SOI instructor's quick reaction a lifesaver

29 Nov 2001 | Sgt. Sharon M. Allen

Hero is not a title Sgt. John J. Huber wears comfortably. However, his quick actions in a recent training exercise have earned him praise for preventing serious injury.

During live-fire grenade training Nov. 29 here, Huber threw a student from harms-way when the errant toss of a live-grenade bounced off the pit wall back at them.

Huber was one of four instructors in the live-fire pits, and this was his first time teaching students with live grenades.

"As an NCO, you have to do what is right, and any other NCO at SOI would have done the exact same thing," said the Elma, Wash. native, who has been with SOI for three months.  "There is no real way to mentally prepare yourself for something like that.  I just knew something had to be done.  As an NCO, it's just a natural reaction to know what to do.  You have to look out for the students."

Huber said that the student was visibly nervous upon entering the pit, but Huber tried to calm him down by talking him through the process and giving him confidence.  When the student threw the grenade, it did not make it over the wall, but bounced back into the pit. 

That's when Huber saw the spoon drop between his legs and the grenade roll to the back of the pit, and he knew what needed to be done.  He grabbed the student, throwing him out of the pit and yelled for him to stay down.  Then Huber jumped out of the pit himself getting as low to the ground as possible.  Huber said there was no time for fear, just reaction.

All SOI instructors go through a train-the-trainer program before being assigned to either Marine Combat Training (MCT) or Infantry Training Battalions (ITB).  There they learn teaching methods and all safety precautions they have learned throughout their Marine Corps careers are reinforced.

"We have standard operating procedures which are followed to a 'T', no 'ands, ifs or buts'.  Training accidents are going to happen," said Huber, who instructs with Golf Company, MCT.  "But that doesn't mean training should stop.  If anything, we should be doing more of it."

Huber said that the incident has been an eye-opening experience for the students.

"The students learned they need to be aware and pay attention, because people can get killed over it.  There is no room for complacent attitudes," said the 22-year old instructor.  "The instructors who taught the grenade class did an excellent job.  Only one of 300 students  had trouble.  I have 100 percent confidence in the abilities my fellow NCOs."

"I feel really safe," said Pfc. Quincy Pratt, a student with Gold Company, MCT from Washington, D.C.  "I have total confidence in my instructors.  I love it here, and I am having the best time.  I am aware that things happen, and Sgt. Huber did an excellent job.  He was fearless, like a Marine."

"The students aren't the only ones who practice before actual live-fire.  The instructors do too," said Cpl. Kelvin Morgan, one of the other instructors in the pits with Huber.  "We have two different mentalities out here, one of a squad leader and one of a teacher."

Morgan, a Lookout Mountain, Ga. native said that sometimes the instructors are firm with the students and other times they need to be like buddies to instill confidence and to calm students during training.

Both Huber and Morgan said the instructors at MCT often put in 300 hours within a 17-day training cycle.  They said they felt the Marine Corps should consider making the SOI instructor positions a B-billet.  They discussed a Marine Corps Times article which was recently published that drew some light on this issue. 

They said they were glad the subject had been broached and more attention should be paid to formally addressing the topic.

"As instructors, we play a large role in the process of making Marines," said Morgan who is at the end of his tour with SOI.  "Instructors put their hearts into this place, and should be rewarded for it."

Training incidents are rare at SOI because the staff takes every precaution to make sure they don't happen, but when they do, the instructors are prepared to react and make sure nobody gets hurt.  Training has not been disrupted by this incident; it has only opened the eyes of the students to the importance of awareness and attention to safety.