Marines hike across Camp Lemonnier while carrying their brothers and sisters in arms on their backs. They move between locations, setting up radios and providing simulated aid to their counterparts. They run across the tarmac to board a military aircraft for a simulated evacuation. These practical exercises test the skills and fortitude of service members going through the latest Corporals Course, which began Oct. 22, 2023.
The Corporals Course is a standard leadership training course for Marines new to the grade of E-4, the first tier in the non-commissioned officer (NCO) rank structure. While every Marine is expected to be able to lead, NCOs are expected to lead the junior enlisted while setting the standard of performance and behavior.
“Corporal is a significant rank for most to reach. It’s that first stepping stone in leadership,” said Gunnery Sgt. Carlos Perez, staff NCO-in charge of the Corporals Course. “For most of these guys, they’ve never experienced some aspects of this training. So this is the first time in a formal manner that they receive these essential skills.”
The Camp Lemonnier Corporals’ course is unique as it welcomes service members from all branches of the military to participate in the Marine course. The iteration hosted in November 2023 featured a handful of Soldiers from Task Force Tomahawk and the Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa.
U.S. Army Spc. Mary Ballentine, CJTF-HOA joint display network coordinator, served as the class commander, directing her Army and Marine counterparts through lessons and practical exercises. During the graduation, she led the class through reciting the non-commissioned officer creed.
“The course has been very challenging, but us soldiers are able to keep up and keep going,” said Ballentine. “I think the course has been very beneficial. I’ve learned a lot and I would recommend it to other members of the joint force.”
Working together across branches to complete the course encourages service members to apply all of their diverse skill sets and experiences toward solving problems and overcoming challenges.
“It’s nice to see the Marines’ point of view on things and how they go about teaching and operations,” said Ballentine. “Considering how often we work with them, I think training together will help with future integrations.”
During the course, participants revisit essential skills such as land navigation, drill techniques, and physical fitness, as well as Marine Corps standards and traditions. They also learn the NCO fundamentals such as mentoring subordinates, communication, and promotion systems. One of the most important lessons members learn from the course is how to lead others and manage people effectively while maintaining Marine Corps Values.
“I think these soldiers are getting different experiences outside of their branch of service and a perspective of what Corporal means for us,” said Perez. “We are trying to show them that even as an E4 or even as E5, regardless of whether you’re a soldier or a Marine, you have the responsibility to look out for your subordinates. We put a lot of trust in our lower NCOs to carry out the mission.”
While currently mainly attended by Soldiers and Marines, instructors are hoping to get Airmen, Space Force Guardians, Sailors and Coast Guard Sentinels into the course. A previous iteration of the course in 2018 featured members of the Djiboutian Armed Forces.
“If I could have my students take one thing away from the course, it’d be to be the leader you wish you had,” said Perez. “Before you can lead others, you must first learn to lead yourself. Think of the qualities of good leaders you’ve had over the course of your military career and emulate them.”