MARINE CORPS AIR GROUND COMBAT CENTER TWENTYNINE PALMS, Calif. -- “Step it out! Keep it moving! Just a few more miles. Keep pushing! Stretch your legs! Cover down!”
From the dark hours of dawn to the peak of the morning heat and sunlight, 3rd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, also known as “Darkside,” made their way through the Combat Center’s Mojave Desert terrain May 12 on a 12-mile hike, commonly known as a hump to Marines.
After gathering in front of the Combat Center’s obstacle course, the battalion stepped out on their grueling expedition at 5 a.m., returning to their starting point at 10:30 a.m. when the 12-mile hike was complete.
The significance of the hike was readiness, said 1st Sgt. Ryan F. Blue, India Company first sergeant.
“Even though no one really hikes in Iraq, you never know what can happen,” said the Omaha, Neb., native. “The battle space changes, so there’s no telling what we’re going to be doing. We’ve just need to be ready to adapt to anything.”
Recently, the battalion welcomed Lt. Col. Scott C. Shuster as the new battalion commander. He wanted to give himself an intense introduction so the battalion’s training would continue its intense course, said Lance Cpl. Ryan R. Hafley, a 21-year-old infantryman with India Company.
“Even though the hike was very hard for some, there was a lot of motivation,” said the Bloomington, Ill., native. “Our physical endurance was definitely tested, and there was so much to deal with — the loose sand, the hills and the treacherous California heat.”
Seaman Tyler F. Rutledge, a 20-year-old corpsman with India Company, has been with the battalion for roughly a year. There are many factors and elements Marines and Sailors deal with during any type of training, he said, and the 100-degree weather played a major role in the mood and state of mind the battalion members experienced.
“A hike this long lets you know where you’re at physically and mentally,” said the Roseburg, Ore., native.
“Along with strength and conditioning, it builds unit cohesion,” he continued. “All the Marines are sharing the same hardships. Everyone is bound to get tired and cranky. Everyone’s experiencing the same mood and feelings. The only way you can get out of that hardship is through the help of your unit. A hike brings you closer to your guys. And that is all you will have over there [Iraq] — your guys. The hike teaches Marines how to have each other’s back.”
Most everyone felt as if their bodies were in the worst environmental conditions, said Hafley, but those who showed true motivation and true camaraderie to their fellow platoon members are the ones who led the way.
“My team leader and squad leader kept my mind from stressing,” said Pfc. Jerome E. Henry, a 20-year-old ammunition man with India Company, and a Tuba City, Ariz., native. “The leadership is good in this battalion and it really showed during the hike. They strive to make sure we know what we’re doing and that we make it OK.”
The hike wasn’t the longest the company has been on, said Pfc. Christopher R. Yarborough, a 21-year-old machine gunner with Lima Company, remembering the 18 mile hike the battalion went on in Bridgeport, Calif., in March. Most Marines know a hike can’t kill you, unless a you’re really dehydrated, he said.
“The pain is only temporary,” said the Los Angeles, native during a break after the sixth mile. “I always tell myself that it’s not going to last forever. It’s going to go away eventually.
“What gets me through this is the thought of what I’ll be doing when we’re done,” added Yarborough. “After we’re done with this, I’m going to be lying down in my rack. I know I’ve been through a hump like this before, and I’ve definitely been through worse. I know I can keep doing it. This is my time to set an example for the Marines I work with, and my leaders.”
Going in to the summer season, the biggest focus for 3/4 is that the Marines are able to execute their billets and support their unit, said Blue. They need to know exactly what they’re doing and exactly what to do in any situation. A hike is a movement drill that allows leaders to stand out and perform their billet.
“I need to know if they’re going to make or break,” said Blue.
The culminating point of infantry training and pre-deployment training is Mojave Viper, added Blue. After three or four more grueling hikes, military operations in urban terrain training, marksmanship training, lane training and live fires, Darkside will ride the remainder of pre-deployment training in the month-long Mojave Viper training evolution, until heading out to Iraq for their fourth combat deployment.