A recruiting commercial cemented Paul Whidden’s decision to join the Marine Corps.
As a child, all it took was hearing the words “the few, the proud” to motivate the now-private first class.
“It’s been my plan all along,” said Whidden, 19, of Naugatuck, Conn. “I have no Marines in my family so it came as a shock to a lot of people in my family. This is what I’m meant to be.”
Three weeks into training at the School of Infantry, and Whidden and his fellow Marines with Bravo Company were absorbing skills for the battlefield.
As Week 4 commenced at the Infantry Training Battalion, Bravo Company Marines worked on establishing defensive positions by digging fighting holes, maintaining noise and light discipline during night operations, monitoring their assigned sectors of fire for enemy movement and clearing buildings in an urban setting.
The hardest part of this week for Whidden was digging a fighting position in the defense and trying to find the instructors while they probed the perimeter of their defense. The heat — and its accompanying heat rash and sweat — made things miserable.
But Whidden said he never questioned why he was there.
“My family is what is keeping me motivated through all of this,” Whidden said. “You just have to not think about how hard things are. You just need to drink a lot of water and keep pushing. Everything has a purpose.”
By Thursday, the Marines moved into their fire and maneuver evaluation period. Fire and maneuver is a technique used by the Corps where Marines assault toward an enemy position on line with one another. In order to maintain a constant stream of bullets down range while moving toward the enemy, the Marines work in teams, which allows them to alternate between shooting, moving and communicating in one fluid motion?
“It was a lot of fun doing fire and maneuver for the first time,” Whidden said. “We practiced a ton so it felt good to finally get out there and do it. It’s definitely real stressful knowing that you have live rounds with your friends to the right and left of you. We’ve never done that before — moving while firing. You have to really be on top of things because you don’t want to shoot your buddy.”
Next week the instructors will determine which Marines are selected for weapon specific military occupational specialties. There will be 18 selected as mortarman, 19 as machine gunners and 19 as TOW-gunners. Whidden hopes to be one of the Marines selected to be a machine gunner.
“I can’t wait to shoot all of the machine guns,” Whidden said. “I have no preference at this point as far as which one I’m looking forward to the most. But really, how many people get to say they shoot a machine gun for a living?”
For the instructors of Bravo Company, keeping the students motivated once they are mentally and physically drained is the hardest part. This, according to Marine Sgt. Jeffrey Sabins, 27, of Cohocton, N.Y., was what kept the instructors busiest throughout the week of training.
“The hardest part is definitely the defense and the students understanding why it is important,” Sabins said. “Complacency is a killer out here because they’re so extremely tired from digging all day. They need to realize that the threat doesn’t go away because you are tired.”
What sinks in one way for one student may not work for the next, meaning you need to be extremely patient and maintain your composure if you want to be a combat instructor, Sabins said.
“Repeating yourself over and over again is the biggest challenge,” Sabins said. “You don’t really grow up learning this kind of stuff in high school, so you need to keep yourself from getting frustrated with the Marines when they don’t understand something you’re telling them. ... Remembering that you were once in their shoes really helps.”
The regimented structure of the training battalion removes the guess work. Knowing where you need to be and what you’re doing at all times makes things a little easier for the instructors, especially once the Marines are broken down into their specialties, said Sabin.
“Everything is about to change for these students,” Sabin said. “Things are about to get exponentially harder by an academic standpoint.
“Right now, we can’t get to know the individual Marine ...but after the split, I get to know their names, where they grew up and more. I’ll have my own little group to mold and mentor. That’s the best part for me.”