MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. – Sergeant Jeremy T. Marsden saw combat nearly every day during the first half of his deployment to Afghanistan.
The machine gun instructor with Division Schools, 1st Marine Division, deployed to Garmsir district, Helmand province, Afghanistan with 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, during October 2009. To get through the rural terrain, he often waded through canals and maneuvered across heavy vegetation in a full combat load weighing approximately 90 pounds.
Marsden credits his predeployment training, including the combat fitness program, for getting him through his deployment. The Marine Corps Physical Fitness Program prepares Marines for the physical challenges of combat. Marines train for the Combat Fitness Test so they can better perform the tasks required of them on the battlefield.
During one engagement, Marsden, a native of Boise, Idaho, ran to a group of friendly snipers posted 1.5 kilometers away. In 100 degree weather, the Marines pushed through wheat and corn fields, including irrigation canals, to get to the position, said Marsden. Because he trained his mind and body rigorously before deployment, he was able to accomplish that mission.
“If you don’t have that combat mindset, then your body’s going to completely fail,” said Marsden. “It was physical fitness that helped all of us get through that.”
He said he expects that same high level of physical fitness from attachments to his unit. Marines can be deployed as attachments to combat arms units throughout the division, so they should be physically fit at all times, he said.
“Every Marine should maintain that standard because that’s what the Marine Corps is about,” said Marsden. “It’s very important, no matter what (military occupational specialty) you are.”
The Marine Corps mandates a high level of physical readiness for each Marine, and the CFT holds Marines to that standard. Implemented during August 2008 by Marine Corps Order 6100.13, the CFT is an annual examination to evaluate Marines’ ability to perform skills they may use in combat. It’s conducted in the combat utility uniform and consists of an 880-yard sprint, two-minute ammunition can lift, and a 300-yard shuttle run composed of crawls, agility running, buddy carries and ammunition resupply, according to the order.
Each event is scored by finish times and repetitions, with different standards for different age groups. Each event has a maximum score of 100, with a perfect score adding up to 300.
The scores factor into promotions. Higher scores mean a Marine is more competitive for selection to the next rank. More importantly, it tests Marines’ readiness for combat.
“Physical fitness is extremely important in combat,” said Marsden. “If you don’t have the fitness to maneuver across the battlefield, then you’re going to get stuck in certain places. If you can’t run through a muddy field you’re just going to be dragging everyone else behind.”
For small units, consistency is the most important aspect of a combat fitness program, said Staff Sgt. Timothy S. Williams, team leader, 1st Reconnaissance Battalion. His team of eight Marines all scored a 300 on the CFT, maxing out their points for each event. Williams ensured his team trains consistently, and if Marines are unavailable for physical training, then he passes the workout routine to them to do individually.
“Having a good set schedule and sticking to it is a big part of physical fitness,” said Williams, a native of Hudson, Mich. “With a small team, it’s easy to hold each other accountable. You push each other along.”
Along with consistency, variety in routine is essential to challenging each muscle group, said Williams. He uses various workouts and exercises utilizing the High Intensity Tactical Training center located at Camp Margarita, as well as runs with heavy packs.
“We try to train like an athlete,” said Williams. “Staying physically fit is a big part of that. Rather than tailoring your workout to get good scores on physical tests, if you focus on trying to be a good athlete all year-round, then generally it pays off in the end.”