CAMP RIPPER, Iraq -- Marines of 3rd Amphibious Assault Battalion are effective combatants aboard their armored vehicles, now they are sharpening their skills in hand-to-hand combat.
A handful of the Marines are working to better their knowledge in the Marine Corps Martial Arts Program. Cpl. Kyle J. Southwick, a crew chief with Company B, 3rd AAB, also serves as their martial arts instructor during the down-time of packing up for re-deployment to California.
"Right now we have a lot of time, so I have all the time in the world to teach," said Southwick, 24, from Kennewick, Wash. Southwick believes that although training for the next belt may not help Marines pick up the next rank, it demonstrates their initiative to go through professional development and speaks about their dedication to the Marine Corps and themselves.
So far, Southwick has advanced six Marines in his platoon to gray belt, and he is in the process of training five more. Before the Marines head home in three weeks, Southwick hopes to have the entire platoon at the level of gray belt.
Southwick wears an instructor tab on his green belt, although the position of a martial arts instructor came to him by chance.
"Back in the rear (at Camp Pendleton), I got billeted as a barracks manager, and an instructor trainer asked if I wanted to be in his instructor's class," said Southwick. "I thought it would be kind of cool. I didn't really think it would happen, but the opportunity came and I grabbed it."
Southwick said he was the new face in the battalion and was still finding his place in the group. A role as a MCMAP instructor was just the thing that he was looking for. Now he would be able to make Marines into better Marines.
A different color belt signifies advancement in the program, knowledge of offensive and defensive moves and mental development. The Marines are given classes to sharpen their knowledge of military and Marine Corps history.
"We get to hear stories about the Marine Raiders and lessons on honor, courage and commitment," said Lance Cpl. Louie D. Roybal, a welder with Company B. " It really boosts our morale up 100 percent."
"I like learning about the history of the Marine Corps," said Lance Cpl. Dustin R. Hansen, a crewman with Company B. "I also like learning about different cultures like the samurai who used martial arts, and how (MCMAP) applies those styles to our own."
The Marines in Southwick's class appreciate the overall development that the classes offer.
"I think that all Marines should advance themselves," said Hansen, 20, from Middleton, Idaho. "It makes you a better Marine and it teaches you how to better defend yourself."
"I've gotten a lot more respect for the things we do," said Roybal, 25, from Santa Clarita, Calif. "I've also gotten a lot more respect for the Marine Corps.
These classes instill pride in what I do."
Advancing to a new belt offers a new platform to grow from. Many of the Marines want to continue advancing through the program once they return to California.
"I look forward to going back and getting my green belt," said Roybal. "It's already sweeter to go home with a different belt than the one I got two years ago."