.Fix Recon

TheWookie

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Hearing things like this makes me want to re-enlist. Semper Fi Marines - just though I'd share.


http://marinecorpstimes.com/news/2009/06/marine_recon_062209w/

Recon-improvement plan pays off for Corps

By Gidget Fuentes - Staff writer
Posted : Monday Jun 22, 2009 7:00:46 EDT

CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. — They endured countless hours of swimming and finning in the combat pool and then in the open, cold ocean.

They covered miles with heavy combat packs over steep hills and sandy beaches. They fought strong ocean currents and big swells to drive and navigate their rubber boats.

In this class of newly trained and longtime infantrymen, all dreaming of becoming reconnaissance Marines, many questioned whether they had the grit to complete the grueling course.

So they were especially proud to step onto the School of Infantry-West parade deck June 12 for graduation ceremonies from the Marine Corps’ Basic Reconnaissance Course, after nine weeks of training by Reconnaissance Training Company. The Marines survived the course and earned the coveted title and 0321 military occupational specialty of a recon Marine.

The high tempo at the course reflects some of the successes in the Corps’ effort to rebuild and reshape its reconnaissance community, positioning it for ongoing wars and future combat operations. Known simply as “Fix Recon,” the effort to grow and evolve the Corps’ capability has been ongoing for a decade, but it may be finally drawing to a close.

The men of Class 05-09 are the Corps’ newest group of trained reconnaissance Marines and soon will report to an active-duty or reserve recon unit. About 600 Marines, and a few dozen Navy corpsmen, will graduate from the course this year — roughly 120 Marines won’t make it — entering a community that has grown exponentially since the war in Afghanistan began.

Fixing recon
In 2001, the Corps had roughly 550 billets for reconnaissance Marines. Today, that number has tripled and keeps growing, with the fiscal 2009 requirement for active-duty units at about 2,038, said Maj. Brian Gilman, the 0321 occupational field manager at Plans, Policies and Operations branch in Washington.

He said that figure is expected to increase slightly by 2012 as part of an initiative aimed at the Corps’ force reconnaissance capabilities and units.

“Fix Recon” began with a 1999 directive by then-Commandant Gen. James L. Jones to look at equipment, manning, training and other issues. After Sept. 11, deployments to Afghanistan and Iraq followed, along with the birth of Marine Corps Special Operations Command and the Corps’ growth to 202,000.

“There has been a lot of changes since ‘Fix Recon’ happened,” Gilman said. “We’ve had to adjust to that.”

Continual deployments meant more demands on recon and concerns about capacity issues, he said. Standing up MarSOC, for instance, shifted 26 percent of those assets away from the Marine expeditionary forces.

High retention has helped keep the Corps rolling. New recruiting initiatives — such as an upcoming program beginning in October that gives new recon Marines five-year orders so they can spend more operational time with their unit — should buy even more time.

The recon community is shaping up. The “Fix Recon” initiative is in the third and final implementation phase, as officials work on an assessment of ground recon capabilities for the Marine air-ground task force, a study that looks at capabilities the Corps will need 10 years from now.

The Marine Requirements Oversight Council is expected to get the initial capabilities document in September, he added.

Consolidated training
The health of the recon community hinges greatly on pulling enough well-trained men into the recon pipeline. One big change began two years ago, when the Corps decided to merge the East Coast-based Amphibious Reconnaissance School and the West Coast-based BRC into a single course at Camp Pendleton, housed at SOI-West under its Advanced Infantry Training Battalion.

Centralizing training at one location meant operational recon battalions no longer had to recruit and screen future recon Marines, enabling them to focus on training, preparing and deploying platoons overseas.

“We took that burden off of them,” Gilman said.

The Corps now has a single training syllabus and, officials note, a more consistent training pipeline for all recon Marines — whether active duty or reserve, or filling a billet at division recon, Force reconnaissance companies or MarSOC’s special operations companies.

“Standardization of training was definitely one of those concerns,” Gilman said.

At Camp Pendleton, the recon growth is perhaps felt most at SOI-West, where its Recon Training Company will train and graduate eight classes this fiscal year and where instructors are preparing to ramp up with a ninth class in 2010. In mid-June, the company was “triple stacked,” with three classes on deck as Class 05-09 headed into its final week.

It’s usually busy, as new students wait to begin their class while others spend weeks or months with one of the platoons, preparing themselves to meet the tough physical fitness standards to successfully screen for the course.

Newly graduated Marines assigned the 0321 MOS report to their recon unit ready for follow-on individual and unit-level training ahead of deploying, a benefit their operational units appreciate, said Col. Brennan Byrne, who commands SOI-West.

“The guy gets to the unit a vetted recon Marine,” Byrne said. “We’ve increased the operational deployability numbers. He will be a full-up round.”

The recon training pipeline will likely be expanded to include a Recon Team Leaders Course, which SOI officials hope to begin this fall with four classes each fiscal year, and eventually other courses for unit leaders.

“We now have the opportunity to train the force as you wish to see the force,” Byrne said.

Standards remain tough
While the syllabus has been tweaked, Byrne said, the standards have not been reduced.

“We’ve actually increased standards in a number of areas,” he said. “We’re taking the approach that we are building the basic recon Marine, we are building the team leader, and we are building the unit leader.”

Students must score at least 225 on the Physical Fitness Test by training day 21, get at least a first-class water safety qualification to graduate, and meet the standard for a 1-kilometer ocean swim and 8-mile hikes with 50-pound packs, among other requirements.

About three-quarters of BRC students are entry level Marines — recent infantry school graduates — and about one-quarter are junior Marines, including corporals and sergeants from noninfantry MOSs. Handfuls of Navy corpsmen hoping to become amphibious reconnaissance corpsmen also attend.

BRC graduation rates now average about 80 percent, a big improvement from the roughly 50 percent who graduated from the courses years ago. Instructors and leaders give much credit to their local initiative — Marines Awaiting Recon Training, or MART — created to prepare and mentor Marines and sailors readying to join a new BRC class or those students recovering from an injury or illness.

Despite the name, “It’s not a basic skills set. It is an advanced skill set,” said Capt. James Richardson, Reconnaissance Training Company commander. “You expect more from a reconnaissance Marine.”

So the Marines — many are privates first class, instructors noted — soon find out that more is expected of them from the get-go.

“They are calling in live-fire mortars in this course,” Richardson said. “That’s unheard of. Most men in the infantry, they’re probably corporals or sergeants before they get this opportunity.”

The training isn’t for the faint of heart. Even the third phase, which includes operating boats in the surf zone, can be taxing, sending at least one student in each class to the corpsman or the hospital.

Recon Marines, Richardson notes, will have greater responsibilities. One day, that recon Marine will be a team leader briefing a Marine expeditionary unit commander.

“He is absolutely responsible for that mission,” said Capt. Bart Lambert, BRC officer-in-charge. “Preparing him for that, that’s the goal.”

So the company established MART Platoon so students can improve their fitness levels before beginning the course. It works — about 90 percent in MART graduate from the course.

The platoon can tailor the training to help students with anything, even tying knots, said Richardson, who calls its four instructors the “unsung heroes.”

Many students, said chief instructor Sgt. Lynn Westover, don’t have enough strength and endurance for the long runs with heavy packs and often struggle to swim with combat gear and fins longer than two kilometers. The water piece is a tough nut to crack, instructors say.

Several Marines said the extra MART training and mentoring are huge.

“The instructors got us into shape. ... They encourage you,” said Lance Cpl. Gary Manders, 19, who improved his swim during three months at MART and saw his PFT score jump from 220 to 276.

Lambert said that BRC classes have averaged 260 by the training day 21, and recent classes hit 275. Three students tallied course records in the run (17:05), crunches (160) and pull-ups (45), he added.

“I didn’t know what I was getting into,” Manders said. “I was weak in all areas, especially the water.”

THINK YOU’VE GOT WHAT IT TAKES?
Considering a move to reconnaissance? Here’s what you need to know:

Getting in the door
To obtain the coveted 0321 military occupational specialty, Marines must graduate from the Basic Recon Course, taught at the School of Infantry-West’s Recon Training Company, Camp Pendleton, Calif. To get there, you must be a U.S. citizen fluent in English and meet a handful of other requirements, including:

• Score 105 or higher on your General Technical test.

• Have completed Infantry Training Battalion course, for enlisted Marines.

• Have a 3rd Class swim qualification. (You will have to reach 1st Class by the end of Phase 1.)

• Score at least 200 on your physical fitness test. (You will need a first-class score of at least 225 during Phase 1.)

• Have normal color vision and good eyesight — at least 20/200.

Once you’re there
The nine-week BRC has three phases:

• Phase 1. Four weeks. Focuses on a wealth of individual skills, including swimming, finning, rucksack hiking, land navigation, helicopter rope suspension training, communications and supporting arms.

• Phase 2. Three weeks. Focuses on combat patrolling with a mix of classroom and field training, including a nine-day exercise in full mission profiles.

• Phase 3. Two weeks. Held in Coronado, Calif. Focuses on amphibious reconnaissance, boat operations and nautical navigation.


Where you’ll go
Recon billets at Marine operational units include:

• 1st Recon Battalion, 1st Marine Division, Camp Pendleton.

• Force Recon Company, 1st Recon Battalion.

• 2nd Recon Battalion, 2nd Marine Division, Camp Lejeune, N.C.

• Force Company, 2nd Recon Battalion.

• 3rd Recon Battalion, 3rd Marine Division, Okinawa, Japan.

• 4th Recon Battalion (reserve), San Antonio, Texas.

• 3rd Force Recon Company (reserve), Mobile, Ala.

• 4th Force Recon Company (reserve), Alameda, Calif.

• Marine Corps Special Operations Command.
 

ritterk

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I read that article on the Marine Corps Times website today, now if only I could get into 4th Recon I would be more than happy to deal with the raised bar. Right now, I can't even get a 0351 MOS school seat until FY10 because the unit I joined took such a long time to run me in the system and all of the available school seats filled up.
 
7

7point62

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MART was a great idea. Good article. This stood out for me, though:



“They [PFCs & L/Cpls] are calling in live-fire mortars in this course,” Richardson said. “That’s unheard of. Most men in the infantry, they’re probably corporals or sergeants before they get this opportunity.”


All PFC and L/Cpl 03's need to learn this shit in SOI. It needs to be part of the AIT curriculum. Arty, gunship support, medevacs--this should be required learning for all infantry MOS Marines, and not reserved for Recon trainee E2s and E3s. It's essential for small-unit combat in isolated AOs. I had to learn OJT and I did call up dust-offs and 155 as a L/Cpl. Anybody in your squad is a potential Last Man Standing. The guy next to you may have to call in your medevac. Better to learn it in a controlled environment.
 

TheWookie

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MART was a great idea. Good article. This stood out for me, though:

All PFC and L/Cpl 03's need to learn this shit in SOI. It needs to be part of the AIT curriculum. Arty, gunship support, medevacs--this should be required learning for all infantry MOS Marines, and not reserved for Recon trainee E2s and E3s. It's essential for small-unit combat in isolated AOs. I had to learn OJT and I did call up dust-offs and 155 as a L/Cpl. Anybody in your squad is a potential Last Man Standing. The guy next to you may have to call in your medevac. Better to learn it in a controlled environment.
Good points and I agree, I read somewhere that the Corps is placing new emphasis on training young Marines on how to call for fire. And instead of wasting time at NCO school teaching hours of close order drill they are changing some of the curriculum to put more of an emphasis on CAS. Which is good because obviously 03's need to know this stuff, but I also think non-03s should be required to know at least the basics.
 

ritterk

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In MCT we spent about 10 minutes going over CAS and that was the only time it was ever covered throughout my four years active. I think CAS is something every Marine should be taught to a proficient level; you never know when you might need it. It would be horrible to be caught in a situation where you needed CAS but were unable to call it in.
 
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7point62

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In MCT we spent about 10 minutes going over CAS and that was the only time it was ever covered throughout my four years active. I think CAS is something every Marine should be taught to a proficient level; you never know when you might need it. It would be horrible to be caught in a situation where you needed CAS but were unable to call it in.

Word.

(Sorry if I've hijacked this thread with an infantry discussion.)

We came out of AIT with about 45 min of rudimentary tactical comm...the kind of instruction an 18-year old 03 has already forgotten after his first night in Tiajuana. :D

All 03's need a good work-up in tactical comm/CAS and basic combat medical skills. They need to know how to pull the chain and find the vein.
 

masonea

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I don't remember going over any of that at MCT. Not to say that it didn't happen. I just don't remember. The only time I ever was taught that was a hip-pocket class on ship en route to the dust bowl in '03. Nothing like trying to learn something at the last minute.

Hitman 2/3- What points in the article do you not agree with? And what points do you agree with?

I got out after 8 years in '07. But I am thinking about coming back in. Recon was something I had thought about often, but just never jumped. The time I did spend at Battalion was probably the most exciting and challenging time in my career. So I have been thinking about lat moving to 0321. But I know how in the guys looked at the non Crucible guys when they hit the fleet. Not sure if that may be the case with the standards for getting into BRC have changed. Any insight? Thanks.

(On a side note: Do you remember a guy named Kocher?)
 

ritterk

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I went through MCT in 01 right after 9/11 and now that I read your post it was actually call for fire, not CAS. I am assuming that calling for fire is much different than calling for CAS, I definitely don’t' want people on here to think that I've done stuff that I really haven't; shit I'm just a pog, I had to beg and plead to get out of the wire while in Iraq. For the radio class we were mainly just calling one another on the prc-119 while some Sgt. watched us.
 

Hitman2/3

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I don't remember going over any of that at MCT. Not to say that it didn't happen. I just don't remember. The only time I ever was taught that was a hip-pocket class on ship en route to the dust bowl in '03. Nothing like trying to learn something at the last minute.

Hitman 2/3- What points in the article do you not agree with? And what points do you agree with?

I got out after 8 years in '07. But I am thinking about coming back in. Recon was something I had thought about often, but just never jumped. The time I did spend at Battalion was probably the most exciting and challenging time in my career. So I have been thinking about lat moving to 0321. But I know how in the guys looked at the non Crucible guys when they hit the fleet. Not sure if that may be the case with the standards for getting into BRC have changed. Any insight? Thanks.

(On a side note: Do you remember a guy named Kocher?)
The main problem I have with the article is the same problem I always have when it comes to "FIXING RECON" the people who are trying to "fix" it have no idea what they're doing. I don't know where the hell they're getting their advice from, but their decisions are not reflective of the suggestions or request of the operators. The only thing we (the operator) asked for before they started making all these changes is more unit funding, better gear, more school seats, and become a part of SOCOM or at the very least be allowed to operate at our full capacity.

One thing that stands out to me is that the SOI CO being interviewed has either never served with a Recon unit, or is completely out of touch. The statement of “The guy gets to the unit a vetted recon Marine” shows how off the mark we've gone. There is nothing vetted about an 18 year old boot who's had 9 weeks of training. He's basically trained but it will take several months to a year in the fleet training and deploying to get a "vetted" Recon Marine, and years to get a well rounded Recon Marine.

Another thing that stands out as just crap is the statement that SOI took the burden off of the Units by implementing MART and all and all made things better. The whole purpose behind the unit running an indoc and a RIP was so the UNIT not the Marine Corps could say yes "this guy will be an asset" or no "this guy is a liability". The Marine Corps is not the one who will have to operate with them, the operator in the unit is. When the units were running the selection process the odds of a shit bird squeezing through were pretty slim. For the most part Rip had small numbers and the instructors could closely watch them to see who was cheesedicking, who was putting out, who had an attitude etc. There was a dedicated section of guys who were getting out, and there for unable to train with a team, that handled the training and selection of potential candidates. You had vetted Recon Marines, most of whom were TL or ATL's saying "this guy will complete the mission", or "this guy can't or won’t." If the MART instructors were allowed to get rid of dead weight it would be fine but since they can't its not.

It seems like now all they care about is numbers. They see it as a good thing that the graduation rate has went from 50% to 80%. I would agree if the new 30% I've been seeing was as good as the prior 50%, but they're not, and the powers that be seem to care less. Like we always say quality not quantity. They've more or less turned BRC into a Recon factory where they have to meet a quota at the end of the day regardless of the quality, and that is unacceptable.

Bottom line is that if the Marine Corps want's quality Recon Marines who are physically, mentally, and emotionally capable of completing the missions it requires they need to understand and stick to the basic truths. You can't mass produce quality, quality is better than quantity, and you can't wait to build a quality product after the shit has hit the fan.

I'd much rather have one Ferrari before the race than to have 10 station wagons afterward.:2c:
 

Hitman2/3

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I don't remember going over any of that at MCT. Not to say that it didn't happen. I just don't remember. The only time I ever was taught that was a hip-pocket class on ship en route to the dust bowl in '03. Nothing like trying to learn something at the last minute.

Hitman 2/3- What points in the article do you not agree with? And what points do you agree with?

I got out after 8 years in '07. But I am thinking about coming back in. Recon was something I had thought about often, but just never jumped. The time I did spend at Battalion was probably the most exciting and challenging time in my career. So I have been thinking about lat moving to 0321. But I know how in the guys looked at the non Crucible guys when they hit the fleet. Not sure if that may be the case with the standards for getting into BRC have changed. Any insight? Thanks.

(On a side note: Do you remember a guy named Kocher?)

To answer your other questions. Yeah I knew Kocher back at 1st. And regardless of which course you go through or went through you've got to prove yourself on a daily basis. There are guys who have been around for years and labled shit bags, and there are guys who have just gotten here that are labbled as good to go. So other than the occasional conversation over beers of my class was harder than your class, nobody cares.
 

Cayenne6

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All PFC and L/Cpl 03's need to learn this shit in SOI. It needs to be part of the AIT curriculum. Arty, gunship support, medevacs--this should be required learning for all infantry MOS Marines, and not reserved for Recon trainee E2s and E3s. It's essential for small-unit combat in isolated AOs. I had to learn OJT and I did call up dust-offs and 155 as a L/Cpl. Anybody in your squad is a potential Last Man Standing. The guy next to you may have to call in your medevac. Better to learn it in a controlled environment.
Very little of the radio procedure was taught in training. Mostly just learning how to operate it. The Recon school I went to was far different than what is now. It was a cut down, fast moving class to get us to Nam. Very little of what is taught today was taught then. It was mostly a glorified BITS which I think is what you call SOI. Nothing was covered in great detail. Swimming included only a few classes at the Horno pool. One was drown proofing where we bailed off the diving board with M-14 and full gear. We had to tread water for 45 minutes with the 14 held over our heads with one hand for 45 minutes. We could swap hands but it had to be a continuous motion. If an instructor thought we hesitated too long it was out of the pool and head for the grunts. That and PT sent a lot of guys to the grunts.
The school didn't even guarantee us a Recon slot when we hit Nam. 22 of us went to Nam on a C-130 and all went to the grunts. 3 months later I was the last to transfer to 1st Recon. I didn't even know what Recon did until I hit the Bn.
One month into the grunts I was handed a PRC-25 and told to operate it. I was a PFC responsible for calling in medivacs, fire missions, and anything else needed. The coordinates was figured out by the Squad leader or Plt. commander. Once I got to Recon I didn't have any formal radio training. Shit, everything was OJT. We had to learn everything on the run, literally. Didn't use the radio until I became a team leader. As a L/Cpl I was expected to do everything an officer did as a team leader. I learned how to talk directly to arty batteries, OV-10s, Cobras, 46s, and grunts. Just barely squeezed by in map & compass in the school so you might as well say I had to re-learn that. My radioman was an honest to God trained radioman. As a PFC he could do everything. He hadn't gone to the Recon school. Only two out of the 6 man team had gone to the school, myself and my Corpsman.
One main thing I brought out of Nam was most of us weren't trained for what we did. Came a hair's breath of joining 4th Recon in San Antonio when I got out. I wanted to be an instructor so I could make sure guys were taught what was needed and what life was like in a real combat zone. Turned out what I knew wouldn't have helped very much because my kind of war hasn't been fought since. From what I understand, the Bn. was almost as unprepared for what it did in Iraq as I was. Also turns out that the way my team operated and fought wasn't really Recon either.
Don't have any idea what Hitman 2/3 didn't agree with but if that's the way training is it's a good thing.

6
 

masonea

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Hitman 2/3- Thanks for the insight. I hadn't heard anyone's take on things from the inside yet. All I have are these articles, that someone told someone to write in a certain way to make themselves look good. I was with Kocher at 2nd in 2006, reason I asked. Good guy. Thanks again.
 
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7point62

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I was under the obviously wrong impression that Recon was running MART and therefore could drop candidates who didn't pack the gear.
 

Hitman2/3

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I was under the obviously wrong impression that Recon was running MART and therefore could drop candidates who didn't pack the gear.
Nope, 0321's are the instructors but SOI more or less makes the rules. For the instructors its SOI's way or the highway.
 

Hitman2/3

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Don't have any idea what Hitman 2/3 didn't agree with but if that's the way training is it's a good thing.

6
With the article itself it’s all in my previous post. Talking to my buddies who are instructing down there and seeing the 10% go to 30% the reality of the school is far from the picture that the article paints. The school was fine under EWTGPAC and EWTGLANT. There could have been a few modifications but compared to the SOI model it was a lot better.

If anything I would say they've hurt the community more than they've helped it. Its the equivilant of the Q course being under the Army Infantry School, obviously not to the same level but the same concept. Different mindset, and different goals. SOI produces numbers, BRC and ARS produced quality regardless of the numbers.
 

Pete S

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Nope, 0321's are the instructors but SOI more or less makes the rules. For the instructors its SOI's way or the highway.
I have an old buddy who is an instructor at ITB.

I guess the ropers (or whatever they're called now) don't have to run everywhere they go now. :rolleyes:
It starts with the small things.
 

fox1371

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I won't claim to know to much about the topic...but a lot of friends of mine who are operators had a huge problem with Recon getting rid of the initial review board. I've also been told that students going through BRC etc are no longer able to be kicked out...they have to either fail, or quit. Of course there are always ways for that to happen. From the impression that I've gotten, is that the Marine Corps may be moving towards quantity over quality. Not that the new Recon Marines aren't making the cut or anything...but I think a lot of the older guys are having issues with the changes that were made.
 
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