MARINE CORPS BASE 29 PALMS, Calif. --
Dust flies through the air or turns to mud as it mixes with steadily growing pools of sweat. Figures form a tan blur against the livid blue skyline as the hot California sun bears down on the Marines and Navy corpsmen of 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division, May 21, 2011, at Marine Corps Base 29 Palms, Calif.
It doesn't start with a bang, so much as a roar, as Petty Officer 2nd Class Michael Lang, a broad-shouldered, towering corpsman who served with Company A during last year's deployment to Marjah, Afghanistan, belts out “IED, IED! Get moving – go, go!”
Junior sailors, new to the battalion, sprint toward peers staggering in circles or lying on the ground as they feign injury during a simulated casualty assessment. It is part of the Enhanced Mojave Viper training exercise, a month-long predeployment training event.
Lang and the other senior corpsmen, some who have been with the battalion for years, run alongside, keeping the stress levels high as they shout orders, attempting to add to the overall chaos of the situation.
“Last year, I was just like these guys when I got here,” said Lang, who oversaw the training. “I thought I was good to go before my senior guys ran me through the same kind of gauntlet, but when we got into country, I realized how valuable it all was. Now, after we've seen what works and what doesn't, [we get to] teach these guys what is really going to save Marines' lives – it's the greatest thing we can do.”
There is a method to the madness, explained Lang, who went through the same exercise last year – in just a few months these new corpsmen will be attached to companies within the battalion as the unit heads out on deployment, and they'll have to be capable of handling themselves under intense duress.
In addition to the pressure they receive from their senior corpsmen, the junior sailors also face the stress they place on their own shoulders, explained Seaman Dale Dalida, a corpsman who attached to 1/6 several days prior to the training event.
“Whenever a Marine says 'hey Doc,' I want to know what that means, I want to earn that – to deserve that title,” said Dalida. “I enjoy the training because I think it's the closest I'll get to the real thing – it makes it more serious so we push ourselves harder.”
Overall, the training serves as an assessment for the battalion’s corpsmen.
For the newer corpsmen, it lets them know where they are. It can be sobering for some, for others it can be an affirmation that they're headed in the right direction.
For the senior sailors, it may make tough calls just a little easier.
“We need to see where they stand, I have to be able to send someone I can trust to take care of my Marines,” explained Petty Officer 1st Class Tamba Sabba, the leading petty officer with 1/6.
As the Marines and sailors finish the exercise, they retire for a short rest before they will be called to don their flak jackets and helmets and tackle the gauntlet once again – each run bringing some, like Dalida, closer to feeling they have earned the title: Doc.