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Lance Cpl. Tyler Stoneman, a fireteam leader with 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, maneuvers toward a trench during a training exercise as part of the Forge Academy Sept. 18 on base. The Forge Academy is an approximately four-week long course designed to improve the proficiency of 1/6’s fireteam leaders. Throughout the course, the students were educated on troop welfare, the psychological and physiological effects of combat, infantry tactics and the responsibilities of being a fireteam leader.

Photo by Cpl. Tommy Bellegarde

Fireteam leaders refine skills at Forge Academy

25 Sep 2012 | Cpl. Tommy Bellegarde

The fireteam is the smallest unit in the infantry of the Marine Corps. Consisting of just four Marines, the fireteam’s small size influences infantry tactics, and plays a major role in the flexibility and maneuverability of a squad. It is commanded by a fireteam leader, usually a corporal or senior lance corporal, whose competence in small-unit infantry tactics and leadership is imperative for the team’s proficiency.

First Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division helps develop its fireteam leaders by providing an approximately four-week long course known as the Forge Academy. Most recently, fireteam leaders from each of the battalion’s line companies graduated from the Forge Academy Sept. 21 after two weeks each of classroom and field training aboard Camp Lejeune.

“The fireteam leader is the first in the chain of command; they are the only leaders who lead Marines not in leadership positions,” said Lowell, Mass. native Capt. Paul Tremblay, the 1/6 operations officer and head instructor for the Forge Academy. “Without a formal school designed for fireteam leaders, a lot of battalions in the Marine Corps are starting to run in-house courses.”

The course covers all aspects of commanding a fireteam explained Sgt. Paul Chambers, the 1/6 instructor development specialist. However, regardless of whether a student is new at being a fireteam leader or has served as one in combat, all students can learn new things and sharpen the skills they already possess.

“This course is broken down, piece by piece, showing the Marines all the facets of being a fireteam leader,” said Chambers, a native of Ocean City, Md. “There are some Marines who have been fireteam leaders on deployment, and it still enables them to hone those skills, learn back from the basics all the way up, and maybe pick up some things they didn’t learn on deployment.”

Throughout the course, the students were educated on troop welfare, the psychological and physiological effects of combat, infantry tactics and the responsibilities of being a fireteam leader.

The students were challenged to be open-minded, creative, and to look at the big picture of any given situation.

“Captain Tremblay talked about seeing things from other perspectives, emphasizing that whenever we’re in any combat situation we need to try and assess it from as many different angles as possible so we can get a better idea of what is happening and how to respond to it,” said Bowie, Md. native Lance Cpl. Eric McMullen, a fireteam leader with Company B, 1/6. “The more information you have, the better plan you can conceive in a short amount of time.”

The Marines applied these skills when placed in simulated combat scenarios based on real-life and hypothetical instances where a fireteam leader must quickly make potentially-critical tactical decisions.

“You force the Marine into making a decision that would be similar to what a fireteam leader would have to make in combat, kind of on the fly, putting stress and pressure on them, forcing them to use critical thinking,” said Chambers. “They are the leaders so they must be able to make that decision and be cool and brave to influence its outcome.”

During the final week of training the students participated in a 10-mile hike, independently established a temporary military camp, and performed firing and maneuvering exercises in full gear to simulate a combat environment. There were also periods of heavy rain that added further stress to the exercise.

Now graduated, the more junior fireteam leaders of 1/6 have an educational background they can use to help lead their fireteams. Likewise, the more experienced students have an additional tool at their disposal for having participated in the academy.

“We want the Marines to sustain themselves, endure and persevere like a team leader needs to do,” said Chambers. “It’s tested them mentally and physically; it brings some of those new at this position up to speed, and it elevates those who already have experience up to a higher level.”