PARIS, France – He was the first U.S. Marine Raider to attend the course and the first American to graduate with the Commando “Moniteur” avec “Aptitude,” the highest distinction given upon graduation.
A gunnery sergeant and critical skills operator with U.S. Marine Corps Forces, Special Operations Command, recently graduated the French Commando “Moniteur” Training Course in Mont-Louis, France.
The 26-day course, conducted entirely in French, is intended for officers and non-commissioned officers. Its curriculum targets combat infantry training, special operations and survival skills.
“I did two weeks of review before departing for the course,” explained the gunnery sergeant. “In the course information packet there was a list of topics and knowledge that we would be covering in the course that we needed to be capable of effectively communicating. Knowing the content we would be covering made my language review easier and a lot more targeted.”
Training and skills development are a way of life for Raiders. Highlights of their training include tactical skills such as close-quarters combat techniques, explosive ordnance disposal training, survival in austere environments, hand-to-hand combatives and skills required for Raiders’ amphibious operations. While these are important, Raiders are expected to train and operate with foreign partner nation forces. To do this effectively, language skills are critically important to mission success.
“Being a CSO, you have to go through so many other schools and tests that, in that aspect at least, I was prepared for this course,” said the Marine Raider. “It was adding in the language that changed that and made things difficult.”
The course developed commando techniques in its students through challenges such as obstacle courses, rappelling, guerilla warfare tactics, amphibious insertion procedures, rescues techniques and grueling physical fitness events. The Marine attributed his success in the French Commando course to his prior training and operational experience with MARSOC and his commitment to sustaining his personal readiness.
“Students must be highly motivated and willing to make extreme efforts in regard to a language barrier,” the Marine Raider said. “If I hadn’t had a background in a majority of the techniques they were going over, I wouldn’t have been successful at all.”
The gunnery sergeant built upon his language foundations established as a young child through personal commitment to sustainment. In particular, he used French language news sites and podcasts to keep his fluency fresh, but one of the most advantageous training assets available to him were fellow francophone Raiders.
“We knew the gunnery sergeant would be a great candidate for this and that he’d represent the command and the Marine Corps well,” said the Marine Raider Regiment’s language program manager. “He far exceeded our expectations by being the first American to receive the course’s highest distinction upon graduating.”
While much of the tactical training and physical challenges were similar to those encountered in the Raider training pipeline, the challenges of a language immersion environment created a substantial challenge as a non-native speaker.
“I didn’t have a choice but to use the language and there was an initial struggle,” the Raider said. “The formality and the speed that the instructors spoke in was difficult to understand at times, and they wouldn’t slow down just for you.”
The Raider identified the language sustainment opportunity as one of the biggest benefits of participating in the course. As opposed to a classroom setting, the tactical environment and real-world training and operational applications provided hands-on learning opportunities that would not be available in casual conversation or in a classroom lecture.
The goal of the Marine Raider Regiment’s language program is to sustain the language and culture skills taught to CSOs at the Marine Raider Training Center, then enhance them to a much higher level in preparation for upcoming mission requirements.
“Language training doesn’t always have to be in a classroom,” the language program manager said. “Living, eating, training and interacting with one another 24/7 for an extended amount of time provides a level and depth of knowledge you just can’t get in an academic setting. This training was not designed to be a language sustainment event, but I looked at this course as a perfect way to inject sustainment into an awesome course. Graduating this course is one heck of an accomplishment, but to graduate this grueling course that is not taught in your native tongue, and to do so as a distinguished graduate, like [this] gunnery sergeant did, is absolutely amazing.”
Given the central role played by foreign language skills in determining special operations mission success, MARSOC’s language program has taken great strides in “operationalizing” language sustainment training — part of that initiative is to seek out innovative immersion opportunities, such as this course.
“Attending a course like this is great both personally and operationally,” said the Marine Raider. “The personal benefits are high because it allows you to keep your language skills up. Operationally it’s a great course because it helps with building rapport and communication capabilities.”