Editor’s Note: This is the second installment in a three-part series outlining the Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, N.C., Corporals Leadership Course.
After their first week of classes, the corporals of Cherry Point Corporals Leadership Course Class 274-12 were primed and ready to execute the next step when they entered week two of training.
The theme for the week was confidence in leadership and their goal was to hone their skills in the areas of operations, introduction to war fighting, communication, after-action reports, weapons handling and a continuation of their preview of sword and guidon manual from the week before.
“It is the start of the teamwork process,” said Gunnery Sgt. Valdez R. Baker Jr., staff noncommissioned officer in charge for Cherry Point Corporals Leadership Course. “Sword and guidon is becoming more in depth. They are getting used to drilling a small group of Marines, giving them the opportunity to fulfill that leadership role.”
The Marine NCO sword is the oldest weapon in continuous use and is used by NCOs and Staff NCOs in command of troops under arms for ceremonies. Adopted in 1859, it serves as a reminder of the Marine Corps legacy and is symbolically passed from one NCO to another during ceremonies.
It is for this reason the sword drill manual is so important during the course, said Baker.
“Until now, some Marines have never used the sword or know anything about it,” said Sgt. Stephen W. Ford, an instructor for the course. “It’s a pride factor. I am an NCO and am proud of it. I have the skills, and I know what to do when the time comes.”
For Baker, learning how to drill with sword and guidon is about learning a time-honored tradition – about building confidence in the corporals’ leadership abilities by taking the Marines away from their occupational obligations and concentrating on proper Marine Corps customs and courtesies. With this training, corporals can go back to their units and confidently lead subordinates in many areas, including ceremonial marching.
“It builds a lot of confidence,” said Baker, who credits the course for ensuring “old Corps” values and traditions are not left by the wayside.
Baker added that getting the corporals marching and calling commands “gives them the opportunity to, like their drill instructors would say, ‘poke their chest out and roll their shoulders back.’”
A part of building confidence in small unit leaders is educating the NCOs about their responsibilities, said Sgt. Michael A. Blaul, lead instructor for the course.
Educated Marines are confident Marines.
“During week two, we will go over promotion systems, sword and guidon [manual] and conduct ‘hip pocket’ demonstrations,” said Blaul. “As soon as they pin on that rank of corporal, they are NCOs in the United States Marine Corps. They get that blood stripe for a reason.
“Our job is to give them the tools to live up to the standards that come with that blood stripe,” he added.
An important part of being an effective leader is confidently commanding troops, said Baker. During the corporals course, students were required to teach a five-minute class on Marine topics chosen by the instructors to present to their peers. They were evaluated during their presentations, and instructors offered feedback to improve the students’ public speaking abilities. Some topics included land navigation, patrolling and arm and hand signals.
As they enter the NCO ranks, a lot of responsibility comes to corporals very quickly, said Baker. As lance corporals, Marines are responsible for their own piece of the pie, their own workload. Once they pick up corporal, they not only have to manage their own workload but are responsible for a number of Marines who work for them as well.
As many of the corporals who go through the course have never spoken publicly, it is important for them to get that opportunity to build confidence in their public speaking and leadership at the course, which is essential to the continuity of the Corps, said Baker.
“Senior staff NCOs do an excellent job at educating their Marines, but they can get bogged down by the work they do on a daily basis with whatever their occupational specialty could be,” said Baker. “This a great opportunity for those Marines to get out from under those aircraft, get off of those tanks, get from behind that desk and get these classes on what leadership is as defined by the Marine Corps.”
The Marine Corps has spent a lot of time developing a curriculum that directly targets young corporals, and although they may be learning some of it at their commands, it is important for them to take time away to learn everything they need to know to be confident leaders, Baker added.
Toward the end of week two, the students’ leadership skills were put to the test as they planned and executed a mess night, which is a formal dinner in Dress Blue A uniform.
As Marine Corps order dictates, the most junior Marine in the class was named Vice President of the Mess. The success of the evening depends on the vice president, which put a lot of responsibility on the shoulders of the most junior Marine present.
Overall, the course refines corporals and gives commanders a new capability in regards to operations, said Baker.
“It comes down to one word – trust,” Baker said . “It allows them to have an overwhelming amount of trust in not only their senior leaders, but their junior leaders as well. It allows the commander to see that he has a strong team, from top to bottom, and these NCOs are able to operate and perform on their own, the way the Marine Corps has outlined NCOs to be.”