MCB Quantico --
As one fire team after another hustled past, dressed in full gear late in the humid morning, Gunnery Sgt. Lavon Mitchell reminded them to keep their helmets on and hold tight to their rifles.
The endurance course they were running at The Basic School begins with the obstacle course and winds through the woods for five hilly miles, punctuated with obstacles that the runners must clamber over or crawl under.
“It’s a lot of terrain, a lot of mud, a lot of obstacles,” Mitchell said. “Halfway through, they want to give up, but they think about the spirit of a Marine, and that keeps them going.”
The men and women running the course on the morning of May 31 were not Marines yet, though, and some of them never will be. They were midshipmen from the Naval Academy, here for Leatherneck, a three-and-a-half week trial by fire and introduction to the Marine Corps for academy students who are considering becoming officers in the Corps.
“We evaluate them on all the physical events they’re going to experience at The Basic School,” said Maj. Kyle Phillips, officer in charge of this year’s Leatherneck. Those include the physical fitness test, combat fitness test, 10-mile hike and obstacle course, as well as the endurance course.
And that’s just the physical component, Phillips said. There is also a leadership component to Leatherneck and written exams on subjects like operations, tactics and Marine Corps organization.
“We’re trying to train them so they have the same baseline of training others receive at [the Officer Candidates School],” he said.
“First and foremost, we develop leaders,” Phillips said. “Second, we train in basic Marine Corps skills, and third, we evaluate the midshipmen on their potential to serve as Marine Corps officers.”
This run of the endurance course was just an introduction. The midshipmen would return two weeks later to either pass or fail the test, which requires men to finish in 80 minutes or less, and women in 90 minutes.
One of a pair of midshipmen who’d just hauled themselves over a tall obstacle told Mitchell, who is senior enlisted leader for the Naval Academy’s Marine Corps detachment, that the other had twisted his ankle.
“Embrace the pain,” Mitchell advised, adding a reminder to both of them to treat their rifles like their Siamese twins.
“In three years, one of those midshipmen could be my commanding officer,” he said. “I couldn’t rest at night thinking I didn’t give them 110 percent, knowing I’ll see them again. They remember.”
The midshipmen arrived May 28, and they will graduate June 21. The endurance course was their first major physical challenge.
There are 345 of them participating in the training. Last year, 324 went through Leatherneck, and 264 went on to be commissioned as second lieutenants in the Marine Corps.
“Not all the midshipmen here today will be Marine officers,” Phillips said, noting that his unit’s job is to send the best among them to TBS and to prepare them to succeed there.
About 17 percent of Marine Corps officers are commissioned from the academy, he said.
As rising seniors, the midshipmen will return to the Naval Academy for another school year in the fall. About a year from now, those who are selected for the Marine Corps will be back at Camp Barrett to attend The Basic School.
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