Camp Lejeune, N.C. --
Nestled in a benevolent ridge of the trade winds, Camp Lejeune, like most of the United States, has held onto its mild fall weather long past its due date. In the minutes before first light, the temperature dropped and it felt very much like a typical February morning to the 40 Marines who rubbed their elbows and stretched in the pre-dawn dark of N Street.
These are the corporals of 5th Battalion, 10th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division.
For more than two weeks they set aside their military occupational specialties in order to focus on the tenets of small unit leadership and their increased responsibilities as non-commissioned officers.
Staff Sgt. Brian D. Long executed the "Daily 16" exercises along with the group, his eyes locked in a half-squint. He is a former drill instructor at Parris Island and the staff non-commissioned officer in charge of 5/10’s Corporal’s Course. This current iteration of the course was moved “in-house,” transplanting the course from its usual home at Camp Johnson, N.C., and conducting it entirely in and around 5/10’s headquarters.
“There are benefits and drawbacks,” said Long. “The positives outweigh the negatives. There is value in being out of your comfort zone when you attend a school like this, but where we might be able to get four or five of our Marines into the course at Camp Johnson, here we can accommodate 40 to 60. The course in any form is an invaluable asset.”
Lt. Col. Walker M. Field, the battalion commander, agreed with Long’s assessment, adding, “With more than 200 corporals in a typical battalion, the regiment's corporal population rarely eclipses 20 percent resident (professional military education) completion. Obviously, corporals are critical in developing a unit's tactical proficiency and garrison maturity. Conducting a corporal’s course in-house is tremendously beneficial in creating a core of small unit leaders who are dedicated to training new Marines and influencing the old.”
During the three-week course, instructors teach a Training and Education Command-provided curriculum featuring drill, land navigation, public speaking, tactical communications, physical training, warfighting tactics and a myriad of other skills that will enhance the Marines’ abilities both in combat and in garrison. The intent is for corporals to leave the school with an increased base knowledge and better prepared to train, lead and mentor junior Marines.
“Throughout the course, particular emphasis is placed on a corporal's role in developing disciplined troops, particularly in garrison,” said Field. “Make no mistake about it, there is an inextricable link between increased unit discipline and completion of resident PME.” The value of the battalion’s corporal’s course was recognized by leaders throughout the unit. “Any time a unit loses a vital member of its command, even temporarily, the impact is felt immediately,” said Sgt. Maj. Curtis E. Warren. “However, the caliber of Marine you gain in return is worth the sacrifices we make when sending that person, and in most cases, by conducting this course internally, the SNCOs are in the direct chain of command of the students being taught, which means the platoon sergeants have a vested interest in making each Marine a better Marine leader.”
For Cpl. Robert R. Pfenninger, the curriculum has helped refocus him on the “complete Marine” concept. “The first time you pick up the NCO sword and begin working on your sword manual, it creates a physical connection to your new rank and responsibilities. It’s a tangible reminder that we have to continue to uphold and enforce the standards of the Marine Corps, as all NCOs have throughout history.”
On graduation day, the group gathered in the dark and departed for a run along New River. Once more, the promise of a warm afternoon was little consolation to their visible breath and steaming heads, so their new Corporal’s Course t-shirts remained hidden beneath standard-issue cold weather physical training gear. The run was not focused on evaluating their speed or endurance, but allowed the Marines a chance to celebrate the culmination of an integral block of their military education. Later that night they donned their dress blues, drank from a mysterious grog, paid fines and toasted those who have come before them. Until then the morning remained crisp and clear and cadence callers rotated as the Marines welcomed the long and early dawn, the rising sun seemingly impaled and stuck in the sharp tangle of bare limbs in the distance.