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Force Recon PT By Garm Olafson As suggested, here's a general introduction to Cold War era Marine Force Recon physical

training. What we did, why we did it, and how you can emulate some of this training for yourself are included. Anyone attempting to get in shape for similar duty can use this as a test of readiness, but the methods are simply not recommended for constant use. Introduction The first thing we have to do is flush out our headgear. While your Old Uncle Garm may be a 6'5", 275pound powerlifter today, when I was a Team Leader and Platoon Sergeant in 2nd Force Reconnaissance Company's Deep Recon Platoon I never weighed more than 210. Came back from an op or two around 180. I wasn't the biggest guy in the outfit - the Company Gunny was a good six inches taller and much heavier - but he was an exception to the rule. The Hollywood image of buffed and puffed muscleboys in 'elite' units is simple fantasy. Maybe the officers and company clerks had time for bodybuilding, but the actual operators, shooters, and hunters had completely opposite physical requirements. This article will discuss the physical demands of such a line of work, the physical requirements for selection to such a unit, and the physical training activities through the various stages of development. A few notes before we start. First, 2nd Force Recon no longer exists. This was the darkest day in the history of the free world, and passed without a single cry of anguish outside of the very small community of veterans of the unit. The Force Recon Association is all that is left ( Second, this unit was a Company, which means (depending on the time and TO - Table of Organization the number of billets and the structure of the Marine Corps), three or four platoons. At the largest TO in my tenure, a platoon had four teams. A team had four men. There were about 110 members of 2nd Force Reconnaissance Company at any given time, with many of those being administrative or management personnel. The point is that the number of claimed members far exceeds the actual vets. Navy SEALs have expanded to at least six teams, and there have always been many thousands of Army SF people, but the Marine Force Recon Ranger is a very rare bird. Most of the people you meet who say they were weren't. Third, the methods of physical training may not have made a lot of scientific sense. This should be considered a report of what we did, as opposed to a program of what you should do. Running in boots on roads with 100-plus pounds of gear every day of the year is a sure path to multiple repetitive motion and overuse injuries. Finally, I am going to leave any 'close combat' training for another day. Hand-to-hand fighting received very little official attention, mainly because there are only so many hours in a day and mission-oriented skills were more important. We did a lot of unofficial training in this area, and there was a series of official programs, but they are beyond the scope of this article. Entry-level Conditioning and Skills The 'elite' US military units are generally thought of as the Navy SEALs, Army Special Forces, and Marine Recon. While there are/were certainly others (Special Forces Operational Detachment Delta, some Air Force and Coast Guard units, etc.), these are the 'big three'.

These outfits had specific missions in relation to their parent organizations, and specialized general roles in the overall 'special warfare' community. Fundamentally, SF teaches indigenous personnel how to fight. Recon gathers intelligence on the ground. SEALs kick down doors and shoot everyone they see. These are generalizations, of course, but are essentially correct. All of this information is dated by over twenty years. However, in the Marine Corps, one tradition is sacrosanct: Old Corps ways are always better than any newfangled silliness. Nonetheless, to get specific with respect to the Marine Corps, there are two varieties of reconnaissance organizations. Infantry battalions have recon assets. These are generally jump and SCUBA qualified individuals who are tasked with gathering information for large scale (from a USMC perspective - these would be small units in the Army) infantry actions. Since those who can't get into Force Recon populate these organizations, they will not be discussed further. Selection to a force-level reconnaissance unit is based on physical and medical qualifications and mental screening. Screening is conducted at Infantry Training School, in the various company-level units of the Marine Corps (generally an Infantry unit or Surveillance and Target Acquisition - STA - outfit), including the battalion reconnaissance units themselves. Thus, it was possible to be assigned to battalion-level recon directly from ITS (Infantry Training School). Force recon personnel were expected to be veterans, and typically selected from battalion recon ranks. However, it was theoretically possible to go directly to Force Recon from ITS, so there may be a few people who made it via this route. Marine Corps' general physical standards formed the basis of physical selection criteria. What this meant was the ability to score 300 points (perfect) on the Physical Fitness Test (PFT). The actual minimum changes depending on personnel needs, but always hovers above 275 points. This meant that the prospective FR Marine must have nearly the ability to run three miles in 18 minutes, perform 20 consecutive pull-ups, and perform 80 sit-ups in two minutes or less. As far as athletic performance goes, these are easily attainable goals. Since we went to the Army for parachute training and the Navy for SCUBA training, we also had to meet the physical qualifications for these schools before being allowed into battalion recon. So, here's your first tangible objective if you want to try to become a bad ass: Develop the ability to run three miles in 18 minutes or less, do 20 pull-ups without stopping, and do 80 full sit-ups in two minutes. This is a reasonable baseline, as none of the factors require the abilities of a world-class athlete. Anyone without major injury or permanent physical deficit can attain this level of fitness. You probably already know how to do it, so get to work, Maggot. Nobody cares whether sit-ups are bad for you, either. As a measure of General Physical Preparedness (GPP), the PFT is not very broad. This provides our first clue into the physical requirements of real modern combat. All these tests are measures of anaerobic strength endurance and basic capacity for relatively mild force output over time. While some power is required, the theme is definitely durability. Mental requirements were subjective, meaning that there were no valid tests available. What they were looking for was an innate ability to make sound decisions under conditions of extreme stress. Attitude and temperament in non-stressful situations are often not valid indicators of how an individual will perform in a strange environment under arduous circumstances. Since the officers in Force Recon rarely went out on operations, they tended to screen for more tangible indicators like maturity, resourcefulness, experience, and motivation. The bottom line here is that lots of 'cowboys' volunteered for Force Recon, but what was needed were very disciplined men. The desire to kill communists is not a

good indicator of one's ability to quietly sit neck-deep in muck for multiple consecutive days in the middle of a group of said communists. Neither, however, is the ability to shine one's belt buckle to a state of high gloss. The spit-and-polish jarheads, generally, were not smart or self-reliant enough to make the grade and sent to guard embassies or pose for recruiting posters. In any case, highly stressful situations were created for the purposes of evaluation. The stressors included the extremes of fatigue, noise, verbal harangues, danger, and physical pain. In these situations, you were required to negotiate field problems or otherwise take effective action. If you could 'take a licking and keep on ticking', you might pass. Fundamental Skills Training Once selected, training begins in earnest. No matter where you came from, your first stop in Force Recon was RIP (Recon Indoctrination Platoon). Here, the hazing and observation also begins in earnest. How long you stay in RIP depends on how long they wish to fuck with you. The choices are that you may quit, be dismissed, or go to ARS (Amphibious Reconnaissance School). Timing is a potential problem - if the next ARS is six months away, you will be in RIP for quite some time. RIP is like boot camp on steroids - classes and training at any time all the time. Significant stress is used in the attempt to get you to quit or wig out - better in RIP than in combat. Of course, since Marines are not allowed to quit or fail any Army or Navy schools, it is also important to weed out any non-hackers in the privacy of RIP. Marines are also not allowed to die without written permission, so that avenue of escape is also blocked. ARS was in Little Creek, VA (those suspected of homosexual tendencies were sent to Coronado, CA please remember that this was decades before "don't ask, don't tell"). I think they call this school Basic Reconnaissance Course now, but have no idea what the difference is. Once you passed, you were assigned to your Force Recon platoon, and pretty much certified as a bad ass. Training continued as mission needs allowed, meaning that if we had time and funds, we would go to various USMC, Army, and Navy schools. Airborne, Freefall, Survival Resistance Evasion and Escape (SERE), Ranger, Pathfinder, Basic Underwater Demolition / SEAL (BUD/S, used to be called UDTR Underwater Demolition Team Replacement), Sniper, Jungle Environment Survival Training (JEST), Special Forces Advanced Reconnaissance and Target Exploitation, etc., etc., etc. I went to Jump School in Georgia while in battalion recon, which was four weeks of training and five novice jumps. If you ever see a Marine with silver jump wings, he has been to this school but not yet earned his Marine Corps Jumpmaster status, which is attained after five additional 'combat' jumps and indicated by the gold Marine Corps wings. Anyway, my first school after ARS was the Navy UDTR School. This was unquestionably the hardest school I attended. All the stuff you see on TV ("hell week") was essentially correct, but the worst part was not being cold and miserable and hungry for a week - I was used to that from childhood. The worst part was the 'instructor harassment' component of the first weeks in the pool. I hated it - as you swim underwater, they get to pull off your mask, fins, tanks, etc. You have to deal with it and can't surface. It goes on for hours. It will take at least a year after RIP for anyone to get up to speed, given the amount of material that needs to be covered and the timing issues around the availability of the basic individual schools (ARS, Jump, SCUBA). There is a great deal to know to go with the massive physical demands - you may meet undereducated Force Recon personnel, but you will never meet a dumb one. The basic skills required are:

Fundamental rifleman's skills (infantry) Core recon competencies: Map and aerial photograph reading Land navigation / compass use / at night, etc. Patrolling, patrol orders, patrol reports Observation and recording of data Field sketching and ground photography Nuclear, Biological, and Chemical (NBC) defense Camouflage and Concealment Movement Friendly and Threat equipment recognition Intelligence reporting Survival, Evasion, Escape, Resistance (SERE - another very hard school) Weaponcraft and Marksmanship Physical Conditioning Field Sanitation Combat Medicine Land and Sea Survival Communications Intelligence Gathering Communications and Information Systems training Swimmer Conditioning Parachute Training Demolitions Weapons Training Route Reconnaissance (road and bridge construction/classification) Advanced SERE SCUBA Training Advanced NBC Training Helicopter Insertion and Extraction Water Operations Surf and Open-Water Swimming Submarine Training Inflatable Boat Handling Reconnaissance Patrolling Initial Terminus Guidance (ITG) Sensor Implanting and Extraction Etc. This will make you a fundamentally apt 'operator'. Please remember that reconnaissance is about obtaining information - the 'characteristics of a particular area and any known or potential enemy within it'. This is said to strengthen the concept that 'operator' does not equal 'cowboy'. Marine Force Recon people are sneaky, smart, and quiet first. They are deadly last, because contact with the enemy is generally the result of a mistake. Anyway, please remember that the above skills were considered basic, and multiple other esoteric aspects were introduced as necessary, including education in such distasteful and illegal things as 'physical interrogation' techniques. After the 1979 TO change, 2nd Force Recon Company was divided into three 'companies' (they were actually platoons) - A, B, and C. A was for relative shitbirds and boots - little training money, no

operations of which I am aware. B Company was nicknamed the 'Shooter' company. This outfit concentrated on close-quarters combat and hostage rescue operations. C Company was the elite of the elite, specializing in Deep Recon Patrolling (DRP, so we were of course called 'drips') - everyone was HALO qualified, capable of doing every task that may be required of any team member, and we worked on a regular basis. 'Work' means real missions. We had complete latitude in operational details. Given a mission, we were empowered to accomplish it by any means necessary. Results were all that mattered. This was also the case with PT - we were expected to be in top condition all the time and ready to go hot with zero prep time, but could attain this level of physical readiness by any means necessary. Time tested exercises made up the bulk of our PT activities, with incredible volume as the key strategy. Force Recon PT The first and foremost PT exercise was, is, and always will be running. Running for distance as a group while performing call and response 'singing' is very good for breath control. You've seen it in 'Full Metal Jacket' - please rent that movie. The boot camp scenes are exactly accurate. We would run first thing in the morning. Most of us would not eat before morning PT, because digesting a meal would cramp you up. Especially if hung over from evening PT in Olongopo, Port-au-Prince, or Jacksonville. Generally, a series of calisthenics were performed first, but sometimes we would just start running. Most often this was done in boots and utilities, but races or PFTs allowed PT gear consisting of shorts and running shoes. There were a thousand different ways to run. Bruce Lee style was common - changing pace at irregular intervals. Run a few miles at a 6-minute pace, sprint a few hundred yards, run a few more miles, etc. Stressors were introduced that produced a variety of training effects. Carrying heavy packs, restricting the ability to breathe with gas masks, increasing body temperature with plastic full-body NBC suits. Teamwork was the single most critical component, so we often ran as a team while carrying an inflatable boat with all our gear inside. Running with logs or railroad ties on our shoulders was another common approach. Run, run, run, and run some more. 20 miles was not uncommon, and five miles in full gear was considered a walk in the park. No Marathon or Triathlon athlete could hack the training without a few months of acclimation - too much stress induced by the extra gear. This is the most boring and painful kind of training in the world, period. It is also the reason why you never see a 20-year veteran of Force Recon who does not work behind a desk and walk with a limp. Or two. I truly hope that current PT theory includes at least some recovery time. Sleep deprivation is also idiotic from a physical perspective. We would run twice a day, more often than not. You should add some build up to your break down, in my opinion. However, the ability to do things like outrun a marathon specialist is simply not physical. Endurance is mental, and belief that you can do something is the first and most important attribute you can have. The best way to attain that belief is to have done it before - Success breeds success.

The other tried and true exercises are pushups, flutter kicks, and hello dollys. Pushups have as many variations as running. We did them raw and uncooked. We did the plyometric variations that have been Marine Corps staples for a hundred years before the term plyometrics was coined. We did team pushups, we did them on our knuckles and fingertips, and we did them with one arm. Here are descriptions of the various modes: Clapping pushups - clearly plyometric and ballistic. Very good for power development, speed, and coordination. Perform a standard pushup and clap your hands while in the up position. You have to spring up hard and clap quickly, and catch yourself before your face hits the ground. After a while, try to clap twice before you hit the ground. Three claps would be phenomenal, and most people will never be able to develop the ability. Team pushups - four people in a square on the ground, in pushup position with their feet on each other's upper back. All together now Increase the team building by clapping or pushing up on knuckles or fingertips. The one-arm pushups are self-explanatory. For added fun, do team pushups on one hand and switch hands in synchronized manner every few reps. Knuckle pushups are great wrist and forearm strengtheners, which is useful when using a handgun in combat among other things. Endurance is the key, as always, so a few hundred pushups is considered entry level. You can clap with these, too, and the tendon shock will be significant. Make sure you absorb most of the shock by bending your elbows as you hit. Fingertip pushups are for hand strength. We knew that strong hands plus strong cores equals strong people before we read Pavel. The clapping variety is very hard on your fingers if you weigh very much. If you can survive fifty fingertip catches, you are The Iron Claw From Outer Space. Flutter Kicks and Hello Dolly's are for swimming, but great core exercises. As always, extreme volume is the order of the day. A Flutter Kick is performed by lying on your back and clasping your hands behind your head. The 'resting' position of a leg lift is the starting position for this exercise - feet together, legs straight, heels about six inches off the deck. Begin the exercise by kicking your feet in a scissors motion, just like you were swimming with fins on. Continue for a few thousand repetitions - no joke. Stress can be increased by wearing boots or fins. Hello Dollys start in the same position, but open and close your legs horizontally like you are on an abductor/adductor machine. A few thousand more, please. If you cannot do flutter kicks and hello dollys for hours without stopping, you cannot swim for hours in cold open ocean water with hundreds of pounds of gear. SEALS need SDVs - Recon Rangers are SDVs. The other basic punishment calisthenics are all used. Bend and Thrust, Mountain Climbers, Eight Count Bodybuilders, Leg Lifts, etc. We also did a lot of pull-ups, often with gear or people hanging onto us as we did them. Bends and thrusts are performed from standing. Bend down and place your hands on the deck in front of you, then kick both of your legs out to a pushup position. Recover by reversing the movements.

Mountain climbers start in the pushup position. Bring one knee to your face, and rapidly alternate legs like you are climbing Mount Surabachi on Iwo Jima. We also did reverse flutter kicks, where you lie on your stomach with you hands clasped at the small of your back. Head up, back bowed, and start kicking. 100 4-counts, please. Nobody ever went to the weight room. They may do so nowadays, but anyone who had any energy left over after a day of Force Recon PT would spend it in town, In Search Of I do not recall any stretching or flexibility exercises. May be selective memory, but if we did any of this it was very minimal. There were some circuit-style exercises that used weights. Outdoor areas where we did calisthenics often had bars with coffee cans full of concrete attached laying around. We would run through an obstacle course or similar circuit, stop at these stations, and pump out as many curls or military presses as possible in a short measured period of time. The goal was to move quickly between stations and to maximize the number of reps when you reached a station. Body conditioning exercises included getting kicked, hit, stepped on, frozen, burnt, and dropped from various heights. Patrolling required the ability to walk all day under heavy load. Operations beyond the reach of supporting units mandated that we carried everything we needed or made do with what we found. Forced marches of around 30 miles in a day with at least eighty pounds of ammunition and assorted gear were standard when there was nothing else on the agenda. All training occurred all the time - hot or cold, rain or shine, snow or hurricane, sick or well. Bad for longterm health, obviously. If you went to Camp LeJeune in 1979 and walked around Recon Island, you would have seen about half of the people wearing casts, bandages, just out of the hospital, limping, or nursing any number of nagging injuries and diseases ranging from Jungle Rot to crotch rot. Diet consisted of huge quantities of everything. I was an analytical type, and measured over 9,000 Calories per day for a month-long period. You cannot eat enough to gain weight with the training demands imposed. In operational mode, you may or may not eat for long periods, depending on the situation. To emulate this kind of deprivation, we often did not eat in training. Hydration was optional, and breathing a barely tolerated luxury. The bottom line of the above is that the goals of training were endurance first, with equal components of anaerobic strength endurance and pure aerobic capacity, a reasonable level of useful power, speed, and general physical and mental durability. Muscle size was not an issue, nor was limit strength. You had to be strong enough to hold up your end of the boat, but beyond that endurance was the necessary attribute. On to swimming, which may be the single most effective training modality of all. To swim for distance, to swim fast, to swim deep, and to swim quiet will work every muscle and every energy system in your body. The final qualification swim at Combat Swimmers School was between two islands at Vieques, Puerto Rico. About eight miles in the open ocean, nice warm water, beautiful sunny day. Like a Sunday

stroll, except for the current that made the actual swim more like eighteen miles. No time limit, you just had to not drown. You might not think you could get hypothermia in eighty degree water Anyway, pool work was not in fashion. Long open water swims, lots of diving with various gasses (depending on depth), extremely dangerous Navy retread rebreather apparatus, submarine lockouts in sub-freezing dark water, and a host of other training activities. We used this training for missions ranging from underwater recovery to mining harbors to mapping locations for amphibious assault. An Example Training Day If you want to try the 'Jarhead Challenge' below, I would counsel doing it one time and following it with a week of inactivity. If you can hack it, try it every day for a while. Do yourself a favor and do not attempt to emulate the constant grind of the 'It'll make a Man out of you' mindset. Sleep deprivation and minimal recovery are counter to any sensible training plan. 0-Dark-Thirty - Morning PT. Always outside. Weather does not exist. Pain is good. Extreme pain is extremely good. Calisthenics. Start with a set of 4-count jumping jacks, from 25 to 100. Gets the blood moving. Add a bazillion mountain climbers, bends and mothers, pushups of various types, and at least two bazillion flutter kicks and hello dollys. 'Bazillion' is an amorphous term, I know, but the goal is to be able to do as many of each of these as you can. At least a couple of hundred each without stopping before you can clam to be in shape. 10-mile (minimum) run in boots and utilities. Best on a cross-country trail with various terrain features. Add stress in various ways - carry a rifle (or legal alternative). Get a weighted vest and run with it on. An ALICE pack full of rocks is a tried and true alternative. Vary the pace at random intervals, but try to never slow to a jog. If you can do this for fifteen or twenty miles, you are a solid performer. It is traditional to sprint to the finish. It is also traditional for the sun to not have risen yet. After the run and last minute vomiting, shower and eat. Shovel in as much carbo, protein, and fat as you can fit. A smart guy would guzzle a gallon of water, but a smarter guy would always demand some calories with his liquid - whole milk, very sweet juice drinks, etc. Training varied after this PT, but no matter what our objective for the day was we would run. Let's assume some water time. A team would take an IBS (Inflatable Boat, Small), throw their diving gear and assorted kit inside and pick it up on their shoulders. There were often six men in a boat team, and about 300 pounds worth of boat and gear. We would then pick it up and double time to wherever we were going. You could emulate this with a short, dense log. Throw a 50-pounder on your shoulder and run a mile or two. I (and any chiropractor) would advise switching sides at the halfway point, but we never did this. The tall guy (me) got most of the load. A rubber boat full of gear has a lot of bounce and a log does not, so you might be able to come up with a better emulation if you think about it. I did my time, so I'll drive to the nice warm gym while you are doing this.

Now it's time for some open water swimming. No such thing as cold, of course, but you can get a nice wet suit or dry suit for comfort. The eight-mile test in current should be your ultimate objective. Wear fins if you wish, and eventually work up to carrying some gear. This is decidedly unsafe unless you have a safety boat. So, an indoor pool is the more civilized alternative. Double the distance if you can't swim in a river or ocean to even things up. This is going to take all day, by the way. You may or may not eat lunch, but if you do you must eat in water deep enough so that you must tread water. Overeating here is a good way to cramp up, but so is not eating at all. If you want to really get with the 'Recon Experience', you must defecate in your wetsuit. The pool people will not like you. When you are done, what do you do? Throw the gear in the boat and run back home. Log is good enough. If you are feeling like Wade Hannah (the 'Dinosaur Training' guy) meets Marathon Man, you are getting it. Another PT session before evening chow, generally lighter on the calisthenics but always including a run of at least ten miles, wrapped up the day. You can emulate some of the hazing and toughening by doing it to yourself. Medicine balls are a viable alternative to a boot in the gut. Take up kickboxing or Jujutsu to absorb some knocks and falls. Heavy slug loads in a light twelve-gauge pack a wallop after a hundred rounds or so. When I took my first Jujutsu class, the instructor said that we would all gain five or ten pounds in the first few months as our bodies developed denser fascia to deal with the constant hard falls. I found this to be the case. A program of mild beatings will toughen you up from the inside out and make the real beatings less telling. Mix it up. One day, decide to go on a long hike in the mountains with a heavy pack. The next day, swim across the local lake. A bunch of plyometric depth jumps will simulate parachute landing. Do things you are afraid to do. Do things that make you cold, hungry, wet, and miserable. Run in shorts in the snow or full sweats in July every once in a while to break up the monotony. Combat is dynamic and chaotic, and every situation is different. You cannot anticipate and prepare for the physical and psychological demands. The best move, therefore, is to always do something different and stress all of your energy systems in varying ways. Remember that endurance is the most pertinent quality, and that endurance is mostly mental. I forgot - we did do flexibility exercises that pertained to shooting. Kneeling and sitting positions need to be rock solid, and the only way to make that happen is if you can completely relax into them. If you are into rifle craft, you will need some hip, back, shoulder, and hamstring flexibility.