Marine Corps Commandant Gen. David Berger has a vision for the Corps’ future fights that sees Marines fighting a near-peer enemy in small dispersed units, raiding islands, sinking ships and attacking the enemy’s cyber capabilities.
The plan ultimately will push increased responsibility further down the Marine Corps chain of command, with infantry platoons potentially taking on the responsibilities that currently reside at the company or even battalion level.
To make it work the Corps needs Marines who can be flexible in their thinking.
To create infantry Marines who better understand their role within the wider battlespace and are capable of coming up with flexible solutions to unique problems the Corps is launching a new extended School of Infantry pilot program.
The course attempts to break away from the rote “industrial” style teaching it has relied on in the past to push infantry Marines into the fleet at a high rate with very basic skills, relying on the training they will receive in the fleet to round them off as capable infantry Marines.
“In an older kind of Cold War model, well, that was okay, we needed tens of thousands of people to fire weapons,” Lt. Col. Walker Koury, the Infantry Training Battalion West commander, told Marine Corps Times.
In its place the Corps has spent the last 18-months creating a new, longer, infantry course that aims to teach Marines 21 new skills, but most importantly focuses on their mindsight.
“If you look at the future operating environment, we need smaller, more capable more multidisciplinary Marines,” Koury said.
The first iteration of the 14-week pilot program, titled the Infantry Marine Course, or IMC, will launch on Jan. 25, with 150 new Marines at the School of Infantry–West.
The second iteration is set to launch in April at the School of Infantry–East.
The Corps ultimately will run four iterations over the next year, potentially making changes between each iteration based on feedback from the course and the fleet infantry battalions receiving these new Marines.
To help create a greater thinking environment, the School of Infantry–West will give Marines moving through the course the opportunity to play chess in their downtime, USNI first reported.
“We are introducing play into the environment, we’ve taken a page out of a book of Ender’s Game,” Chief Warrant Officer Amatangelo “AJ” Pasciuti, the gunner for Infantry Training Battalion–West said in a phone interview, referencing the science fiction book with a long history on the Commandant’s Reading list that focused on children trained to lead troops into battle.
Pasciuti said playing chess forced Marines to constantly make a “meta-analysis” forcing them to understand how their actions will force their opponent to respond. A handy skill on any battlefield.
“These Marines at an infantry level, a basic level, will constantly talk about how their actions affect others, how their actions affect themselves, and how the enemy always has a vote,” Pasciuti said.
Pasciuti added that chess just happens to be the current “vessel” that the school is using to help reinforce this type of thought.
Marine Col. Coby Moran, the School of Infantry–West commander, said he is working on getting the school to teach the abstract strategy game called Go alongside chess.
Though chess may help reinforce those behaviors, the biggest change to the school is simply how the Marines are treated from day one.
In the past Marines at the School of Infantry were given relatively little freedom with instructors directing nearly every aspect of their day-to-day lives.
From day one instructors will now be trying to treat these Marines, fresh from boot camp, the way they will be treated in the fleet.
“It is not the second phase of boot camp, they don’t come here to be marched around and be treated like recruits, we are treating them like people,” Gunnery Sgt. Blake Burkhart, the Infantry Training Battalion–West, chief instructor told Marine Corps Times. “We’re bringing back the human factor their mentoring.”
The school will no longer have instructors march Marines to places, instead they will simply instruct the Marines to show up at a specific time and place and trust them to do so.
As Marines progress, their freedoms will slowly increase, while the detail in their directions will decrease. Eventually the Marines won’t be given specific gear lists for their upcoming exercises, with the instructors expecting the students to figure out what they need based on what they are doing.
Pre-exercise checks and inspections will take place by the instructors to ensure the Marines chose the correct gear before the exercise takes place.
The course gives the Marines ample space to fail in a safe environment where their mistakes can be easily corrected and their successes are purely theirs to own.
The combat instructors — instead of being teachers directing every second of the student’s day — will be mentors, guiding them through the course.
The ultimate learning experiences will come in the final phases of the course, where Marines will face-off against each other in unscripted force-on-force fights using various types of simunitions and blanks to register shots.
Each 14-man squad, guided by a combat instructor there for safety and evaluation purposes, will take control of attacking or defending against another 14-man squad of students.
After the fight, Marines will work with their instructors to find out what worked and what did not, giving them more experience and understanding of combat when they first hit the fleet than ever before.
“We’re setting the foundations for squad leaders and the platoon sergeants of 2030,” Moran said.
“We’re planting those seeds more initiative based decision making more recognition based decision making and more understanding of those mission type orders for those future sergeants and staff sergeants, they’re going to be leading these forces is 2030,” he added.