15th MEU News

BLT 2/1 Assault Climbers 'learn the ropes' at Red Beach

21 Aug 2002 | Cpl. Anthony R. Blanco

Marines from Fox Company, Battalion Landing Team 2/1, 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit, put their lives on the line to save a simulated casualty while descending down a 50-foot cliff at Red Beach during the Assault Climbers Course Aug. 6.This course tests Marines' minds and bodies under stress during a grueling five-week training evolution which acts as a stepping-stone for future cliff assaults and raids. The training at Red Beach was the first time the Marines tested their classroom knowledge of the rope suspension system called a "barrel boy."The course has about a 50 percent attrition because it is so challenging, said Sgt. Dylan A. Bender, assault climber instructor, Special Operations Training Group, I Marine Expeditionary Force. The course is structured to challenge the students climbing abilities, rope work and survivability at high altitudes, according to Bender. "One reason we have high standards is because it's their life or someone else's life that they're responsible for."In order to maintain a realistic environment, the students are required to train with their combat gear plus the load of their climbing equipment to simulate combat conditions. Besides perfecting their mountaineering skills, Marines also learn how to transport casualties. The SOTG instructors take full advantage of Camp Pendleton's varied terrain to test the students skills and techniques. "By training out here it puts everything into perspective, you'll see Marines double checking their knots - double checking everything," Bender said.They use the cliffs by the coastline to conduct cliff assaults and for evacuating simulated casualties and the vast mountain on base for rock climbing. Pendleton is also equipped with a large Military Operations in Urban Terrain facility where students practice climbing on buildings, swinging into rooms and moving from rooftop to rooftop."It's imperative that the Marines who graduate this course have the knowledge to get their squad up a cliff side or on top of a building," Bender said. "Most of America's major threats are going to come from an urban area or in a mountainous terrain." Marines make themselves and their squad less vulnerable to enemy attacks by learning how to conduct cliff assaults because the enemy usually doesn't expect an attack to come from a dangerous area, according to Bender. "Because we're a superpower, nobody is going to fight us face-to-face like in the past," Bender said. Instructors allow no room for failure and require the students to learn how to adapt to different fighting techniques, whether in a small city or on a mountain. This approach to the training requires that the Marines be very strong physically and mentally.Units can't send Marines who are "from the bottom of the barrel" because they're not going to pass this course, Bender said.Students who are not up to the challenge or who are unable to do everything expected from them are dropped from the class."I remember when we had one Marine who could only do four pull-ups, and in this course that will not cut it," Petty Officer third class Jean-Louis Tuoch, SOTG said. "This is a very physically demanding course and not just anyone can come here."Although excellent physical fitness is a must, students also must pass several other obstacles to become an assault climber. In addition to climbing, Marines must master a variety of knots and instructors watch the Marines very carefully while testing them on the different knots. "We have to tie 13 different knots blindfolded and we only have 30 seconds to tie each knot," said Cpl. Chris L. Pugh, squad leader, Fox Co. "This course is a gut check. If you're not good with knots you're going to have trouble."In fact, approximately 15-20 percent of students are dropped because they can't pass the rope qualification test, according to Bender. However, students have the opportunity to re-test the following day, but after their second failure, they're dropped from the course.Once Marines pass the basic tests, they travel to Mountain Warfare Training Center Bridgeport, Calif., to enhance their skills. In Bridgeport, Marines learn different mountaineering techniques like how to make a one-rope bridge in order to cross a river. They also further develop their rock climbing skills.Students must pass four out of six climbs to graduate, and if they fail twice they're out. Marines who fail the Bridgeport portion of the training still earn the title of Tactical Rope Suspension Technician for passing the rope test.The climbing qualification test is where the course loses approximately another 30 percent of Marines, Bender said. Marines who pass the climbing qualification, which ends when the student reaches the top of a mountain, enjoy a bird's eye view of what they conquered, Bender said. "When you're on top of the mountain above the clouds there's no better feeling in the world."
15th Marine Expeditionary Unit