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Staff Sgt. Christopher Kenly, right, receives a graduation certificate from Master Gunnery Sgt. Ira Thompson on Tuesday during the staff noncommissioned officer career course graduation ceremony at the Camp Hansen theater.
Staff Sgt. Christopher Kenly, right, receives a graduation certificate from Master Gunnery Sgt. Ira Thompson on Tuesday during the staff noncommissioned officer career course graduation ceremony at the Camp Hansen theater. (Erik Slavin / S&S)

CAMP HANSEN, Okinawa — It’s hard spending much time on a Marine base without hearing the phrase “every Marine a rifleman” at least once.

In practice, many Marines spend less time with their finger on a trigger than they do in support roles.

It’s those Marines in noncombat arms specialties who speak with the most enthusiasm about the career course at the Camp Hansen Staff Non-commissioned Officer Academy.

“Marines want to get out there and get dirty,” said Gunnery Sgt. Tracy Mase, academy faculty adviser specializing in combat arms. “They’re learning skills that many of them don’t get in their day-to-day job.”

The 32 staff sergeants and one staff sergeant-select who graduated from the career course this week learned about managing their younger Marines, physical-training methods and administrative tasks.

But when you ask a recent graduate what lesson made the biggest impression, it’s almost always something that happened “in the field.” The curriculum includes offensive and defensive tactics and also concentrates on rear security.

It’s especially important training for support NCOs who may find themselves individually attached to an unfamiliar unit in Iraq or Afghanistan one day, Mase said.

Staff Sgt.-select Gilberto Rios said he learned techniques he never would have been taught in his current noncombat role with the 12th Marine Regiment, including how to call for fire during a battle and how to evacuate casualties.

There may come a time when the Marine who knows how to do those jobs is hurt and another NCO must take over, Rios said.

“You’ve got to step up and be able to tell the helicopter where you’re at,” he said.

Staff Sgt. Scott McLean, an aviation specialist who graduated the course with honors, agreed that the field components made a big impression.

Also striking him, he said, was how differently the lessons were taught from when he first learned basic field tactics in boot camp. In the career course, McLean said, “they treated us like the professionals that we are.”

Also taught at the academy are a sergeants course and an advanced course for gunnery sergeants and above.

NCOs should view the career course as more than “a check in the box” on the way to a promotion, Rios said, adding that it’s also an opportunity to make the Marines around you better.

That could mean better combat training or adding different exercises to a physical-training regimen. Or it could mean learning a Web site that will make it easier for junior Marines to do their jobs, said officials at Tuesday’s graduation.

All of those leadership factors are what make or break the Marine Corps’ enlisted ranks, said Master Sgt. Scott Davis, academy staff NCO in charge.

“They will decide whether to re-enlist,” he said, “based on the way that you treat them.”

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