MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP GEIGER, N.C.-- -- Like most military schools, the School of Infantry’s Corporal’s Course adheres to a tough curriculum. Hard, authoritative and fair instructors from various units bark out lessons and comb through ranks during close-order drill. From a distance, the Marines could be building up toward anything. Upon closer inspection, the unmistakable theme of the course is nothing and everything all at once. The Marines are training to be—Marines.
“The purpose of Corporal’s Course to me is to make you a better leader as a corporal,” said Cpl. Jason Tipaldos, a 21-year-old avionics technician with Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 263 by trade who assumes the role of class commander for SOI Corporal’s Course class 8-06. “They teach us different techniques and leadership principles,” said the native of Tonawanda, N.Y.
The diverse curriculum exemplifies the topics an individual must know to earn the title “Marine.” However, the rank of corporal puts Marines into a whole new category of leadership: noncommissioned officer. NCOs are leaders and instead of just living among the culture of the few and the proud, they are teachers, counselors and role models to their subordinates.
Class 08-06’s third squad leader is a 21-year-old native of Burlingame, Kan., by the name of Cpl. Robert Williams. He pointed out that the course thoroughly covers many facets of leading troops.
“To be a good leader, you have to show your Marines you’re able to keep up,” he said, when asked how physical training plays into the scheme of the military hierarchy. “You should be leading them from the front.”
Physical training is something that’s discussed—and practiced—often among the more than 50 students of the course. The course has a reputation for being physically, as well as mentally, demanding.
“As far as my PT, I feel like I’m going to drop another 2 minutes off my run time,” said Cpl. Cristina Macias, who manages hazardous materials for the 2nd Marine Logistics Group and is visiting the course from Camp Lejeune, N.C.
“When it comes to PT, it really makes you feel good when you’re passing up Marines and keeping up. It makes you feel good,” said the 21-year-old native of Ft. Worth, Texas, who has been wearing her second chevron less than 30 days.
Aside from PT, the buzz word among the class is definitely “sword manual.” An added honor and responsibility entailed in becoming an NCO is carrying the NCO sword during ceremonial drill. Marines come to Corporal’s Course to master the craft of carrying the blade.
“The sword manual has been the hardest for me to get,” said Williams. “I have never done anything with the sword before, but I’m getting it now,” he said with confidence.
During the considerable amount of time spent instructing the students in military drill and formation, the five sergeant instructors instill troop-leading ability into each individual.
“The first week of drill, I kind of go easy on them,” admitted Sgt. Joshua A. Huddleston, an instructor for the three-week course. “I let them get used to being in front of a formation and everything. The next week is when I start to pick them apart.”
The fundamental military discipline honed in drill combined with constant observation of their instructors inspires students to go back into their fleet units with a new fire.
“The instructors are very helpful trying to teach you what you need to know. My squad advisor really is into more about taking care of us than just getting the class done and sending you on your way,” said Macias. “That’s important because it shows leadership in them. It shows you how you want to be as an NCO. I believe becoming a leader is having a whole bunch of leaders, find what’s good in them, and adapting that into yourself.”
“I want to be more of a counselor. I want them to look up to me and want to come up to me and ask me questions and advice on how to improve themselves,” she added.
Along with final drill evaluation, the students of the course undergo a gauntlet of graded events the final days before graduation, to include inspections and demonstrations. For now, class 08-06 is working hard and waiting for the day they stand in a final formation and hear, “Class, dismissed.”
Editor’s Note: This is the second story in a three-story series.