CAMP KOREAN VILLAGE, Iraq --
An empty swimming pool in the Iraqi desert is an unlikely place to find a martial arts dojo, but that is where the Reserve Marines of Headquarters and Service Company, 2nd Battalion, 25th Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 5 began Marine Corps Martial Arts Program (MCMAP) gray-belt training Oct. 24.
The battalion arrived in this remote part of western al-Anbar province in late September to conduct counterinsurgency operations and to provide mentorship and guidance as Iraqi Security Forces now have the prominent role in the region’s security.
Whenever they’re not out on patrol or otherwise working in support of the battalion’s mission, a number of dedicated Marines are working towards the requisite 35 hours of training to earn their MCMAP gray belts.
The austere dojo they have been using was constructed as a boxing ring in September by sailors from an explosive-ordnance-disposal team here. The dojo couldn’t be more Spartan, with an elevated plywood surface that is padded only by a thick tarpaulin and the ubiquitous layers of desert sand and dust.
“It really does challenge you. It makes you more physically fit and pushes your limits,” said Lance Cpl. Andre N. Seville, a 22-year-old radio operator with the battalion’s H&S Co.
From the Bronx, N.Y., Seville is in his senior year at Berkeley College of New York. He left his internship at a large investment company in New York City for his second tour in Iraq.
“I want to further myself as a Marine,” said Seville, who volunteered to go through the course to advance beyond his current tan belt. “This is a great opportunity to learn more combat skills.”
The grueling gray-belt regimen involves learning break falls, strikes, throws, chokes, knife techniques and how to utilize service rifles to defeat an opponent in a non-lethal manner.
Maj. Byron W. Duke, 45, joined the battalion for this deployment from Marine Aircraft Group 41 in Fort Worth, Texas. He flew F-18 Hornet fighter jets on active duty for 13 years before getting out and moving to his current home in Granbury, Texas, to pilot for a commercial airline and continue with his Marine Corps career in the reserves. This is his third combat tour.
“I hold the billet of executive officer in an infantry battalion, and I feel it is important that I lead by example for all the Marines and sailors in this unit,” said Duke. “I have to admit that I am very competitive and I love this type of training. I know the junior Marines love throwing the old man around when they get the chance.”
When asked what the greatest personal challenge is for him in the MCMAP program, Duke joked, “Getting up off the mat when Lance Corporal Seville throws me.”
In spite of the physical discomfort he has experienced in the training, Duke wholeheartedly believes in the value of MCMAP.
“This program is designed to enhance every Marine’s combat readiness, physical and mental fitness, as well as morale,” said Duke. “This younger generation of Marines is in touch with the warrior ethos of extreme fighting and martial arts, and MCMAP provides that proud sense of accomplishment.”
The current gray-belt course instructor is Sgt. Daniel E. Monteiro, 25, a battalion operations watch chief from Fairfield, Conn. In addition to pulling daily shifts in the command operations center, Monteiro conducts two gray-belt sessions a day, four days a week.
“MCMAP strives to teach discipline: mental, physical, and character discipline,” explained Monteiro. “It teaches Marines to channel and control their aggression so that when they have to use that aggression in combat, it is second nature, and it is controlled.”
Monteiro, who was born in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, moved to the U.S. when he was 10. He cites the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, “as my Pearl Harbor,” and joined the Marine Corps that same month. This is his fourth overseas deployment in support of the Global War on Terror.
“It is important for all Marines to maintain their MCMAP skills, but it is especially important for Reserve Marines to do so while deployed because there is little to no time devoted to MCMAP during drill (weekends) and annual training. This is a perfect time for them to take advantage of the opportunity to train MCMAP, which helps them build warrior character and become well-rounded Marines,” said Monteiro, who has practiced Brazilian jiu jitsu for about 15 year and taught children in Stratford before enlisting in the Corps.