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A group of Japanese Ministry of Defense officials poses with the Marine Corps Martial Arts Program instructors who gave them demonstrations of hand-to-hand combat at the Martial Arts Center for Excellence on Feb. 11, 2014, during the group’s tour of The Basic School. The visit was part of a two-week tour of agencies and offices of the American Department of Defense hosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Photo by Mike DiCicco

Visit to The Basic School reinforces U.S.-Japanese friendship

12 Feb 2014 | Mike DiCicco

When officials from the Japanese Ministry of Defense got a chance to pose a few questions to the executive officer of The Basic School, one of them wondered whether the leaders of Marines end up being those who have never known failure.

Lt. Col. Daniel Tarbutton said instructors see “an interesting transformation” in many of the second lieutenants who come through the school. “Most of them have been successful in most everything they’ve done, until they come here. We ensure that they fail, so they can learn,” he said, explaining that this is an essential part of their “resiliency training.”

This was one of many insights offered to the 26 Japanese lieutenant colonels, colonels and civilian equivalents who visited TBS on Feb. 11, 2014, as part of a two-week tour of various offices and agencies in the American Department of Defense. The Center for Strategic and International Studies has led this tour annually for the last nine years.

“Japan has been one of our most critical and strongest allies for the last 50 years,” said Col. Geoffrey Anthony, a commandant’s fellow with CSIS, adding that the importance of that relationship has only grown as the U.S. military “rebalances” from the Middle East to the Pacific.

The group had met several high-level officials at the Pentagon the day before and had also visited places like Naval Station Norfolk and Naval Amphibious Base Little Creek, also in Norfolk.

“We’re trying to give them an American perspective on all the issues that relate to them,” said Jacqueline Vitello, program coordinator and research associate with the Freeman Chair of China Studies at CSIS, who helped coordinate the two-week tour.

During their time at TBS, the guests also got a chance to visit the Martial Arts Center of Excellence and inspect an MV-22 Osprey aircraft that descended into a nearby landing zone.

In a discussion room in Heywood Hall, with the help of the translators traveling with the group, Tarbutton explained TBS’s role as the training ground for every Marine Corps officer, whereas other services send their officers directly to school for their military occupational specialties. TBS’s primary emphasis, he said, is on leadership. “We consider ourselves more of a leadership and ethics academy.”

The school works to produce officers who embody exemplary character, devotion to leading, mental and physical toughness, and the ability to decide, communicate and act in the fog of war.

“Infantry is our vessel of instruction,” he said, explaining that this knowledge will be of use to the officers in any occupational specialty. For example, he said, although he’s an aviator, his training in the principals of patrolling, fire support and other infantry techniques makes him “very easily able to integrate with my ground brethren.”

He explained the four-phase training program that works its way from individual skills up to Marine Air Ground Task Force officer skills.

The teaching methodology, Tarbutton said, begins with having the lieutenants read and discuss material, then hear a lecture on it and ask questions, and then apply it to sand table exercises. “The best part about that is, they have to make decisions in front of their peers,” he said. Finally, they are put out in the elements for a few days to use what they’ve learned.

He contrasted this with his days at TBS, when the methodology was “lecture, then do.”

Asked how the Marines maintain mental strength and motivation at a time when the military is less involved in front-line combat, Tarbutton said training is increasingly focused on amphibious, expeditionary and inter-service operations. As for motivation, he said, “We’re pretty fortunate. Most of these young officers come to us simply because they want to be a Marine.”

At the MACE in Raider Hall, retired Lt. Col. Joe Shusko, the center’s deputy director, introduced the visitors to the story of Col. Anthony “Cold Steel” Walker, who, as knife-fighting champion of the Marine Corps, taught hand-to-hand combat to the Marine Raiders during World War II. Since then, he said, there were a few hand-to-hand combat programs in the Marine Corps, but they weren’t for all Marines until Walker and several others created the Marine Corps Martial Arts Program in 1999.

“Now, all Marines — active duty and reservists — are martial artists,” he said.

There was a chuckle of recognition when Shusko described the program’s colored-belt ranking system, but he added, “Our dojo is out in the woods, and this is our gi,” indicating his camouflage pants and T-shirt.

The visitors looked over the Raiders artifacts that fill display cases in the building. A display regarding fighting in Japan drew interest, although a few guests noticed that a Japanese flag with characters on it was upside-down.

They were treated to a martial arts demonstration by five MCMAP instructors, who afterward taught a few techniques to those who asked.

Kaori Yamada, chief of Japan’s Ministry of Defense’s Bureau of Local Cooperation, said she got the impression that the Marine Corps is stronger than other services, and she also was surprised that the martial arts program doesn’t use more weapons.

Komei Isozaki, deputy director of Japan’s Defense Intelligence Division, said he noticed some commonalities between The Basic School and Japanese officer training, such as the emphasis on spirit and mental skills.

He noted that the scenes and artifacts from World War II fighting in Japan, when U.S. and Japanese forces were at odds, were also familiar to him.

“It’s very interesting that now we are allies and friends,” he said. “It means we overcame past histories.”

— Writer:

Marine Corps Base Quantico