Select Marines from the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit’s ground combat element, 2nd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, gained a valuable skill, which will expand the capabilities of the unit. The I Marine Expeditionary Force Special Operations Training Group Assault Climber Course trained student Marines to transport themselves, other personal, and equipment over difficult terrain safely and expeditiously.
The course is taught over five weeks and broken up into three phases. Students who successfully completed all portions of the training graduated as qualified assault climbers Feb. 14.
Students learned knot tying, rope systems, single- and multi-pitch traditional climbing, urban climbing, night climbing, rappelling and cliff reconnaissance and assault tactics, giving them alternate ways to accomplish mission objectives.
The Marines began the first phase of the course by learning the basics of tactical rope suspension techniques or TRST. Instructors familiarized them with anchors, rappelling for a controlled descent and building rope systems to cope with certain conditions, such as a need to cross a river or transport equipment.
The second phase, the climb phase, takes students with little to no hands-on experience to Joshua Tree National Park and literally elevates their skills.
“In those two weeks, they went from never having climbed before to lead climbing upwards of 5.6 in the Yosemite decimal system on lead and in combat boots,” said Powell. “That culminated in a final exercise out in Johnson Valley where they got to use everything they had learned up until that point, to include the climbing and all the different TRST systems they had learned.”
The last phase incorporates steep earth climbing, which could be employed on dirt-based cliffs and urban climbing techniques, tactics and procedures.
“They’ve learned a lot of anchor theory and what they can use for different anchors and just being able to use essentially what is their imagination to make a safe anchor for them or their teammates to rappel on,” said Powell. “Urban really hits home to the reconnaissance teams and sniper teams who are set up in urban hides and need that capability of being able to quickly extract out of a building during a compromise.”
Having Marines who’ve completed the Assault Climber Course gives geographical combatant commanders a greater range of flexibility with the sea-based Marine Air-Ground Task Force.
“The urban has the [possibility] of being used in visit, board, search and seizure operations for climbing up onto the ship … and then using some of these urban techniques to climb around on the ship if necessary,” said Powell. “It could be used in a humanitarian way after an earthquake or tsunami or something like that when maybe stairways and normal passageways are not exactly feasible to use. These Marines will be able to come up on the sides and actually be able to get the places they need to complete whatever mission they’ve been tasked with.”
According to Powell, the newly-acquired talents of the students are not limited to amphibious operations.
“For anything that’s taking place in the mountains, the techniques and skills they’ve learned here are going to significantly help them and increase their ability to complete the mission whether it’s moving over arduous terrain or if they actually need to conduct a cliff assault,” he said.
These Marines make the unit more agile as they can enhance the combat proficiency other Marines augmenting the MEU.
“If it’s the [Marine Reconnaissance Force] that’s going out there conducting some sort of long range reconnaissance, then these are the guys who they’d be pulling an attachment from if they don’t have an organic mountain leader or assault climber on their team,” said Powell of the Marines who graduated the course. “This is who they’re going to rely on to give them the ability to conduct reconnaissance in those areas.”
The Marine Corps has historically applied a combination of the techniques and tactics from this course to combat operations involving various landscapes.
“It’s pretty important,” said Sgt. Travis Buck, a student and a mortarman with 2nd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment and a Phoenix native. “If we were ever to do an amphibious assault, a lot of the times, around the world, you go on amphibious assaults and just like in California you’re going to get to a cliff face. You have to have guys with this skill set able to get the Marines up that cliff in an orderly fashion and safely. It will definitely help on this next MEU.”
According to Buck, the value of the course doesn’t end with the upcoming deployment.
“The good thing about being in the infantry is that a lot of the times, if you stick around long enough, you get to go to a lot of cool schools learn a lot of cool things and then pass that onto the Marines,” he said. “It’ll [be] something I’m going to do on my off time as well.”
The 11th MEU, partnered with Amphibious Squadron 5, is scheduled to deploy later this summer.