By Air Force Staff Sgt. Leslie Keopka-Combined Joint Task Force Horn of Africa,
CAMP LEMONNIER, Djibouti -- Street lights shine down on a tent in a turf field as Marines of all ranks gather inside, night after night, to learn crucial skills that could someday save their lives.
These Marines not only are learning important martial arts tactics, but also are learning how to be martial arts instructors.
"One mind, any weapon," is the motto for the Marine Corps Martial Arts Program, meaning that a Marine is a weapon, even without carrying one.
Marine Corps Sgt. Lawanda Ruiz, administration chief for the Combined Joint Task Force Horn of Africa personnel office here, has dedicated more than 400 hours as an MCMAP instructor trainer, both here and at her home station of Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.
The martial arts program combines mental, physical and character discipline. Marines must have a balance of honor, courage, commitment, professional military education, determination, and physical and mental strength, Ruiz said.
Ruiz, a native of Anniston, Alabama, graduated seven new instructors last month. The course was three weeks long, six days a week, and its 120 hours of instruction covered tactics, nutrition and Marine Corps history.
"The thing that we wanted to do during the Martial Arts Instructors Course was let everyone get away from the mixed martial arts mindset and put it into a combat mindset -- full fighting gear," Ruiz said. "Utilizing this course, I was able to show the Marines that regardless of their job, they might be called upon to take charge and ensure the safety of military, diplomatic and civilian personnel."
Ruiz completed the seven-week Marine Corps Center of Excellence Instructor Trainer's Course in March. This was the first class she taught alone.
She said couldn't have done so well without the support of the combined joint task force staff here and her husband, Marine Corps Sgt. Carlos Ruiz, Marine Corps Security Force Regiment, Chesapeake, Virginia, and a 2nd-degree black belt Marine Corps Martial Arts Program instructor trainer.
"My husband got me into the program; he gave me motivation and encouraged me to go to the instructor course," Ruiz said. "I looked to him, and he helped me so much with this first course. I was calling him every day saying, 'How do I do this? What would be the best way?'"
When Ruiz finishes her deployment, she will transfer to the Martial Arts Center of Excellence headquarters in Quantico, Virginia, where she will be a full-time instructor trainer.
"I want to show people the positives of MCMAP," she said. "I want them to tie MCMAP in with their careers, their lives, and use it to help make them be a better man or woman. I just want to be able to say that I gave every student my all."