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Corporal becomes first female Marine assault climber

Sep. 30, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
Cpl. Heather Redenius, a combat engineer with 8th Engineer Support Battalion, became the first female Marine to complete the arduous Assault Climbers Course. Only half of the 36 Marines who set out the complete the three-week course in the Sierra Nevada were named Assault Climbers on Sept. 4.
Cpl. Heather Redenius, a combat engineer with 8th Engineer Support Battalion, became the first female Marine to complete the arduous Assault Climbers Course. Only half of the 36 Marines who set out the complete the three-week course in the Sierra Nevada were named Assault Climbers on Sept. 4. (Courtesy Cpl. Heather Redenius)
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A North Carolina-based Marine became the first woman to complete the demanding three-week Assault Climbers Course,which culminates with a near-vertical, 200-foot climb in California’s Sierra Nevada.

Cpl. Heather Redenius, a combat engineer with 8th Engineer Support Battalion, based at Camp Lejeune, N.C., said she had never rock-climbed before. But on Sept. 4, she became one of 18 Marines who completed the training needed to become an assault climber. What she didn’t know until about halfway through the course was that no woman had earned the title before her.

Redenius was one of 36 Marines who set out to complete the demanding course aboard the Corps’ Mountain Warfare Training Center in Bridgeport, Calif. Half of those Marines did not finish the course which challenged them to rappel down rock faces that range from 25 to 50 feet. They also vertically climbed exposed rock.

With the training area at nearly 10,000 feet above sea level, the biggest challenge was the altitude, Redenius said.

“It was very hard to breathe,” she said. “We didn’t really prepare for the course itself, it was more just acclimating before we went out there.”

Capt. Hunter Armour, the unit training group instructor at Mountain Warfare Training Center, said the course challenges Marines mentally and physically. They are tested on tying knots while blindfolded and on assisting with climbs and leading them.

“Assault climbers are ... capable of influencing the battlefield in a unique way,” he said. “They are taught to tie systems to cross gorges and water obstacles, package casualties, raise and lower casualties over vertical and near vertical obstacles, establish lanes for Marines to overcome similar obstacles and set retrievable rappels on such objectives.”

While challenged throughout the course, Redenius said that at no point did she consider giving up. She said it was one of the most challenging experiences she has had in the Corps. The tough terrain and teamwork needed to conduct the climbs or rappels required the Marines’ undivided attention throughout the course.

The course ends with a 150- to 200-foot climb, Armour said, which can prepare Marines to conduct a cliff assault from a ship. It involves not only climbing and rappelling but also evacuating casualties, he said, all while maintaining the element of surprise.

The training the Marines received all came together at the end, Redenius said.

“Every day I was there, there was going to be a test,” she said. “It all just led up to the end result. Everything fell together in the end, all the tests and learning how to rappel and do everything properly.”

Redenius completed the Assault Climbers Course at the same time the service is conducting extensive research to determine whether additional jobs should open to women. It follows the Defense Department’s decision this year to repeal its Direct Combat Exclusion Rule, enacted in 1994. The move opened about 237,000 jobs to women across all of the services, including nearly 54,000 jobs in the Marine Corps.

Being the first woman to become an assault climber was rewarding, Redenius said.

“I think it just shows [other female Marines] that anything, really, is possible,” she said.

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