News: A muddy, sweaty, grueling tribute to Montford Point Marines
Story by Sgt. Christopher Zahn
QUANTICO, Va. - The Marine Corps takes great pains to educate all new Marines, be they officer or enlisted, with the history and sacrifices made by those who have worn the uniform before them. Often enough, the best way to capture that history is by experiencing a small amount of the past. After all, physical effort can teach in ways that a classroom simply can’t.
With that goal in mind, the staff at the Officer Candidates School created a new physical training event, the Montford Point Challenge, for those working to earn the gold bars of a second lieutenant.
The Montford Point Challenge is a timed, three and a half mile run, which pits a squad of candidates against hilly, waterlogged terrain, battling obstacles, carrying logs, ammunition cans, and stretchers. The Challenge was created to honor the sacrifice and heroism of the more than 20,000 black Marines who trained at Montford Point, N.C., from 1942 to 1949.
“Any resupply that was required on the front lines, they were tasked to do that,” said Colour Sergeant Richy Asson, a British Royal Marine Physical Training Instructor, who serves as OCS’s physical training advisor. “This is why part of the course is ammunition cans, stretchers, logs, et cetera. This is exactly what they did in the Second World War.”
It is a team building exercise meant to instill a sense of pride and camaraderie within the candidates themselves and to serve as a connection to the historic service of those who have gone before them.
“We split the company up and alphabetically divided them into squads, so we had members from every platoon integrated into one squad,” said Capt. Adam Ayriss, the platoon commander for 2nd Platoon, C Co.
The Challenge is the only event where men and women train fully integrated, instead of the female platoon working separately from the male platoons on a given event. Mixing all the candidates, who at this point had spent weeks training with only their respective platoon and squad, also forced upon them the difficulty of assimilating a squad on short notice. In doing so, this aspect of the Challenge serves to emphasize diversity across the Marine Corps.
“That’s a challenge, you have 18 different candidates, everyone is a type A person, but in the end someone has to take control,” Ayriss said. “Physically, it’s a challenging course and they can see that it’s not something any one person can get through on their own, they need to work as a team to make it through.”
Putting these future officers through such a strenuous exercise also serves another use in the continual evaluation process that is OCS.
“You have a combination of candidates from other platoons that do not normally work together, so you’ll actually get a raw evaluation on how they come together and succeed as a whole,” said Gunnery Sgt. Michael Eason, the platoon sergeant for 2nd Platoon, C Co.
The staff ran the course with the candidates, keeping them focused on the new challenges and observing their performance in this first run through.
“They did very well,” Eason said. “It was very fulfilling and satisfying to see them come through, particularly at friction points. When they hit a friction point they would come up with sound decisions and effectively employ their fellow candidates to where they are best suited.”
The Challenge is one of the final tests for all candidates; in a week’s time they will be commissioned as Marine lieutenants, an honor that pushes them past the temporary pain of this final trial.
“Even though it was a little chilly, the water was cold, they were muddy, and physically it’s a challenging course, they were still really motivated throughout the whole thing,” Ayriss said.