CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. - “There is a dark secret about third squad that I must confess to you all,” exclaimed a Marine during an informal lunch gathering as he prosecuted a fellow corporal for a “violation of the mess.”
The other corporals chimed in unison, “Say it ain’t so!”
“But it is so,” said the Marine. The defendant was found guilty by the president of the mess and punished with a cup of grog, a concoction of hot sauce, peas and other ingredients.
The informal gathering and mock trial, also known as a mess night, was just one of many events for Marines to improve their camaraderie and leadership skills during a Corporal’s Course, a 15-day course where Marines can learn the knowledge and skills necessary to become successful noncommissioned officers.
Fifty-two Marines with 1st Marine Logistics Group participated in this cycle, conducted from Sept. 9–27, 2013.
“It’s a course designed to teach junior NCOs basic Marine Corps knowledge and to foster teamwork and leadership skills which are important for being a successful NCO,” said Sgt. Elton M. Langlais, a Corporal’s Course instructor with 1st MLG. “The biggest lesson we teach is teamwork. We make everything so competitive so they’re forced to work with each other. By the second week there’s already good cohesion between them.”
The course emphasizes each Marine’s unique leadership style while at the same time setting a high standard for the Marines to live up to in order to lead by example.
“A lot of Marines assume that there’s a specific leadership style you need to follow,” said Sgt. Frank S. Villanueva, a staff non-commissioned officer-in-charge of the Corporal’s Course with 1st MLG. “We teach them how to be open-minded to different scenarios and how to see other Marines’ perspectives in addition to learning Marine Corps orders and regulations.”
In addition to building teamwork through drill, physical activities and group discussions, the course also stresses the importance of being well-rounded individuals who can succeed in and out of the Marine Corps.
“It’s not just military training,” said Langlais, a native of Baytown, Texas. “We also have courses on nutrition, college, financial management, family counseling and other topics that will help them better themselves not just as Marines but as individuals. No matter what they do during and after their careers, it’s going to help them.”
The course instructors had personal reasons to teach the course, one being the drive to share what they’ve learned from being in the Marine Corps and deployed.
“I just came back from Afghanistan and I thought it was a good idea to share my knowledge [from] my short Marine Corps career to other NCOs through the course,” said Langlais.
Sharing knowledge to less experienced Marines and seeing the results is what gives the instructors fulfillment with each cycle and encourages them to always give their best.
“I think we are making a big impact in the Marines’ lives,” said Langlais. “Sometimes we have Marines come back who tell us they were meritoriously promoted and they thank us for all the things they learned. Even the Marines who are getting out thank us for helping them with their resumes and college applications.”
“It feels amazing because that’s pretty much why we do it. We are here for them. We don’t need anything else, we just need our students to better themselves,” he added.
Finally, the course offered its participants a chance to meet other Marines from different military occupational specialties and to learn from them as well.
“The Corporal’s Course is a good place to step outside of your comfort zone,” said Cpl. Lener J. Gadea, a squad leader during the Corporal’s Course and administrative specialist with 1st Supply Battalion, Combat Logistics Regiment 15, 1st MLG. “I’ve met a lot of new people and I’ve networked across different occupational specialties and I’ve learned a myriad of things from them.”
The students of the course believe the knowledge and connections they obtained through the course will follow them throughout their lives.
“The Corporal’s Course really sets you up for success, not only as a Marine but as an individual as well,” said Gadea, a native of Miami, Fla. “I wish I had participated in it sooner.”