MARINE CORPS AIR GROUND COMBAT CENTER TWENTYNINE PALMS, Calif. – --
After completing five months of training at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, with more than 20 live-fire exercises and one week of trial runs at Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, California, the infantry Marines of the Ground Combat Element Integrated Task Force officially began the Marine Corps Operational Test and Evaluation Activity assessment, March 7, 2015.
More than 120 male and female volunteers are being assessed, individually and collectively, while executing the tasks as one of the following: infantry rifleman (0311), machine gunner (0331), mortarman (0341), infantry assaultman (0351), and anti-tank missileman (0352). This assessment will help the Marine Corps develop more concise service-wide training and readiness standards for each MOS above.
Many of the volunteers going through the MCOTEA assessment come from a non-infantry background, such as Sgt. Hannah S. Jacobson, whose primary military occupational specialty is an intelligence analyst, and who is currently executing tasks as a machine gunner.
“I volunteered because it’s going to help my job as an intel analyst to learn the different terrain that grunts operate in, and I don’t like when people say you can’t do something, especially when it’s gender based,” said Jacobson, machine gunner with Weapons Company, GCEITF. “I figured I’m an average female Marine with a first-class combat fitness test and physical fitness test, and I figured if I can do it, I know there are females out there who are far superior than me when it comes to physical fitness who can. If I can’t make it, then I will have my own opinion on whether or not females can be in the infantry.”
Although the Marines have worked together back at Camp Lejeune, the assessment serves as a first-time experience for most infantrymen because the Integrated Task Force is the first unit they’ve been to where they work closely with female Marines.
“We’re learning how to work with females, and that’s a challenge, and it’s a challenge accepted because we have to learn how they work, and they have to learn how we work, and you have to learn how to get along with each other because we’re here for the same purpose,” said Cpl. Kevin A. Miller, team leader with 2nd Platoon, Company A, GCEITF.
In order for MCOTEA to collect data and gather research for the assessment, each Marine is equipped with a heart-rate monitor, GPS device, and a weapons-player pack attached to each weapon, which shows researchers the effectiveness of an individual’s firing accuracy. Male and female volunteers work hand-in-hand throughout the assessment. MCOTEA randomly selects the Marine volunteers, switching billets within their MOS, and rotating fire teams and squads.
“It’s a challenge to go ahead and have a new team each time, and get to learn how people move and how people bound together,” Miller said. “On the first day of the assessment, we assaulted through the initial three objectives, which was the one-click hike up to the conex box, movement to contact, and the casualty evacuation.”
For the infantry Marines, one full assessment cycle is a two-day event. It consists of a day of offensive operations immediately followed by a day of defensive operations. The Marines are on a four-day rotation, meaning two-full assessments are conducted in a four-day period, with one day of rest during their time at Twentynine Palms.
During offensive operations, the Marines suit up with combat utilities, flak, Kevlar, a 36-pound combat load, and depending on their billet, carry one of the following weapons: M4 Modular Weapon System, M27 Infantry Automatic Rifle, or the M16 A4 Modular Weapon System. The assaultmen, machine gunners, mortarmen, and anti-tank missilemen carry their personal weapons, as well as their job-specific weapon system, and ammunition. During defensive operations, infantrymen carry a combat load of more than 50 pounds.
“To me, defensive operations is the hardest part of the whole assessment,” said Miller. “It’s a 7-kilometer hike with a sustainment load, weapon, flak, Kevlar, and full (personal protective equipment). You have to go as fast as your slowest person, which can make it even longer, and the hike becomes very hard because you’re hiking over sand and it becomes exhausting. Once we reach the objective, we then spend two hours switching on and off to dig two-man fighting holes.”
Each MOS has its specific objectives during the assessment, both in the offense and in the defense. Miller and Jacobson both agree the assessment has its mental and physical challenges, but at the end of the day, they are here to finish what they started.
“I figure there is an end point to every start point,” Miller added. “At the end of the day, I know it’s going to make me stronger, and I know it’s going to make me better. When this whole thing is over, we’ll be able to look back and say ‘hey, look what we just did.’”
From October 2014 to July 2015, the Ground Combat Element Integrated Task Force will conduct individual and collective skills training in designated combat arms occupational specialties in order to facilitate the standards based assessment of the physical performance of Marines in a simulated operating environment performing specific ground combat arms tasks.