Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune -- When an instructor at Marine Corps Engineer School saw the obstacle course he ran through as a junior Marine fall into disrepair, he and his peers led his students through a two-year restoration build of the course inspired by the lessons he teaches at the school.
Gunnery Sgt. Peter Porter instructed the Marines how the obstacles he taught them to construct can wear down an enemy and give Marines an advantage in combat. He shared his motivation for the subject and gave them a challenge to be excited about. The opportunity provided an alternative to running and the other usual staples of physical fitness the school used.
“Sixteen years later we still talk about running that course,” said Porter. “We’re just passing on that torch. It’s a tradition.”
Porter teaches survivability, creating shelters, bearing the elements, and obstacles, developing ways to halt or slow down the progress of enemies advancing enough for Marines to have clear targets.
A variety of muses inspired new obstacles and modifications to the traditional course. Some obstacles simply needed repairs; others were built anew with ideas and layouts from popular mud runs and endurance courses.
“We took Marines out there whenever we could,” said Gunnery Sgt. Chris Metzger, an instructor at the Marine Corps Engineer School who teaches constructed obstacles, survivability, including classes on using concrete block and standing timber. Metzger headed the effort alongside Porter. “Sometimes we went out there together and sometimes we took turns and tag teamed it.”
The course navigates through thickly wooded areas and deep, thick mud. There is a point with rope threaded through the limbs of trees to assist participants as they dredge through it. The thick woods and mud provided obstacles alongside those constructed by instructors and students.
The course provides a diverse model of training opportunities Metzger said he wishes to see more units adopt for general training throughout the Marine Corps.
The Marines who constructed the course could not take vehicles to most obstacle sites due to environmental protection regulations in place. All equipment and materials had to be hand carried, including 30 ft. poles.
It was a learning experience for the students of the engineer school, said Porter. They were able to apply the skills they learned in class and experience firsthand the obstacles’ effects.
“This is what we do in the real world,” said Porter. “It’s better than seeing it on a screen or building it in the middle of a field just to build it.”
Porter wants people to remember it as a tough challenge. He hopes participants walk away with an understanding of the work engineers do.
After all the hard work, the Engineers Course was met with hundreds of pounding feet during the St. Paddy’s Day Engineer Challenge March 16. The feedback was positive and left some participants surprised by the difficulty of the course.
“I think we had plenty of mud out there,” said Mike Marion, the St. Paddy’s Day Engineer Challenge race coordinator. “I think our runners were surprised at the amount of mud we actually had. It’s more than we’ve had at any other course.”
However, the course is not finished. Even after Porter, Metzger and the other instructors who led the charge to rebuild the course leave, engineers who return to teach at the school are thinking up ways to tweak, modify and add to the course for future generations to come.