There is strength in numbers. This year, an influx in the number of students attending the Combat Center's Marine Corps Communications-Electronics School promises an increase in the strength and capabilities of the Marine Corps.
To accommodate the increase in Marines, the MCCES staff and command have had to make changes in their course schedules and operations.
More than 30 Military Occupational Specialties are taught at the Combat Center's schoolhouse. These jobs include tactical communication, communications-electronics maintenance, aviation electronics, field radio operations, data and computer programming, information assurance and management, and other industry-certification courses.
Although statistics show that the student body has increased by at least 2,500 students since 2008, the exact number is difficult to pinpoint since many of those new Marines are taking multiple classes to train on new Marine Corps technology.
Where as students used to stick with their respective courses, more cross-training is taking place to certify MCCES Marines for Cisco and Microsoft industries, said Master Gunnery Sgt. Michael McGraw, the communications training continuum manager.
In 2006, Companies A, B and C completed a total of 56 courses at MCCES under the watchful eyes and hands of 350 instructors. This fiscal year, students completed 76 courses.
Although the number of courses has dramatically increased, instructor strength has remained the same. This means they must take shifts to rotate their limited staff.
To address challenges such as the increase of students and operational tempo, school administrators have added night courses. Placing new or "pipeline" students in the evening classes allows NCOs and reservists on orders the right-of-way for day courses, and eases the classroom storage.
The increase in numbers happens because MCCES acts as a net, catching a large majority of the Marine Corps' electrical field open contract Marines with basic electrical scores higher than 80 on the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery, the military services' primary educational assessment tool.
Having such a spike in students may sound like a great challenge, but McGraw said these are the numbers MCCES should have been bringing in all along.
In the past, MCCES would open a few of their barracks buildings to other units who needed the space since the school rarely met their manning levels.
"We started bringing in the numbers we're supposed to have in 2008," said McGraw, a native of Riverside, Calif. "In order to accommodate the students, we did things like get rid of the troop handlers and turn them into instructors. Now those Marines mentor their students on and off duty."
Sgt. Andrew Morris, a field radio operator instructor with Company B, said he noticed only minor changes in the classroom after the influx of students.
"When I first got here about a year-and-a-half ago, we'd have three instructors to a classroom, and now we have an average of two," said Morris, a native of Davie, Fla.
Depending on the company, students can expect to spend between 40 to 45 days in class, or up to five months. This does not include a student's time spent in the school's holding platoon, which can number between 50 and 500 Marines at a time, said McGraw.
"This base relies heavily on the MCCES MAT [Marines awaiting training] platoon," he said. "We fill all of the requests we get for working parties."
Staff Sgt. Stephen Bazzle, a data systems technician course instructor with Company B, said since the increase, Marines in the MAT platoon have also received opportunities for additional training by acting as "guinea pigs" for new training curriculum.
Field radio operator students, who need an ASVAB electrical test score of at least 80, were inserted into other courses which required higher scores to see if a general technical score has an impact on the student's ability to comprehend the data, he said.
"Some of these students learn an equivalent of two years worth of college in 73 days," said Bazzle, a native of Orlando, Fla.
Lance Cpl. William Stevern, a data network specialist, has already graduated and is awaiting orders to the operational forces. Stevern, who picked up classes twice here, said he was assigned as class commander his first time around since there were no NCOs in his class.
"When I picked up the second time, I had eight NCOs and a staff sergeant in my class," said Stevern, a native of Baltimore.
It is becoming more common to see NCOs and Staff NCOs in MCCES classrooms since many Marines today perform lateral moves to the electronics-communications MOSs, Bazzle explained.
As MCCES makes shifts in its schedules to accommodate instructors and students, it increases the manpower of Marines armed with communications-electronics knowledge to help continue the Marine Corps Mission.