Second, it serves as a guage of our ability and willingness to serve in this kind of environment. During the week our class was stretched physically, mentally, and emotionally. Our physical stamina and courage would be tested. Our leadership and teamwork skills would be assessed. Our perseverance under pressure would be measured. Would I quit when the going got tough? We would soon find out...
RMTEX officially began on Thursday and Friday of last week. We had two days of classroom instruction on the Marine Corps. Emphasis was placed on Marine Corps history--development, significant battles and leaders, etc. Other topics included common phrases, saluting, uniforms, range of military operations, and land navigation. We were then given the weekend to gather and pack our gear, rest, and wait for what was coming next.
On Monday morning our class formed up in front of the Navy chaplain school house and we began a forced march ("run") with full packs to our base camp approximately 2 miles away--our new home for the next 4-5 days.
After setting up camp, we traded our large packs for our assault packs (school backpack size) and marched approximately 1.5 miles to the team obstacle course. We were divided into groups and given a series of obstacles to complete together. The purpose of this exercise was not to assess our physical ability and/or stamina (although this was involved to some degree) as much as our ability to think strategically, give leadership, and work together as a team. While we were not graded on successfully completing each obstacle, our team did finish 4 out of 5 in the time limit allowed.
After our time at the team obstacle course, we marched back to our base camp where we had lessons on conducting field services and on conver and concealment. Throughout the week a few of us had the opportunity to hold a field service for the group. All of us had the opportunity to perfect our face painting techniques.
It was about this time that I realized I had injured my right knee/lower leg. Whether it was from our forced march that morning or from the team obstacle course that afternoon, it was clear that something wasn't quite right. More on that later.
Soon it was time for hygiene and bed. Throughout our time in the field, hygiene consisted of brushing our teath and baby wipes applied to key areas of our bodies. There was no running water and certainly no showers. Gratefully, we did have access to portable toilets. Not exactly a flush toilet but much better than the alternative.
Although sleeping quarters were tight with two men per tent, few of us had any problem falling asleep given the events of the day. The only thing that interrupted our slumber was "fire watch". Every hour through the night two person teams were on watch, ensuring the camp was safe and secure. This was the procedure for each night we were out. Everyone had at least one watch during RMTEX and some of us had two. My watch was from 0200 to 0300 Tuesday.
On Tuesday morning we marched approximately 1 mile to the location for our Marine Corps combat fitness test. While my knee/leg was still bothering me to some degree, I was well enough to participate. There were three phases to this event (with a few minutes of recovery between each one)--a 1.5 mile run (in boots), an ammo can lift (2 minute time limit), and the obstacle course. I was very pleased with my performance, completing the 1.5 mile run in 3:26, doing 93 ammo can lifts, and finishing the obstacle course in 4:10. Although physically demanding, I loved every minute of it.
The obstacle course portion of this event involves some detailed explanation. To view an example of Marines completing the course, please visit http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cuw7fh4zfck. It is exactly the same course that we used for RMTEX.
After the Marine Corps combat fitness test was over, we marched approximately 1 mile to Victory Tower (50 feet high), where each of us was required to successfully complete a series of maneuvers, including rappelling (2x), three rope walks, and a cargo net decent. While my knee/leg had become very painful by this time, I felt that I could and should continue. I was grateful to have been able to conquer Victory Tower. In a side note--rappelling is a blast!!
At this location we were also given lessons on tactical formations. As chaplains serving Marines, it is possible that we would find ourselves on a patrol with them. It is essential, then, for us to know what they are doing and why they are doing it, both for our own safety and for the Marines around us.
After our time at Victory Tower, we began an approximate 2 mile march back to our base camp, utilizing the various formations we had just been taught. Unfortunately, I was not permitted to participate in this march nor any of the other marches conducted over the next two days. My knee/leg had become so painful that I was unable to walk without a considerable limp. My concern now was whether or not I would be dropped from RMTEX. The leadership assured me they would do all they could to ensure that this would not happen. I am grateful that they allowed me to continue.
On Wednesday morning we marched (I rode) approximately 1/4of a mile to the confidence course. Unlike the team obstacle course, this event focused on individual effort and was designed primarly to test one's physical strength, agility, and stamina. While I was unable to participate in this event, it did give me the opportunity to take some photos.
After completing the confidence course, we made the short march back to our base camp for more instruction. Our classes included enemy prisoners of war and combat lifesaving skills.
On Thursday morning we traveled by van to the land navigation site. We divided into groups of 3-4 and worked together to find a series of four navigation points scattered throughout the area. Today, instead of 3 MREs per person for the day, we were given just one--for our entire team. It would be the only food we would have for the rest of RMTEX. How long that might be we did not know--at least 16 hours.
Thankfully, the pain in my leg had subsided enough at this point to allow me to participate in this exercise. Here's one of the points my team found. Sadly, it was the wrong one. :)
After completing this event, we traveled to yet another land navigation site. Here we had further instruction on emergency medical combat evacuation and on tactical assault.
As evening approached, we began to make preparations for our night navigation exercise. It was essentially the same event as earlier in the day but at a different location and without the benefit of daylight or flashlights of any kind. Night navigation ended around midnight on Thursday. What happened next is a secret that I will not share.
On Friday morning we were given our RMTEX written test covering all of the material we had learned in the last week. An 80% was required to pass. I was very happy with an 88%.
RMTEX was now officially over. Just one more week before graduation...
Injury update: While the pain in my knee/leg subsided by Thursday, it began to swell signficantly. The swelling continued into Friday so I went to the base clinic to have it examined. There was enough concern of a blood clot in my leg that I was transfered to a nearby hospital for further testing. At this point a blood clot has been ruled out. It is currently being treated as an infection. Although I am much improved, there is still concern. I would appreciate your prayers on my behalf.