the structure in the classroom comes in, but it is the Individual Training Course, and they’re not going to hold your hand when you’re in a team, especially in combat,” Sgt. James Glendening, ITC student, said of the instructors. “So I think it’s important they show you the ropes, but I think it’s also important that you can carry your own, to be an independent thinker.”
The skills these Marines learned during this portion of ITC provide a unique capability they will take back to their teams and provide another tool for the SOF community.
“Once all of this training is complete, these Marines will be basically trained in amphibious operations that give the SOF community an increased advantage,” Dowd said. “Right now, a lot of SOF units aren’t training for amphibious operations, but these guys will be trained and will be ready to conduct follow on training; to increase MARSOC’s ability to support SOF as a whole.”
The different skill sets that the students are taught in this course have a lineage in the Corps that dates back to the Marine Raiders during World War II, whose job it was to conduct amphibious light infantry warfare.
“When the Marine Corps established the Raiders, that’s what they were utilized for. The Raiders went ashore, prior to any amphibious operations, and conducted reconnaissance on the beach, which we teach the students here, and secured that beach for that follow on force,” Dowd said. “This course has the hallmark of the Raiders throughout.”