CAMP DWYER, Helmand province, Afghanistan -- You’re stuck in the desert. You’ve been there 10 months, and you work no less than 12 hours a day. What do you do during your downtime?
If your answer involves donning a flack jacket and kevlar, then running with a 200-pound tire on your back, you’re probably a Marine.
The tire, affectionately dubbed “Lola,” was the symbol of cohesion for the 11 Marines who graduated from a Marine Corps Martial Arts Instructor Course here, July 7. As they mingled in the shade of a gazebo, waiting for the ceremony to begin, smiles shown in place of the haggard expressions one might expect of a group that had just completed a rigorous, 18-day course.
Asked to describe the experience in one word, Cpl. Robert Schukar replied, “Pain.”
“Every day, we woke up between zero-four and zero-five to be there to start at zero-five,” said Schukar, the administrative non-commissioned officer with Regimental Combat Team 1.
At 5 a.m., the calisthenics would begin. The routine varied from day to day, but Lola was a constant. Whether jogging to the rifle range to practice firing while fatigued, or double-timing along a torturous exercise circuit, the titanic tire burdened and united them. They shuffled along with it hoisted over their shoulders for miles, rotating out Marines’ as fatigue set in. Or, two columns would form behind Lola – each pair of Marines flipping her, then jogging to the back of the line, waiting to cycle through again.
At each station, the Marines laid Lola aside but kept the blood pumping. Capt. Frederick Monday paced around perspiring pairs of Marines – one bracing a punching pad against relentless combinations from the other. Monday, the RCT-1’s martial arts instructor-trainer, critiqued the students’ technique, watching them transfer momentum from hips, to shoulders, and through the bag.
Schukar, a native of Snohomish, Wa., explained how the training is designed to push prospective instructors to their limits, teaching discipline under duress, the substance of Marine Corps leadership.
“It shows the true character of a person,” said Schukar, who earned the class motivation award.
By 9 a.m. each day, after four hours of working out and practicing technique, the students would take a break. Nine hours later, they’d reconvene for classroom instruction to learn about warrior cultures throughout the world, the finer points of martial arts instruction, and the administrative responsibilities of being an MAI.
According to Monday, a native of Silver Spring, Md., the course teaches much more than hand-to-hand combat.
“The main purpose is not to create fighters, but ethical warriors, [who are] there to apply the right decisions for the right reasons,” he said.
Monday, whose primary billet is executive officer for the RCT’s Civil Affairs Detachment, said the pleasure of seeing his students’ transformation motivates him to take on the added responsibility.
As the executive officer for the RCT-1 CAD, Monday’s main duties include overseeing infrastructural projects, such as school, canal and mosque construction, throughout three districts in Southern Helmand province. To teach the course, he had to burn the midnight oil, staying late at work to catch up on paperwork and prepare for classes the next day. Monday said he slept about four hours per night during the course.
Monday doesn’t plan on teaching any more MAI courses this deployment, but he’s proud of what his latest class accomplished.
He said his lasting impression is the improvement he’s seen in his students.
“The last week is truly enjoyable to me, because you see how much they’ve grown, how much better shape they’re in, and how they’re better fighters,” Monday said. “You know they’re hurting, but they’re not going to quit because they’re not going to let [those] Marines down on their left and right.”