PRESIDIO OF MONTEREY, Calif. -- While the other services were enjoying a long President's Day weekend, the Marine Corps Detachment spent Friday morning conducting a battle skills exercise at Soldier Field, Feb. 14.
Prior to dawn the Marines set off on a 3.8 mile hike that led them over the hilly terrain of the Presidio of Monterey. Once they reached Soldier Field they dropped their heavy packs and ate a post-hike breakfast before taking part in four events meant to reinforce the training they received at boot camp and Marine Combat Training.
"The environment [at the Defense Language Institute] is about as close as you can get to a college campus while still being in the Marine Corps, so these sort of events are to make sure we're up to standards and remind us we're still Marines," said Lance Cpl. Andrew Hammond, a Mandarin Chinese language student.
The four events reaffirmed the basics of patrolling, communications, observation and medical training -- each, essential skills to have while deployed. The 'battle skills test' was designed to provide reinforcement for 30 identified skills that are fundamental for every Marine.
"We find that the battle skills test is a good way to maintain proficiency in some skills that Marines don't see here at DLI," said 1st Lt Mallory Martinez, the Academic Company Commander for the Marine Corps Detachment.
Service members often spend more than a year learning foreign languages at DLI. The intensity of their studies and length of their schooling is uncommon for young Marines and often leaves their initial training less sharp in their minds.
"We're focusing a lot on infantry skills today, things that [each of us] lose when you're here for a year, year and a half," said Lance Cpl. Kirsten Gray, a Modern Standard Arabic language student.
While the BST training focused on infantry basics, the trainers tried to overlap aspects of the exercise with their schooling. During the communications portion, the Marines took turns role-playing as service members providing emergency relief in a foreign country - then as refugees seeking aid - with bad-actors peppered in to cause unrest. In both roles, the linguists were instructed to use their newly acquired language skills to bridge cultural gaps and reflect the type of work they may be required to do in a real world crisis.
"They received a privilege to come here, to go through school and learn a lot about a foreign culture," said Sgt. Christopher Ellis, one of the trainers conducting the communications portion. "The military should be thoroughly equipped with how foreign nations work."
In addition to the four areas of focused training, the Marines also practiced their grappling skills by pairing off and trying to make their challenger submit. These type of refresher events are the new normal throughout the Marine Corps and those enrolled in DLI believe it is especially important that they have this opportunity.
"Sometimes we feel like we're cut off from the rest of the Marine Corps," said Gray. "Getting to do ground-fighting, getting to do infantry skill training, it's definitely a nice break from the day to day activities."