CAMP SUFFISANT, Curacao -- The traditions of the paddle party as well as the reconnaissance paddle in general are a slight mystery among Marines who have not gone through reconnaissance training.
During the 2010 Marine Corps birthday ball for Force Reconnaissance Company, II Marine Expeditionary Force, Maj. Bradford Carr, the commanding officer of Force Reconnaissance Co., gave a speech about the history and meaning of the paddle before presenting a paddle to Sgt. Maj. William F. Fitzgerald III, sergeant major of United States Marine Corps Forces South.
“When a Marine goes through reconnaissance training, he is issued his rifle, [knife], fins and his diving mask,” said Carr. “The other thing he receives is his paddle. [A Marine] carries his paddle with him throughout his training, on hikes, in the water and in physical training. The paddle becomes worn and scarred as the Marine does throughout the process of training.”
Observing the tradition that reconnaissance Marines know as the paddle party is reserved for when a fellow reconnaissance Marine either leaves active duty or is killed in action.
The Marines take the paddle of the Marine who is leaving and sand it down, said Carr. They polish it up and garnish it with a variety of adornments, representing that particular Marine’s service as well as the history of the reconnaissance Marines. Afterward, the Marines who made the paddle will present it to the Marine or to his family.
The paddle itself represents the amphibious tradition of the Marine Corps. Parachute cord is wrapped around the paddle representing parachute and free fall operations. The color of the cord chosen illustrates the significant parts of the recipients’ career. The large task of making the paddle embodies the difficult task of becoming a reconnaissance Marine.
“Every time someone gets out, one of the first things that we do is tell the history of the paddle,” said Cpl. Jeremiah R. Kuepper, a diver with Force Reconnaissance Co. “There are certain portions of the story that vary based on where you come from, but there is a lot that holds true no matter where you are.”
During the World War II era, “Raiders,” the predecessors to reconnaissance Marines, existed to perform amphibious operations.
“The primary mission of the Raiders was to secure beach heads, do hydrographic surveys, and then to send out their information so that infantry could take the beaches,” said Kuepper. “A huge part of their missions was using rafts, so every individual was issued a paddle and they kept that paddle with them throughout their careers.”
In today’s reconnaissance training, Marines are issued ropes instead of paddles, but the paddle still holds a significant place in the traditions of reconnaissance Marines.
“These days [reconnaissance Marines] give the large paddles to each other and smaller ones to people or units that have worked with [reconnaissance Marines] in an exceptional way,” said Kuepper. “A lot of people who we give the paddles to don’t know the history of the paddle, but to those that do hold their paddles very near and dear to their hearts.”