MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. -- Last Monday morning, they may have been hanging around the office sipping on Starbucks. Now, a week later, a group of Iraq-bound Marine reservists are sucking air and sniffing tear gas in hopes that a little sweat now will save blood later.
Before joining the 1st Force Service Support Group on their way to Iraq, about 120 Marine reservists from 4th Maintenance Battalion and 4th Landing Support Battalion kicked off a weeklong training regimen Jan. 26, 2004, designed to bolster their combat skills.
"I expect to get something out of it," said Lance Cpl. Charles S. Curren, a landing support specialist from Charleston, S.C. "Hopefully, I'll learn a lot. It might save my life while we're over there."
The FSSG's Combat Skills Training School hosted the "weekend warriors" at Camp De Luz here, starting the week off with a rigorous endurance course that tested the Marines' strength and determination both as individuals and as a team. The course featured eight obstacles spread out over a three-mile, hill-laden stretch of Camp Pendleton countryside.
The pinnacle of the course, and the most challenging obstacle for most of the reservists, forced Marines to crawl under a twisted net of barbed wire right after the school's instructors tossed tear gas grenades onto their path.
"We have the (tear gas) that gets all over your face and eyes so you can't see," said Sgt. Manuel E. Molina, a combat skills instructor. "When you get out of there you don't know where you're going."
Throughout the fast-paced course the Marines worked together and, when it seemed like a Marine was giving up on himself, they exhorted him to press on.
"A lot of us were motivating one another," said Lance Cpl. Jacob A. Mintz, a reservist with C Company, 4th Landing Support Battalion, based in Charleston. "It's as much an individual effort as it is a team effort, and everybody has to put out."
In light of the limited training they receive compared to their active-duty counterparts, the reservists were determined to get as much from the training as they could.
"It's not that they know less; it's that they have less training," said Staff Sgt. Alejandro Quiroz, the school's chief instructor. "A lot of times the reservists come more motivated because they don't train all the time."
The majority of these instructors are not only infantry Marines assigned to the FSSG, but also veterans of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Although their experience in Iraq assists them in specializing the training, Quiroz insists the effectiveness of the training comes down to each Marine's determination to do his best.
"We play like we fight," he said. "And if you do it well here, you're going to do it well there."
After the endurance course, the Marines had a week of training ahead of them, including practical application on convoy operations, rear-area security and enemy prisoner of war handling - all challenges they may face in Iraq.
The course isn't just for the reservists either. All Marines in the 1st FSSG, whose primary mission is to provide support to the combat arms elements of the I Marine Expeditionary Force, attend the training annually to keep their combat skills honed. In order to provide the 1st Marine Air Wing and 1st Marine Division with the sustainability, adaptability and range they need to accomplish their mission, FSSG Marines must be right along side their I MEF partners, trained to fight if needed.
About 25,000 I MEF Marines and sailors are scheduled to deploy to Iraq in the near future to help secure and rebuild the recently liberated country.