Buried in the thick brush on a hill, a small contingent of Force Reconnaissance Marines and Special Tactics Airmen are watching, waiting and reporting what they see back to the operations center. Their intelligence will provide incoming Marines with vital information to conduct raids later in the day.
This was not a real mission in a foreign land, but rather a Marine reconnaissance proving ground at Bellows Air Force Base, Hawaii.
Three Special Tactics Airmen graduated from the Marine’s Reconnaissance Team Leader Course in November, following two months of rigorous desert, jungle and amphibious reconnaissance training.
RTLC is an advanced level reconnaissance course designed to develop junior service members into better team leaders through realistic training.
“Our main objectives in this course is taking young leaders and guiding them into being better ground force commanders,” said Gunnery Sgt. Jeremy Froio, NCO in charge of RTLC. “Regardless of what service you’re in, the reconnaissance mission is so detail oriented and in depth that no matter what your actual mission is, you’re going to benefit from this training.”
Force Reconnaissance Marines are the Marine Corps’ special-operations-capable forces that provide essential intelligence to the command element of the Marine Air-Ground Task Force. Forging a relationship between conventional and SOF create unique opportunities and partnerships in the future.
Special Tactics is U.S. Special Operations Command’s tactical air and ground integration force and the Air Force’s ground special operations force enabling global access, precision strike, personnel recovery and battlefield surgery operations.
To provide realism to the curriculum, students in the course transition to three different geographic locations. Special Tactics regularly trains in extreme conditions to acclimate to any scenario when called upon.
“Much like in a Marine Expeditionary Unit, you find yourself in some other part of the world … one day you’re in the high desert, the next the desert plain, the next in the jungle, etcetera,” said Froio. “We try to replicate that aspect of not always knowing your environment.”
Beginning at Camp Pendleton, Calif., students learn public speaking to enhance their briefing skills, and conduct their first patrol as a team. According to the instructors, briefing is the first step of becoming a capable ground force commander.
Froio explained the need for ground force commanders to clearly communicate their intent and objectives during mission planning, because without that capability, the team won’t make it to the battlefield.
“We wholly utilize the crawl, walk, and run method during training by having them brief daily, to giving impromptu briefs and finally briefing a real commander after drawing up their mission plan,” said Froio.
From there, the course moves to Yuma, Ariz., for desert patrols and reconnaissance. During this portion, instructors incorporated Special-Tactics-unique scenarios for the students such as an airfield reconnaissance and fires planning.
“Since Airmen from Air Force Special Operations Command began to take this course, we have changed our curriculum to accommodate what they bring to the table,” said Gunnery Sgt. Edward Brugeman, senior noncommissioned officer in charge of RTLC. “Each one of the mission sets gives the students – Marines and Airmen alike – the planning, briefing and execution aspect of a multitude of mission sets they will most likely encounter in the real world.”
From Yuma, the joint contingent travelled to Marine Corps Base Hawaii-Kaneohe Bay to exercise jungle and amphibious reconnaissance mission sets. Here, they finished the tactical portion of their training with a 3-day, 2-night marathon final exercise.
“We’re giving these Airmen the ground-level experience they may not get from other schools in their pipeline,” said Staff Sgt. Brandon Mackey, course chief of RTLC. “They bring so much to our class and our students learn a ton from them, in return we give them the ground-based tactical decisions and skills they need to lead a team.”
Throughout each portion of the course, each student rotated through multiple graded billets to gain perspective and experience in each position: Team Leader, Assistant Team Leader, Point Man, Radio Transmission Operator and Assistant RTO, said Brugeman.
“Every student is placed in every role, because in order to become an effective leader, you don’t only need to know what you need to do, but what every person on your team needs to do,” said Brugeman.
During the training, the joint efforts between the Airmen and the Marines lead to them casting aside their differences and embracing their similarities. While the Airmen were sent to RTLC to learn, the joint efforts between the sister services lead to sharing tactics, techniques and procedures to improve processes.
“Once you begin to look through your differences, you start to realize that the personalities are the same,” said a Special Tactics officer enrolled in the course. “There’s the drive – everyone has the same work ethic and drive to complete the mission.”
At the end of the final exercise, one of the Special Tactics Airmen was named overall Distinguished Graduate for the course, placing first in academic and physical assessments.
“I had little to no experience working with Airmen, but after this course I have nothing but good things to say,” said Marine Sgt. Eric Dipietrantonio, a student with RTLC. “Completely professional, phenomenal at their jobs and they bring a different aspect in terms of tactics that Marines don’t usually see.”