MARINE CORPS BASE 29 PALMS, Calif. --
There is a certain point during every competition where an athlete hits ‘the wall,’ that immovable mental barrier that shoots through their body, commanding the muscles to stop. The legs become dead weight, arms go limp and long drags of breath through the mouth all force the performer to stagger. It’s at this moment that he must decide to succumb or to use what will power and drive he has left to push through, taking one step at a time.
All along the line, each Marine with Company B, 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division, had to make that call. Time and time again, they placed one foot in front of the other and moved forward over jagged, uneven terrain toward their objective during a company-sized exercise at Range 400 aboard Marine Corps Base 29 Palms, Calif., June 6, 2011.
The exercise is part of the Enhanced Mojave Viper predeployment training evolution and is a grueling gauntlet where Marines maneuver on an array of objectives while under simulated fire. All the while they are supported by mortars and artillery, which bear down on a fixed enemy position, giving the Marines the opportunity to conduct fire and maneuver before finally closing with their targets.
“Range 400 is probably one of the most complex ranges the Marine Corps has to offer,” said Gunnery Sgt. Brandon Dickenson, the company gunnery sergeant for Company B. “It takes a lot of planning and coordination.”
As is the case in their line of work, Dickenson explained, the best laid plans often go out the window once the fighting begins. This forces the Marines to rely on their ace in the hole: their unrivaled ability to adapt.
“I think that Marines are Marines – they’ve learned from boot camp how to adapt and overcome. They’re used to it,” said Dickenson.
Cpl. Christopher Ginandt, a designated marksman with 2nd platoon, Company B., agrees with Dickenson’s assessment.
“The biggest thing is to be sure that everyone knows their part,” said Ginandt. “We do rehearsals and plan for what may happen, but you often have to do it on the fly.”
The secret to their success often stems from small unit leadership in the form of noncommissioned officers who are tasked with making critical decisions at the drop of a hat.
“Here with (Company B), we probably have the best NCOs around,” explained Dickenson, highlighting the fact that other junior Marines were also called up to take charge when their squad leaders became simulated casualties in what is called a cherry-picker.
“The (simulated casualty) puts it into reality,” Dickenson said. “You have to move Marines out of combat and somebody is going to step up and take charge. It puts it into perspective of the realities of combat.”
As the range went cold and the exercise drew to a close, the company formed into their respective sections to receive critiques by the observers. The ability to receive constructive criticism now, with a deployment to Afghanistan looming on the horizon, can pay dividends down the road as it allows the Marines to make their mistakes and learn their lessons back in the states rather than on the front.