An Air Force SNCO's experience at Marine Corps PME

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Bryant Roy
  • U.S. Air Force Expeditionary Center first sergeant
I was recently honored with the opportunity to attend the United States Marine Corps' Staff NCO Academy located at Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va.
I had heard that the opportunity existed to fulfill my Senior NCO Professional Military Education  requirement through a joint service school, and I felt that the USMC would provide an excellent venue to grow as an Airman, challenge myself both mentally and physically, and gain perspective on a service that I knew very little about. I have always admired the Corps' rich history and traditions, so I jumped at the chance to immerse myself in it. I was not disappointed in my experience with the Marines of Advanced Course Class 4-11.

Upon arriving at Quantico, the culture shock was immediate: Green-clad formations jogging with red guidons out front, Marine Corps Martial Arts Program training going on in the hot sun, and pull-up bars all over the place. Jordan Hall was the place I called home for the next 52 days; as expected, the barracks were spartan, efficient, and clean. There were no maid services or mints left on your pillow; you were expected to keep your quarters neat, clean, and orderly at all times. I met quite a few of my Gunnery Sergeant classmates on that first day as we settled in and many were perplexed with my presence and what I was there for. I got a lot of strange looks and the prevailing question was "what's the Air Force doing here?" However, I was not the only outsider; two Slovenian Army NCOs joined our small class of 47 Marines.

The first few days of class were much like USAF PME as the class was introduced to the instructors, class expectations, and each other. The first real icebreaker came during the first PT session where we performed the USMC Physical Fitness Test, which consisted of pull-ups, crunches, and a three-mile run. The school director, Sergeant Major Smith, invited me to wear the Corps' "green on green" PT uniform and I think that it meant a lot to my Marine classmates that I took him up on that offer. After posting a respectable score, many of the "Gunnies" congratulated me and from that point on, I felt like one of the bunch.

Weeks one through three of the Advanced Course focused on the Gunnery Sergeant's role in the unit and was not far from topics discussed and assignments given at Air Force PME schools. Blocks of instruction such as Administration of Justice, Supporting the Commander's Leadership Philosophy, and Processing Administrative Correspondence were familiar topics, however it was interesting to learn about the USMC's perspective on these subjects. Additionally, I had the opportunity to listen to a former Commandant of the Marine Corps, Gen. Charles Krulak, speak during the Singleton Lecture Series. He provided a lot of food for thought, especially when he posed the question: "We know Iraq. We know Afghanistan. Are we planning for the challenges of the next battlefield we find ourselves on?" General Krulak also discussed his philosophy of the "Three Block War", which highlighted the complex environments that American military forces operate in every day and the importance of leadership at the lowest levels. One day you might be shooting a rifle, the next day serving as a peacekeeper, another day you might be distributing food to children.

Weeks four through seven presented some operational challenges, as our class was introduced to the Marine Corps Planning Process, Emergency Close Air Support, and the Command Operations Center . During these lessons, the individual platoons worked as a team to develop Courses of Action to accomplish objectives derived from a training scenario. Although the scenario dealt with infantry maneuvers, the main emphasis was not on the tactics but on the actual planning process; it was very interesting to learn about the ground environment and the careful planning that goes into an operation. I enjoyed these weeks thoroughly not only for the fresh perspective, but also for the interaction I had with the Gunnery Sergeants, as this was a great time to learn more about what they did on a day-to-day basis.

The question I get asked the most since I have been back at the Expeditionary Center is "What was the PT like?" Simply put... More intense! The Marines of Class 4-11 were in shape and definitely pushed me on the PT field with a regimen that was very different from the Air Force. Marines value cardiovascular training and the ability to run fast, but they also place emphasis on battlefield skills such as strength, agility, martial arts, and various other "combat athlete" techniques. Circuits comprised of low crawls, fireman carries, tire flips, trail runs, ammo can lifts, etc. were not uncommon; much of the training was accomplished in the "Boots and Utes" uniform combination: combat boots, bloused pants, and t-shirts. The camaraderie was outstanding, quitting was not an option, and "MOTIVATION" was essential! During the last two weeks, we performed the USMC Combat Fitness Test and Obstacle Course which tested all facets of the conditioning we had developed.

In all, attending the USMC SNCOA was a very unique and rewarding experience. I feel that not only did I take a lot of lessons, perspective, and motivation with me from Quantico, but I also enhanced the PME experience for the Marines as well since many of them had never been around an Airman before. We discussed our differences and similarities often, argued and laughed together, and did our part to keep the service rivalries intact. Poking fun at each other was a daily requirement but in the end it was good-natured and I felt accepted as one of the "Gunnies" of Class 4-11.

Some simple words of advice for other Air Force SNCOs that are interested in stepping out of their comfort zone and up to the challenge: Bring your sense of humor, a thick skin, positive mental attitude, and a desire to listen and learn. If you remember these, you are going to have a blast with the "Devil Dogs" of the United States Marine Corps!