AL ASAD, Iraq --
The only thing more intense than the heat in the desert of Iraq is the fury with which the Marines of Marine Aviation Logistics Squadron 29 execute their Marine Corps Martial Arts Program techniques.
The MALS has eight instructors who have been steadily training Marines various shades of the MCMAP belt rainbow throughout the deployment to become better warriors and ensure they have met their qualifications.
The MCMAP instructors at MALS have been conducting courses since August and began another gray and green belt course, Nov. 1.
“The new (Marine Administrative Message) came out that everyone in the Aircraft Wing needs to be a gray belt, so we’re trying to take a big chunk out of the tan belts we have,” said Sgt. Miguel Salazar, an infantrymen serving as a training clerk for MALS-29. “So, we’re dealing with getting people to gray and green belts right now.”
The courses are divided into gray belt from 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. and then 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. for green belt. There are at least two instructors for each course to ensure the techniques are taught properly and safely. There is also an additional instructor teaching the green belt course at the ordnance section which is detached from the MALS main body area of operations. Staff Sgt. Shon Somerville is the black belt instructor-trainer who runs the program and has the courses set up to ensure the Marines have more than enough hours to complete each course syllabus.
When learning a new belt, Marines first have to go through all of the prior belts they have already learned as refresher training, since higher level techniques are based off techniques from previous belts. When testing out for the new belt, Marines are tested on previous syllabi before being tested on the current belts techniques.
“A lot of Marines get their tan belt in boot camp and then wait three years before pursuing MCMAP again because of the time restraints we have in the air wing,” said Salazar, a Brooklyn native. “Basically, we re-teach them the tan belt because they have probably forgotten and sometimes techniques are updated. Then, we teach them the new techniques and just drill everything into them.”
The instructors believe teaching every element of the course, such as the warrior case studies and the nutrition portion is what makes warriors.
“There is a synergy to MCMAP, the mental, physical and character, it’s not just a straight-forward style,” said Salazar, a black belt instructor. “We like to give the Marines the whole package, like teaching about other cultures and the way they fought. It builds on their character as Marines. Obviously, the physical aspect of doing all the drills and grappling is very important too. I also like to encourage Marines to think of new ways to complete or add onto certain techniques.”
When the instructors ask for names for the courses, they try to find volunteers; Marines that actually want learn. That way they don’t get any Marines that aren’t motivated.
“MCMAP is a good way to better myself and its good for my career,” said Sgt. Jon Dunlop, a MALS-29 flight equipment technician. “It’s also good to know in case something happens to me.”
Staff Sgt. Marco Ortiz, a black belt instructor, believes MCMAP is such an effective tool because it brings Marines together and teaches them to trust each other.
“Marines learn MCMAP for different reasons,” said Ortiz. “Some expect to be physically challenged and some want to learn self-defense, but one thing all Marines take away is greater camaraderie.”