“A long, long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…”
By Jim Kuiken
As many of you know (and a lot of you may not), I spent a good portion of my 30-year Marine Corps career in Battalion Reconnaissance (Bn. Recon) and Force Reconnaissance (Force Recon), as well as a few other “special operations” units (ANGLICO, USMC Civil Affairs, etc.).
Suffice it to say that my career (and most of my deployments) did not follow a “traditional” career path in the Marine Corps. Don’t get me wrong…I wouldn’t have had it any other way! The reason I was in those positions for so long was because I absolutely loved it, and I was good at what I did.
It all started a long, long time ago… Back in the early ‘70’s, I was “tasked” for a special assignment, which ended up exposing me to the world of special operations, and I decided that I wanted to do that full-time. When I returned to the United States in 1975, I immediately started bugging my commanders to transfer me to 1st Recon Battalion, and after some wrangling, I was transferred over.
But that’s not how I got into Recon. That’s how I got into the Unit…but not how I got into operations. Before it was a primary “Military Occupational Specialty”, Recon was a secondary MOS (i.e., not permanent)…and before there was a Marine Corps Reconnaissance Training Company, there was RIP…Reconnaissance Indoctrination Program. It wasn’t a formal school like now, it was run by the battalion, and was somewhat akin to today’s Basic Reconnaissance Primer Course (BRPC) – but since it was locally designed and run, there was a lot more flexibility. (i.e., you had to get past them to get in…).
RIP started out with a series of tests, and if you passed all of them, along with an instructor critique and a peer evaluation…then you were moved forward into the training phase…again, having to pass all the training, and another instructor critique and peer evaluation. After all that, if you passed, you were finally brought on as a candidate, and sent to Amphibious Reconnaissance School (which no longer exists…it is akin to the current Basic Reconnaissance Course).
Suffice it to say, it was a tough hurdle to pass. And it all started out with one test…“The Rock”.
I didn’t really understand the test (I thought I did…but I found out much later, when I ended up running the RIP program for 1st Recon Bn.) that it wasn’t at all what I thought it was. And trust me, they didn’t explain anything. Part of the test was to see if you would just do as you were told, without hesitation, without questions. But we didn’t even know that…
They took us out one at a time to the beach, close to “Las Flores”, one of the many small “camps” that house various units on Marine Corps Base (MCB) Camp Pendleton. 1st Recon Bn. was housed there on Las Flores (before they got kicked out in 1976 and sent to Camp Talega, all the way in the back of Camp Pendleton, away from everyone else...but that’s another Frontline Tale, for another time… ;)
They took us out one at a time, over a two-day period, for “The Rock”. Since I was a Sergeant at the time, the highest ranking “tadpole” there, I had the honor of being woken up at 0400 (4am) on the first day, and hustled out to the beach. (they rode in a jeep, I ran alongside).
When we got there, I got a quick drink from a canteen, then they had me strip off my t-shirt, so I was wearing my boots and utility trousers, with no shirt. When I was ready, they backed the jeep up to the water’s edge, and dumped a big, perfectly round granite rock off into the surf. It was about the size of a small beach ball, was painted shiny black (which made it slick when wet), with a white skull and crossbones (with three painted bullet holes in the skull’s forehead).
As they pulled the jeep back up onto the packed area of sand, they told me to go over and pick up The Rock. I’ve never been one of these big hulking type guys…and at that time, was 5’8” and a massive 130 pounds…wet. That d@mn rock was heavy!!! And hard to pick up. And hard to hold on to…
When I finally muscled it up, and was holding it with both my hands on the bottom with my arms wrapped around it, they pointed south, and said “Stay in the water, half-way between your ankles and your knees, and run”. They didn’t say how far, or anything else, so I started running (if you can call a slog through mid-calf deep surf with boots and trousers, holding a very heavy, slick round rock “running”…) as fast as I could. They paced me in the jeep, and said nothing, as the sun topped the horizon and started to rise.
I don’t know how far I ran, and I didn’t know what I was supposed to do, so I just kept running until I basically passed out and fell into the surf, vomiting.
Evidently they pulled me out, because I came to in the jeep on the way back. They still said nothing until we got back to Las Flores, and then they said “Get out. Don’t say anything about the test. Send out the next one, then get cleaned up and grab chow. Someone will come get you in an hour.” The rest was history! I finished my RIP a few weeks later (doing a few hundred Recon pushups, ridge-runs, surf ops, and a whole bunch of other stuff along the way), and was on my way to Amphib Recon School.
That all sounds like a bunch of macho tuff-guy stuff, but a lot of folks who ran a lot farther than me never made it. Several of them never made it past The Rock…
Only when I finally took over as the SNCOIC (guy in charge…) of 1st Recon RIP, and studied the curriculum did I finally understand. It wasn’t about how far you ran, or how fast. It wasn’t a physical test at all! Those who gave it all, went as far as they could before their body just quit on them, those who asked no questions, just did…were the ones who passed. One of the guys who ran farther than anyone else, but ended just stopping and throwing the rock down was gone that day.
It was about if you quit.
They could make you stronger, they could teach you what you needed to know, and you would practice (ad nauseam), until everything you needed to do was deeply ingrained…but they could not teach you to “Never quit, never stop, never give in…” That was all you.
We ended up re-vamping and modernizing the RIP curriculum after I took over – but we kept