Marine on a hump through wet terrain The Basic School

Field Exercise I (FEX I) at The Basic School

Marine on a hump through wet terrainWhen it comes to Field Exercise I you should be prepared to be extremely physically miserable. There is obscene amounts of weight to be carried — over 100lbs. You will be humping all over the place, dealing with the weather, and sleeping on the cold, wet ground. Bottom line here is that you, and everyone around you, will be completely and totally miserable.

The experience you have will depend on what time of year you go through TBS. The winter/early spring has a unique set of problems. You have to wear warming layers to stay warm, but once you start a hump, or an attack, you immediately heat up. Therefore, you can’t wear them when you’re doing those things. Once the attack is over, you’re covered in sweat and not wearing anything warm so you get freezing cold again. You also have to pack a lot of additional gear in the winter (e.g., warming layers, extra sleeping bag, goretex, etc), so the weight goes up. Prepare to be physically uncomfortable in the field at TBS.

Don’t take this to be a reason to feel sorry for yourself. It is here to encourage you to be mentally prepared for it and embrace it in advance. About 75% of your peers will go “internal” during the FEX; that is, they will

  1. space out frequently
  2. become absorbed in their own discomfort
  3. and fail to be able to operate effectively as part of the team.

It is essential that you not be one of these people

During the cold months you will be tempted to go internal; it’s so easy not to care. Fight this urge if you want to be viewed as a leader in the squad. Peer evaluations are due the Monday after FEX I.

FEX Overview

The attacks themselves are fairly similar to SULE II from Marine OCS. The order isn’t supposed to be simple memorization like OCS. You’re expected to have a very simple Fire Support Plan (FSP), and the staff does care about things like dispersion and CASEVAC plans. If you pay attention to classes in the weeks prior to the FEX, you have good public speaking skills, and you’re capable of making snap decisions, you’ll be fine.

PRACTICE GIVING ORDERS

The ability to effectively deliver an order without glancing at notes too much is essential.

Land Navigation

There will be some land navigation during FEX I, and it will be incredibly challenging. The training area is about 3-6 square miles, and you’ll be going from one end of it to the other in a time limit of 5 hours looking for boxes. It’s just as physically challenging as it is mentally, so don’t get discouraged if you fail.

Field Exercise Squad Live Fire

The last major event during the Field Exercise is a squad live fire range. This is basically where you do a SULE against drop-down targets on uneven terrain … with live ammunition. A billet holder gets assigned to these and delivers an order for a simple frontal attack. Imagine doing buddy rushes with real bullets. It is an incredibly exciting and intense experience.

Once you’re done with that, you hump 6 miles back to Camp Barret with about 110 lbs of gear. It is unpleasant and your feet are destroyed by that point, but home is the light at the end of the tunnel. It can’t be stressed enough, train for humps. They are easily the most difficult thing about TBS.

Marine navigating an obstacle The Basic School

TBS Phase I and II Recap

The following information provides a quick overview of some events that will be encountered during Phase I and II of The Basic School.

Land Navigation

You’ll do a LOT of land navigation throughout The Basic School. A lot of it is just practice. The final event is in Training Area 16 which you are not allowed to enter for any reason before final land navigation. Looking at it on a map, it’s HUGE. You will work your way up to that level throughout the POI.

In its essence, land navigation hasn’t changed much since OCS. You’ll be doing basically the same thing and you need the same basic fundamentals. You will do both day and night courses at TBS. You need to make sure you understand the following concepts:

  • 8 digit grid coordinates
  • Use of a protractor
  • Use of a lensatic compass
  • Use of the GM angle to convert from a grid to a magnetic azimuth
  • Use of a pace count
  • Ability to identify terrain features on the map and associate them with features in the real world (terrain association)

At TBS, you need to apply all of the above if you want to succeed, or you will never find your box.

Overall, land navigation is not incredibly difficult. You have to drop lazy habits gained at OCS and actually apply the fundamentals. Take the time to learn the fundamentals so that it can be a relaxing experience for you, not a stressful one.

Night Land Navigation

Night land navigation is a lot like OCS, but in a much bigger area. Basically you walk back and forth between a stream and a road (about 800m apart) on an assigned azimuth and hope you hit the box you’re supposed to on the other side. There isn’t much advice to give on this, since all you can really do is take your time and follow directions. DEFINITELY wear eye protection when you do it though. You will have an eye poked out if you don’t.

Endurance Course

The E-Course isn’t as difficult as you may think. The course consists of an O-Course and 5 miles with various obstacles in the middle. You’re carrying an LBV with an assault pack full for various gear, kevlar, and your rifle. It’s definitely a lot of weight. That said, the times for passing are extremely generous. For males, 60 mins is max and 80 is passing. If you’re in shape, the E-Course won’t be a problem.

Double Obstacle Course

The Double-O is actually very difficult. It’s exactly what it sounds like: two O-Courses. It’s not too hard to pass, but it can be tough to score well. For males the times are 3 max and 5 pass. There’s really no good way to practice except to PT as usual, and work on your technique whenever you get the chance.

Squad Weapons FEX

Part of the subject matter you cover during Phase II is how to use various squad weapons, including the M249 SAW, M203 grenade launcher, M67 frag, and AT-4 rocket launcher. One day you go out to a range and shoot all of these weapons. Not very exciting, because you shoot a 9mm training round instead of an actual rocket. On the other hand, you are getting paid to shoot stuff, so there’s no reason to complain.

Phase II Exam I

Heads up, a LOT of people fail this exam, so study for it. Apparently it’s the hardest exam in the POI.

FEX I

Combat orders are a lot more detailed than those you did during OCS. Before beginning to write you will go through a METT-TC analysis (Mission Enemy Troops Time Terrain Civilians), which is an extremely detailed look at everything affectingthe mission. Based on that information, you begin writing the order. It doesn’t work like OCS where you basically copy and paste higher’s order into various parts of yours; you’re expected to actually exercise tactical thought.

The other thing that makes things a little more interesting is Fire Support. Every order you give will likely have a Fire Support Plan (FSP). It’s interesting learning material, but it is a lot to memorization. Basically, you’re FSP describes how you plan to use those indirect fire (IDF) assets available to you, including mortars and artillery. Learning the capabilities of these weapons, the kinds of rounds available for use, and when to employ them is what makes a lot of people trip up on Phase II Exam I. It’s all vital information so don’t neglect to learn it.

MCMAP at TBS The Basic School

The Basic School MCMAP Week

For those of you unfamiliar with the Marine Corps Martial Arts Program (MCMAP), there are three belts that each require you to learn and perfect a series of progressively more difficult techniques. All Marines upon graduating from TBS on the officer side and Recruit Training on the enlisted side have earned their first one: Tan Belt.

The instructors during MCMAP week are NCOs from the Martial Arts Center of Excellence (MACE), which is located on the TBS campus. Every day you meet them on a, possibly muddy, field and practice these basic techniques. You’ll go over punches, kicks, strikes, basic throws, bayonet techniques, and some other interesting moves. It’s all extremely basic, and you shouldn’t have any problem earning your tan belt.

Depending on the Company CO, you may have the opportunity to belt up even more while at TBS. This is possible because pretty much every platoon has a Marine, probably prior enlisted, who is an MAI, or Martial Arts Instructor. Basically, there’s a fair amount of Marines in the company who are qualified to instruct and belt up in MCMAP.

A lot of people show up to TBS already having MCMAP belts. After you commission, it is possible for you to belt up in MCMAP. All you need to do is find an MAI. It’s all about knowing someone who can instruct you. If you don’t know anyone you’ll get perfectly good instruction at TBS. That said, if you have the opportunity to belt up before you get here, I recommend it. It will look good on you to be able to help those Marines who are struggling to master the techniques.

All Marines must participate in MCMAP week, regardless of whether or not they already have a belt.

There isn’t as much PT during MCMAP week as you might expect. The only really difficult combat conditioning day is immediately before testing out for Tan Belt. It is an hour long workout with lots of buddy exercises (e.g., buddy squats, buddy drag, buddy push ups, etc). Finally, you have your initial CFT on the Friday after MCMAP week. A lot of people were exhausted from the previous day’s workout, but it shouldn’t make much of a difference.

Here is the official publication for MCMAP.

Female Marine Firing A Pistol The Basic School

Range Week At The Basic School

 

Range week is about a 3-week phase of instruction that comes right after your first slew of basic classes (those last about a week or two), the first major exam, and right before MCMAP week. As the name implies, the ultimate objective of range week is to make you proficient at marksmanship with the M-16 service rifle and the M9 service pistol. It’s much more than that though, and it will be amongst the most demanding weeks of your military career thus far.

During range week you are instructed by enlisted Combat Marksmanship Instructors (CMTs). The CMTs are extremely good at what they do, and part of the criteria for being selected is that they are combat veterans. You’ll benefit greatly from their instruction.

The first week isn’t that bad. It’s basically just classroom instruction. You remain on the TBS campus throughout the week, go to class all morning, and go to an open field in the afternoon to “snap in.” Snapping in is basically dry firing your rifle and pistol to practice technique, carry, and form. Your enlisted coaches will walk up and down the line giving you tips on how to improve your stance, grip, trigger control, etc. As boring as this sounds, it’s extremely important. Building good habits here will make you shoot a lot better in the following weeks.

At the end of the first week, the real range week begins. That Friday you begin a daily routine that will last for the next two weeks. You wake up at 0330, attend “mandatory chow” at the chow hall (i.e., you have to go to breakfast, which means the entire company is lined up trying to squeeze through two chow lines), put a bunch of weight in your pack, and step off down a 3-mile trail to the range. It’s a pretty hilly trail, and you will take it extremely fast. By the time you arrive it’s about 0600. Then you spend all day on the range. Finally, just as it’s beginning to get dark, you make the hump back to the barracks. By the time evening formation is over, you won’t have time to do much. Prep your gear and hit the rack if you intend to wake up the next morning and be functional.

Marine At Range With RifleRinse and repeat this for about two weeks. Every day you add more weight to your pack, and every day the lack of sleep makes you a little more exhausted. The takeaway here: range week will be mentally and physically draining. Be prepared to do nothing but Marine stuff for a good two week period, as you won’t have time to do anything else.

Now, the shooting part of range week can actually be pretty fun. A lot of this will depend on the weather of course. Those of you shipping in Bravo Company (the January class) will experience the joys of Quantico in February, which is universally considered to be the coldest, wettest month of the year here. Those of you shipping in the summer months will of course enjoy the swampy heat of the Quantico summer. Shooting is all well and good, but standing outside in the elements all day will sap your motivation and your desire to shoot at all. That said, it’s important to dig deep and keep your motivation at this point. Your score on qualifications day is counted in your overall score at TBS, and of course it affects what marksmanship badges you get to wear.

Qualifications

You can get three badges for rifle and pistol:

  • Marksman –  aka “pizza box,” which you get by barely qualifying
  • Sharpshooter – maltese cross
  • Expert – crossed rifles or pistols; this should be your goal

AVOID MARKSMAN LIKE THE PLAGUE. 

Your rifle qualification derives from two scores: Table 1 and Table 2.

Marine Firing Pistol

Rifle Qualification

Table 1

Table 1 is essentially “classical marksmanship” type stuff. For instance, one of the events of table 1 is to take 15 well-aimed shots in 20 minutes from the kneeling, standing, and sitting positions. You can really take your time and focus on shooting. Not very practical, but it teaches you the fundamentals of marksmanship. The distances for Table 1 are 200, 300, and 500 yards. This seems like a long way, but you will be shooting with a scope throughout your time at TBS, which seriously helps with dealing with distance.

Table 1 is fairly difficult at first, but applying what the coaches tell you will drastically improve shooting.

Table 2

Table 2 is focused on combat shooting. It’s conducted at close range (about 30 yards or so), and is shot at human-shaped targets. You conduct drills such as “failure to stop” (two in the chest, one in the head) and other more practical exercises.

Table 2 can be extremely easy for those who take the advice and couches and practice.

These scores are then added together, and you get your rifle qualification.

Pistol Qualification

pistol-fire-range

Pistol qualification consists of just one course of fire. Every drill is conducted from the holster and timed, so you basically learn how to quick draw from the holster, sweep the safety as you bring it up, and take aim quickly.

You also conduct speed reloads, failure to stop drills, and other fun stuff. Pistol was difficult for a lot of people since it’s such an unstable platform.

On the last night of range week you conduct a night shoot with lasers and NVGs before bivouacing at the range. You wake up the following morning, shoot all day again, conduct another night shoot, and then conduct the 6-mile hump. The pace was pretty reasonable, but the pack made it a lot more difficult.

The Bottom Line

If you take away anything from this let it be these 3 points.

  1.  Do exactly what your marksmanship instructors tell you and you’ll do fine.
  2. Get used to being uncomfortable; you will be uncomfortable nonstop at the range.
  3. It would behoove you to prepare for TBS by doing humps with gradually more weight to prepare for the huge pack load at TBS.
Marine using a compass at night OCS Academics

OCS Night Land Navigation. Tips To Get You A…

Night land navigation is an important event at Marine OCS. It makes up 5% of the 25% academic grade (i.e., 5% of your total OCS grade). There is going to be at least one practice round so don’t worry too much if you aren’t confident in this area. Candidates will be able to get the help they need from instructors to be successful with this.

Here is a simple diagram showing how the course is setup.

Land Navigation Example

Every candidate is given a card with 5 letters, 5 azimuths, and 5 distances. Starting at a letter you shoot the azimuth, walk the distance, and mark the letter (it may be a letters on one side and number on the other) for where you end up. It may sound simple, but it is definitely going to be challenging considering the darkness and surprisingly chaotic terrain. There are literally dozens of enormous trees that have fallen over. Navigating around the obstacles while maintaining the correct azimuth is not easy.

Scoring

As mentioned, the night land navigation course makes up around 5% of your total OCS grade. If you don’t think that’s much you should check the evaluation guidelines again. Candidates must pass OCS with at least an 80% average overall AND in each of the three categories: leadership, academics, and physical fitness.

Scoring a zero on the night land navigation course would take your academic grade straight to 80% (1 – 5/25 * 100 = 80%) . One would have to pass every other exam with 100% to pass OCS, or else they would fall below the 80% average.

It is uncommon for a candidate to score a zero. However, the night land navigation grade is based on only 5 points. Candidates who miss 2 of the 5 points will still fail the course with 60%. Just like any other exam a failing score has to be retaken on the weekend, or occasionally during the week. Candidates retain their original score for their OCS grade, but since every exam must be passed you still have to redo the course.

All of this can be summed up to “DON’T MISS MORE THAN 1 POINT

Doing so will ruin your OCS grade and negatively impact the few hours of relaxation candidates get during liberty.

Night Land Navigation Basics

The official course information for OCS night land navigation can be found here.

A more detailed and comprehensive outline from The Basic School (TBS) can be found here.

The TBS material is going to better the better resource, but reading through both would be most ideal.

Getting Around Obstacles

tree brush

A happy and confident candidate is walking along in the middle of the night with a compass in hand and a perfectly shot azimuth. All of the sudden they run into some interesting terrain like what you see above. What is a candidate to do?

In all honestly, there is no perfect way to deal with some of these obstacles. Candidates should be very cautious when something like this happens and maybe even restart the point if you get out of sync with what you are doing. Here are a few methods that can be used.

Shoot Yourself Around the obstacle

This can be a little complicated. Especially considering you are going to be relying upon the clicks of your compass for accuracy. The goal is to box yourself around the obstacle by modifying the azimuth by 90 degrees and walking equal distances around the obstacle. This simple chart gives an idea of what this would look like. Yes, I do know that it is horrible, but you get the idea.

Navigating around an obstacle

 

Candidates should avoid doing this unless completely necessary. There are too many ways to make mistakes

Shoot a point beyond the obstacle

If there is enough light you can look for a specific point beyond the obstacle that is in line with azimuth. It must be a very specific point like a narrow tree. Double and triple check this to make sure. Then just walk to the point you were looking at. From there shoot the azimuth again and continue.

Deal with it

Sometimes the best option is going to be to climb over the tree, or walk through the brush. This is a decision you will have to make when the time comes.

No matter what don’t hesitate to restart the point if you don’t end up right on the target point.

Tips For Success

Highlight the card

Bring a highlighter with you into the field when you know night land navigation is coming up. Use the highlighter to mark the entire card you get with the starting points, azimuths, and distances. This will make the card more visible in the night.

Bold the letters and numbers

For the same reason as highlighting, if you make the information on the card bolder and darker it will be easier to see in the night.

Memorize beforehand

Don’t rely on this too much. However, there is some benefit to remembering your azimuths and distances before going into the field at night. You shouldn’t base your actions on memory alone, but if it turns out to be an especially dark night then you will be glad to have something to confirm what you are reading is correct.

What Not To Do

There are going to be several factors that impact the difficulty of the course. The weather is going to change the landscape. The moon is going to significantly affect your visibility. No matter what the circumstances there are a few things that candidates should avoid doing.

Do Not Tap The Ammo Cans

A few years back an entire platoon was kicked out of OCS after the night land navigation. Yes, you read that correctly. An ENTIRE PLATOON got sent home.

The gist of the story is that several candidates collaborated to help each other out by tapping on the target points which are ammo cans with sprayed on letters. The noise would help other candidates better navigate themselves through the darkness. It probably wasn’t their intention to cheat. Maybe they were just incompetent and thought it was like a teamwork thing or something. However, it was definitely seen as cheating. Many candidates who weren’t involved got caught in the cross fire and suffered the consequences as well.

The point is that you shouldn’t make any noise that may be misconstrued as cheating. Try not to do something as little as sneeze. If you hear of candidates trying to do something that seems out of place you should report it.

Do Not Use The Poncho Method

Candidates are allowed to use a light if they do it properly. This involves using a poncho, it’s like a rain coat, to envelope yourself on the ground. You create a little dome of sorts. As long as light doesn’t illuminate out from the area between the poncho and the ground this method is allowed.

The catch is that if you don’t do it properly you automatically fail. The risk simply does not outweigh the reward. There are several other ways to get through the night land navigation course successfully without any additional light.

Do Not Hesitate To Reshoot

This is a tip often ignored and many candidates will regret it. You are going to be tired and exhausted. The thought of having to redo a point will not seem appealing. Maybe you ended up between points A and B, but since you were slightly closer to A you figured that must be the correct spot. It may very well be the right point, but is it really worth risking 1% of your OCS grade.

IT DOESN’T MATTER IF YOU FINISH THE COURSE FIRST!

Many candidates finish the course in just 10-20 minutes. What they don’t realize is that they still have to wait for every other candidate to finish. Instead of risking a point and giving in to exhaustion go back to the starting point and confirm the target.

Do Not Forget To Secure The Compass

The instructors will remind candidates of this several times. The compass must be tied to your LBV and completely secured in it’s pouch prior to reporting to an instructor. Since candidates report after every point you will have to do this at least 5 times. Forgetting to do this is an automatic miss for the point you are reporting on. Just don’t forget.

Hopefully everyone out there has an OSO, or NROTC unit, that will help teach them land navigation. Learning the proper techniques prior to OCS will give you a significant advantage.

As a final note, PLC Juniors generally does only day land navigation. The night element will be added when you attend seniors. If you are in that program then don’t worry too much about this, but keep it in the back of your mind for when it does arrive.