The Crucible

Crucible helps recruits become part of well-oiled war machine

There are many reasons well-rounded Marines make the Corps what it is today. However, all the traits that make effective warriors are useless unless they can be tied together to transform a bunch of well trained “guys with guns” into a nearly unstoppable force.

Recruits learn that every member of a squad is needed in one way or another; whether it is leading, following directions to complete the objective or protecting the rest of the squad by providing security, the mission will most likely fail unless every Marine does his part.

For the Marines of Company B, these traits are first instilled during recruit training and then tested and hardened at the 12-stall event of the Crucible, Sept 28.

The Crucible is a 54-hour training event conducted during Marine Corps Recruit Training at Edson Range, Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Calif. The Crucible requires Marine recruits to overcome mentally and physically-demanding obstacles as a team.

“We aren’t super men,” said Staff Sgt. Leo Librando, drill instructor, Platoon 1028, Company B. “We have to work as a team to accomplish what we do.”

They undergo simulated combat stress scenarios which consist of food and sleep deprivation in addition to the rigors of the many obstacles they are required to overcome.

“Communication and teamwork are everything,” said Librando. “If they can’t use teamwork and communicate while on the Crucible, how are they going to be able to use it when in combat?”

The course consists of 12 different stations, 11 of which require recruits take turns as the squad leader and attempt to lead their team to accomplish different types of missions.

“The whole mission of 12-stall is to introduce leadership traits so if you haven’t been in a leadership position, now is your time to shine.” said Cpl. Miguel Bautista, field instructor, Field Co., Weapons and Field Training Battalion. “Most of these recruits are straight out of high school and don’t have any real leadership experience so we have to build from scratch.”

On the variety of obstacles, there are areas painted red that, if touched by a recruit, means death. As a result, they must carry ammunition cans up and down the nearby road before they continue to participate with their squad.

“If the squad leader dies, then another recruit has to be able to take his position and know what’s going on and what the plan was,” said Bautista. “In actual combat, if something happens to a fire team leader or any leader, the next Marine needs to be able to take the position and each Marine under him as well.”

Bautista added that communication becomes less necessary during exercises if the team has communicated and planned properly before the event.

“If everybody understands what’s going on, you really don’t need to talk, you just do your part and see what others are doing and do what you know needs to get done,” Bautista said. “If the first plan doesn’t work though, communication and cooperation become key if the mission is to get accomplished.”

According to Librando, the communication recruits had learned thus far turned out to be effective because mission failure was rare. These skills are only the beginning of what recruits will learn during their time in the Corps.

“It’s a foundation that they will bring with them and build off of during additional training and eventually, when they join the fleet,” said Librando. “It’s the first step to them becoming well-rounded Marines.”

Librando added that if new Marines keep developing their communication, following, leading and teamwork skills, then the Marine Corps will continue accomplishing missions around the world and remain the world’s finest fighting force.

More team work

Recruit Danny Lerma provides simulated covering fire as a team member low-crawls under barbed wire. This is the last obstacle before the team rallies and engages the enemy at the course’s end.

From behind a gutted amphibious assault vehicle, the men charge to their first rally point. There’s no time to discuss tactics or make a game plan and they have to find a way to work together. Their orders are simple: finish as a team.

Weary from training, the recruits of Company M traverse the recently remodeled daytime infiltration course in four-man teams during the 54-hour Crucible at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Calif.

The course changes add more teamwork drills in the Crucible. Recruits run the course in fire teams, moving in synchronized efforts through barbed wire, across an open road, over a wall and through a tunnel into a skirmisher’s trench. The fire team regroups and concludes the course with an organized rush on a stationary target.

The new renovations include a hill for taking cover and a skirmisher’s trench that recruits lie in and provide simulated cover fire for fellow team members to advancing to the next obstacle.

The course changed to make recruits more tactically proficient in combat situations, according to Sgt. William F. Cerny, a Weapons and Field Training Battalion instructor.

Cerny said the course modifies to fit the situations recruits are more likely to see in combat.

Without direction from drill instructors, recruits move from cover, negotiating as a team to the next cover spot. In the previous course, recruits moved individually, incorporating low-crawling, high-crawling and rushing a target.

“We combined the skills we were teaching … with fire team skills,” said Capt. Robert Richardson, Field Company commander, WFT Bn.

Combining the three techniques taught during the Crucible is an introduction to assaulting an objective as a team, he said.

Throughout the new course, the fire team reunites at designated cover positions after each obstacle. The fire team leader yells, “Follow me,” and his team rushes to the next cover point. This builds leadership and unit cohesion.

In the previous infiltration course, recruits simulated infiltrating an encampment enclosed by barriers. The renovated course teaches recruits how to infiltrate such objects and minimize harm in the process.

“It took teamwork to do this,” said Danny Lerma, a recruit from Plaino, Texas, after finishing the course, “And a lot of motivation and a lot of heart.”

Platoon 3112 recruits move together through the daytime infiltration course at Edson Range, Camp Pendleton, Calif. Once an individual effort, the course recently changed to incorporate teamwork with tactical movements.

Personal limits tested

Recruits are evaluated on their skills and knowledge by completing numerous team-building obstacles at Edson Range, Camp Pendleton, Calif.

The confidence course, along with every other obstacle in the Crucible, is comprised of several events that allow the recruits to compose a plan before pursuing a timed mission.

“We have a similar confidence course on the depot, but it doesn’t have all of the obstacles we have here,” said Staff Sgt. Chad R. Kiehl, drill instructor, Platoon 2037, Company H. “Their only mission is to get across.

“Here, they have to transport ammo cans and five gallon jugs in a timed situation with simulated casualties,” continued Kiehl. “It forces them to think for themselves for the first time in recruit training and come up with a solution to accomplish the task.”

If a recruit steps in a red zone or falls off of an obstacle, he must drag “Fred,” a life-size dummy, to simulate emergency casualty evacuation from a combat zone.

During the Crucible, recruits are only required to get four hours of sleep per night and have to stretch three proportioned meals to last three days. Sleep and food deprivation are a crucial aspect of the Crucible because it helps the recruits experience a combat situation, said Kiehl.

Although tired, hungry, and mentally and physically exhausted, the recruits still have to come together and accomplish the assignment set before them, said Kiehl, a native of Richfield, Minn.

The confidence course on the depot is designed to help recruits overcome their fear of heights and prove to themselves that even though their minds tell them they cannot do something, anything is possible, said Kiehl. The confidence course here goes a little further and forces the recruits to work as a team, which leaves no time for individual fears.

The recruits are made to solve their problems together with no guidance from the drill instructors. Each recruit has a turn developing plans to complete each obstacle on the confidence course.

Company H recruits are required to cross the two-line bridge. Their mission is to get every member in their squad, along with five ammunition cans across the bridge within a set time limit.

“I think the (confidence course) helps us to build teamwork, self-confidence and shows us the true meaning of honor, courage and commitment,” said Pvt. Anthony D. Lanza, Platoon 2037.

He said he learned honor by helping out his team, courage by doing something even though it was challenging, and commitment by not quitting what he started.

The recruits gained a better understanding of the importance of being open to suggestions when tasked with a mission. When a recruit had a good idea, whether he was leading the mission or not, his idea helped the rest of the recruits in conducting the obstacle within the time limit.

They used the knowledge the drill instructors gave them prior to the Crucible, and added it to their common sense to complete each mission set in front of them.

“We had the bigger recruits hold security on the two-line bridge while the smaller recruits went across first,” said Lanza, who is from Twentynine Palms, Calif.

Recruits provide security as their platoon completes the Weaver, an obstacle that requires them to climb under and over alternating logs.

After they crossed, the bigger recruits followed with the ammo cans, while the smaller recruits held security on the other side of the bridge, said Lanza.

Kiehl said when his platoon left the Crucible, they were different recruits. The confidence they gained by going through the Crucible became apparent when they returned to the depot as third-phase recruits.

“We make the most elite war fighter of world,” said Kiehl. “Besides being tired and worn out, the recruits feel good about their accomplishments and returned to the depot as role models for the junior recruits, whether they realized it or not.”

Leading during the Crucible

Marines of Alpha Company, 1st Recruit Training Battalion, used teamwork and dependability to complete the Leadership Reaction Course, or 12 Stalls, during the Crucible at Edson Range, Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Calif., Aug. 27.

During the Crucible, recruits utilize small unit leadership skills they’ve acquired throughout training.

“The recruits do the 12 Stalls event in the Crucible so they can learn how to work together as a team,” said Sgt. Ryan R. Ayers, field instructor, Field Company, Weapons and Field Training Battalion. “They learn how to utilize and create unit cohesion to accomplish the mission.”

Before starting each event, recruits were given guidance regarding what they could and could not do to complete the task.

“Each mission has certain rules that make whatever the recruits have to do more difficult,” said Ayers, a native of San Francisco. “It requires the recruits to think more and get creative with the equipment that they have.”

Each stall had a specific set of instructions, but one rule that remained the same for all stalls is that no part of a recruit’s body can touch red-colored parts of the obstacle. Touching any red simulated combat fatalities and in order to rejoin the team, the recruit had to run 100 yards with 30 pound ammunition cans.

At one stall, the recruits were required to extract a simulated casualty from an area only using a plank of wood. The portions painted in red made the recruits use precision and creativity to do it successfully.

“If we did not come together as a team, completing the tasks would not be possible,” said Recruit Joseph R. Campbell, Platoon 1002.

The strains of sleep and food deprivation began to take a toll on the recruits.

“We don’t get a lot of sleep, our bodies are tired, and we just want it to be over,” said 18-year-old Campbell. “We keep getting mad at each other, which complicates things even more, but we can’t let it get to us because we have made it this far and we are so close to being done.”

Drill instructors, field instructors and the company commander watched from a platform to ensure recruits are applying the fundamentals of leadership for each mission and performing within safety regulations.

Although recruits of Alpha Company have completed the Leadership Reaction Course, they still have many events to complete before earning the title Marine.

“This is the only event in recruit training where recruits complete a mission as a fire team,” said 24-year-old Ayers. “Since it is something different, it requires more from them, and in the end sets them up for success.”