Marine Corps

May 17, 2012

Tactical Small-Unit Leadership Course empowers junior Marines

Cpl. Andrew D. Johnston
2nd Marine Division
Photo by Cpl. Andrew D. Johnston
Bethel, Conn., native Lance Cpl. Stephen A. Fike, a rifleman with Golf Company, 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division, aims downrange during a simulated machine gun bunker assault May 10. The simulated assault was part of a two-and-half-week Tactical Small Unit Leadership Course prospective fire team leaders from the battalion participated in the implementation of various weapons systems, tactical movements, communications and land navigation.

MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C.   — More than 45 Marines with 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division, participated in a Tactical Small-Unit Leadership Course May 2-18.

The main focus of the event was to take potential fire team leaders out of their comfort zone and into simulated combat situations where decisions normally made by others were now up to them.

“Right now, these are the guys that were the new Marines last year before our deployment, so they’ve pretty much been living in the shadows of their leaders up to this point,” Sgt. Taylor L. Limes, from Crestview, Fla., 2nd Bn., 2nd Marines, TSULC squad mentor, said. “This is our chance to pull these guys and mentor them before they’re filling in the positions of outbound Marines. We’re building their confidence so they’re ready to step up and take charge.”

The unit returned from a deployment as a Battalion Landing Team with the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit in February and is in the process of a personnel rotation. The majority of Marines currently holding billets as fire team leaders are either transitioning out of the Corps or the unit, 1st Lt. Stephen T. Desmond, a Scituate, Mass., native and officer in charge of the battalion’s TSULC.

“For the past two years, a lot of these guys have spent their time as riflemen,” Desmond said. “The biggest jump in anybody’s career, when you are a Marine, is when you transition from follower to leader. So, we’re trying to teach that over a two-and-a half-week period.”

The training operation was broken up into five phases where prospective fire team leaders participated in the implementation of various weapons systems, tactical movements, communications and land navigation. The exercises were geared toward critical thinking, putting Marines in position to call the shots.

“Since day one of (the School of Infantry) and up to the end of this last deployment, they we’re all riflemen, so they we’re focused on individual actions,” Limes said. “Their main focus then was, ‘what can I do to support my team?’ We’re here to rebuild their muscle memory and build them as a team leader and let them know their primary weapon is their team.”

Squad mentors and primary instructors coached fire team leaders as they maneuvered their teams through trenches and over berms in simulated assaults.

“There (are) two simulated enemy machine gun bunkers as well as fire team-sized elements that will pop up,” Desmond explained, as he pointed toward the range. “They could get caught with their pants down. It’s all about decision making, decision making, decision making.

“We’re trying to evaluate and enforce making a decision because a Marine who can’t make a decision or shies away, ultimately is never going to be successful as a fire team leader – not everyone will get a slot or make the cut,” he later added.

The TSULC is one of the battalion’s first major training events since returning with the 22nd MEU and just a small step in their overall training matrix. With a potential 2013 deployment to Afghanistan, Limes said now is the time for the Marines to find their weaknesses and prove they have what it takes to lead.

“While you’re in training, go ahead and step up, make the mistakes so that you can build from it,” Limes said. “If you’re going to be the guy (who’s) always sitting back on the sidelines not making those mistakes, you’re not going to grow as a leader. The more mistakes you make here, the fewer mistakes you’re going to make in country.”

According to Desmond, the TSULC gave the battalion an opportunity to mold its future leaders and maintain its standards of excellence. He believes the course has better prepared Marines to make tactical decisions under pressure and lead others with confidence.

“Small unit leaders have to make split-second decisions,” Desmond said. “In training, a split-second decision can mean pass or fail. On the battlefield, a split-second decision can mean life or death. We’re going to force them to make tough decisions here so they won’t make the wrong decisions over there.”

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