ABOARD THE USS BONHOMME RICHARD --
Author’s note: The following is part two in a three part series entitled “Ship Days.” The series follows three days of life for Marines and Sailors aboard USS Bonhomme Richard. At the near end of a 200-plus day deployment, the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit is anxious for its homecoming, but somehow manages to fill the time with an insane amount of activity and reflection.
ABOARD THE USS BONHOMME RICHARD (Nov. 8, 2007) – There’s nothing like a good punch in the face. For 13th MEU Marines tangled in the Marine Corps Martial Arts Program, the doses come frequently and in generous proportion.
Below the waterline, in the hot steel bowels of USS Bonhomme Richard, MEU Marines, including Battalion Landing Team 3rd Battalion, 1st Marines and Combat Logistics Battalion 13, can be found punching, kicking and gouging literally twenty-four hours a day. Currently, there are several course levels in progress as WESTPAC 07-1 nears an end.
If you’re not surrounded by kung fu fighters in the hangar bay or “lower V” (a.k.a. "the Dungeon"), they’re on the mess deck feeding bruised faces, or the flight line with flak jackets. There is no space to hide anymore, every inch of available space is claimed battle ground.
“These are Marines that want to train, so you have the best of the best here,” said Sgt. Benjamin Price, brown belt instructor. Even though Price trains from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m., he still commits to training Gray and Green Belt students. Over the past few months, Price has upgraded more than five dozen Marines to the next belt level. The demand for MCMAP courses, says Price, is contagious.
“I started with Bravo Battery (1/11) guys, and once they had their gray belts, I think their friends saw those belts and all of a sudden everyone wanted to train.”
Sergeant Maj. Enrique X. Hines, 13th MEU sergeant major and Black Belt instructor-trainer, is known around the unit as a MCMAP maniac. Hines has his hands, whether instructing or striking, in every course conducted aboard ship. When he isn’t on scene in one of the make-shift “dojo’s,” he watches the brutality on closed circuit television through the ship’s security system. Constantly critiquing students and instructors, Hines said the unit’s focus on quality MCMAP is in keeping with the standards of the program manual.
“(MCMAP) is full force, intense and paying attention to the details,” he said. With a constant watchful eye on training, Hines said the MEU is avoiding “Designer Belts,” or belts issued without much effort put into earning the next level.
“There is a standard set, and we’re not ‘raising’ the bar, we’re keeping that standard,” he said. Holding instructors responsible for the intensity of their classes (not to mention never knowing where the sergeant major is watching from), he said, automatically takes MCMAP to a higher level.
Hines also stressed the MEU’s focus on well-rounded training, including physical, spiritual and mental aspects of warrior life.
These disciplines sprawl into Marines’ daily lives and do not go unnoticed. In the MEU personnel section (S-1), Gunnery Sgt. Edwin Fontillas said he noticed a marked change in his Marines since they began a Green Belt course.
“Before the course, it seemed like I was always saying ‘You need to pay attention’ or something like that,” he said. “But now … I’m seeing all kinds of attention to detail. They have more ‘mental discipline’ and it’s the kind of discipline they teach in (MCMAP).”
The high level of training could also be attributed to gear availability. Even though MEU units share batons, striking pads and rifles, high-tech sparring gear is also available. With boxing masks and sparring gloves, the danger of full-force intensity melts away, allowing for face and head strikes – an element Sgt. Price says usually makes for more confident warriors. Also in use are “lipstick knives,” metal blades with velvet edges coated with lipstick. The training effect is marking an opponent with a bright red slash. After a full contact knife fight (mandatory in Price’s Green Belt course), a valuable lesson is learned.
“If you’re in a knife fight, you’re gonna get cut,” Price said.
With only days left on deployment, Marines are still getting “cut.” They’re still punching each other’s protected faces, and they’re still training their butts off. With only days left on deployment, when Marines should be packing their gear, they’re still busy upholding the unit nickname of “The Fighting Thirteenth.”