FORT BENNING, Ga. — Marine Corps lieutenants targeted for tank platoon leadership have a new detour in their path toward the battlefield: Fort Benning.
Base Realignment and Closure brought the Armor School’s Basic Officer Leader Course to the Maneuver Center of Excellence earlier this summer. Along with it came the Marine instructors attached to 2nd Squadron, 16th Cavalry Regiment, 316th Cavalry Brigade, which leads the course. The second class to arrive on post kicked off Thursday and includes 16 new Marine Corps officers.
Without a dedicated course of its own for tank platoon commanders, the branch turns to the Army for schooling, said Staff Sgt. Raymond Whitener, the operations NCO for K Troop, 2nd Squadron, 16th Cavalry Regiment. But the arrangement, which took place for many years at Fort Knox, Ky., is mutually beneficial.
“The Marine Corps has been such a huge part of the Armor School,” he said, “and this is a major piece of the puzzle that’s necessary for the growth of these lieutenants. When Marine lieutenants come here, the focus is to get them as much tank time as possible.”
Army, Marine and international officers attend the four-month Armor BOLC to learn the basics of maneuver warfare. At Fort Benning, the squadron will conduct the course with four different troops.
Classes carry up to 84 students, but the one arriving last week numbers 80, said Marine Capt. Paul Kozick, an Armor tactics instructor. Only two or three Marine officers are in a typical class, but this contingent is larger because of a temporary backlog created by the transition from Fort Knox.
Right after commissioning, all Marine lieutenants spend six months at The Basic School in Quantico, Va., where they receive additional combat training and get assigned a military occupational specialty. Those in Armor billets will now get sent here.
“We teach them how to shoot, move and communicate as a tank platoon commander,” Kozick said. “It’s a much more joint operational environment today in Afghanistan and Iraq. Here, the Marines get exposed to a different military culture. There are similarities, but we have our differences. Seeing the Army culture and how they operate is a big benefit.”
Following a week of in-processing, the Marines split off from the other Armor BOLC students for a separate gunnery session at the Vehicle Maintenance Instruction Facility on Harmony Church. For the next month, they gain insight on the technical aspects of a tank, learn about its stations and get simulator time — all under the tutelage of Marine Corps Staff Sgts. Aaron Booker and Bradley Nevitt.
“We make sure we’re passing the right information out to Marines who will be leading platoons in battle,” Booker said. “This is that solid foundation, the starting point. It has to be doctrinal so everyone is on the same page before they go out into the field with their specific units.”
The Marine instructors said they do work with Army students at various points, sharing their tactical and technical expertise. The Army also has some different equipment — for instance, Soldiers drive the M1A2 Abrams System Enhancement Package tank, while Marines use the older M1A1 version.
“We have our ways, they have their ways,” said Nevitt, an Armor BOLC instructor for more than two years. “You have to come to an agreement on the things you do. The relationship we have with 2-16 has been great. The Marines get a chance to see a lot of their technology and the fun toys they get to play with.”
The Marine and Army lieutenants are initially divided because the Corps has Armor officers only, while Soldiers may perform Cavalry duties as well and receive different training that first month, BOLC officials said. The entire class is reunited for the tactics phase.
Kozick said the swapping of tactical experience makes both branches stronger, while healthy competition between the Army and Marine officers elevates the training standard.
“It’s rare to have an experience every day working with another military branch,” Booker said. “It’s good it happens very early in their careers. That’s something the Marine Corps and Army can build off.”
The Marine lieutenants are generally more seasoned when they show up for Armor BOLC because of that extra training in Quantico, Whitener said.
“They’re hard chargers,” he said. “It’s a different level of motivation the Army officers get exposed to immediately. It helps them grow. They’re able to do joint missions on Army platforms with Marine officers. That’s a huge bonus.”
Officials said “The Gauntlet,” a 10-day maneuver exercise, is the course’s final hurdle. Those who fail get recycled to earlier phases.
Class 11-006, with the 16 Marine Corps lieutenants, is set to graduate Nov. 4.
Kozick said 70-100 permanent personnel are assigned to the Marine Corps Detachment on Harmony Church. The unit funnels Marines into both Armor and Infantry schools across the Maneuver Center.