MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. --
Improvise, adapt, and overcome. Those three words are paramount to fighting and winning battles, but what happens when you finally overcome? You keep improvising, and you keep adapting. The enemy won’t rest and neither should you. Empowered by Lt. Col. William T. Kerrigan, their battalion commander, the small unit leaders of 1st Battalion, 8th Marines, 6th Marine Regiment, 2d Marine Division (MARDIV) understand that and train their Marines as such.
“The future fight is fast and will require leaders to adapt and make decisions quickly,” said Kerrigan. “I need the most junior Marine and Sailor to have the confidence to make a decision on behalf of their team.”
Between recent deployments to Haiti and Afghanistan, and working consistently with Marine Special Operations Command, 1st Battalion, 8th Marines, 6th Marine Regiment, also known as the Beirut Battalion, has proved itself as more than capable. In April of this year, a squad from the unit led by U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Joshua Jonesia, a platoon sergeant with 1st Battalion, 8th Marines, 6th Marine Regiment, represented the battalion and won the Marine Corps Rifle Squad Competition. Unwilling to allow his Marines to become complacent and rest on their laurels, Jonesia and his fellow small unit leaders devised tactics, techniques, and procedures to continue to train their Marines to peak lethality.
“The title of Super Squad doesn’t mean anything to the guy looking at me through his scope across the battle space,” said Jonesia. “He doesn’t care about the badge you wear, the ribbons on your chest, or the rank on your collar. All he sees is U.S. Marines and he wants to kill you.”
Chief Warrant Officer 2 James Gilchrist, the battalion gunner of 1st Battalion, 8th Marines, 6th Marine Regiment, understands the importance of empowering the small unit leader to excite and effectively train Marines. As the battalion gunner, he is the subject matter expert on warfighting.
“From day one, it’s about getting the buy-in from every Marine, from the youngest rank, all the way up to the battalion commander to get better every day,” said Gilchrist. “I was talking to the squad leaders, and they have a much harder job than when I was a squad leader. When I checked into 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division as a squad leader, they had just come back from Sangin, Afghanistan. Getting my guys to train was easy because they knew they had to be ready.”
In an effort to generate combat ready forces throughout the battalion, the Beirut Battalion’s leadership empowers its small unit leaders to create not only hard, realistic training but engaging training as well. They have the trust and backing to challenge longstanding tactics that might not work in tomorrow’s war.
“Small unit leaders win our battles,” said Kerrigan. “We instill an environment where adapting and decision making at all levels is encouraged.”
No stranger to valuable training, Jonesia saw an opportunity in a defunct and unoccupied building near the Beirut Battalion’s command post. Coordinating with base facilities, he secured the building for use as an in-house close quarters battle space. He uses airsoft rifles and proper personal protective equipment to enable his Marines to understand the complications of fighting in a small building. Concepts like understanding sightlines, the effect of suppressive fire and smooth cohesion within a unit are instilled within the Marines. Pain retains and if a Marine is hit, proper tactical combat casualty care procedures are conducted in scenario.
“Sometimes you have to invest in yourself,” said Jonesia. “The Marine Corps is busy with bigger Marine Corps things. What you want to do isn’t always on the priority list. You have to take charge of your own fate.”
The power invested in the small unit leader in the Beirut Battalion has allowed for change not just within the squad, but in the battalion as a whole. Every month, the unit hosts a warfighting society meeting where anyone from the newest private first class to the battalion commander can give their input on warfighting. Field tested through numerous training evolutions and a deployment to Haiti, the battalion’s standard operating procedure for the setup of personal equipment was refined due in no small part to Sgt. Jonathan Dehart, a platoon sergeant with 1st Battalion, 8th Marines, 6th Marine Regiment. He saw a better way to fight using a mission-oriented gear setup and took the initiative upon himself at one of these meetings. He researched the data and informed the command who were more than willing to trust in their small unit leaders to adapt.
“When you give this level of autonomy to an NCO, or even to a squad leader, they’ll know that their command believes in them,” said Jonesia. “I know I need to put forth the effort to work and take the initiative to prove them right.”
The Marines want to train and get better. They buy into the culture that has been built up around them and actively work towards that.
“The battalion commander has bred a positive culture,” remarked Gilchrist. “This is home, and we’re going to be ready to protect our home. Finding new ways to connect with the Marines is important.”
The culture that the Beirut Battalion has fostered of empowering its small unit leaders has trickled down to not just the infantry squads, but to the enablers in the battalion as well. Many of them go out of their way to train with the infantry, not just physically but tactically as well.
“It’s refreshing to hear enablers and supporting units say, ‘I am a rifleman, I do belong in the field, I do need to do this,’ " said Jonesia. “They do it because they know what’s expected of them. I know if I take any of the Marines from Headquarters and Support Company on patrol, they may not know everything, but I know they’re gonna figure it out.”
“1/8 is home” is a phrase that the unit’s Marines emphasize. The Beirut Battalion’s Marines are vocally proud to be part of their unit. After Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune’s July 4th celebration, groups of Marines could be heard chanting ‘1/8 is home’.
“We’re a blessed battalion with a rich legacy of Marines and Sailors accomplishing the mission,” said Kerrigan. “We recognize that we have to uphold that rich legacy by putting in the work now to be ready for tomorrow. 1/8 is home!”