By Mrs. Melissa K Buckley (Leonard Wood)July 18, 2012
FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. -- Imagine being stuck in mud waist deep with swampy water up to your neck. Now, you have to hold your breath, dive under the muck, find the tow point on a huge truck and hook a cable to it.
It may sound like a dirty job, but believe it or not, the Marines that are handpicked for the Vehicle Recovery Course actually consider this training to be an honor.
"Being neck high in the muddy water with the bugs and diesel, all the fluid the truck has, is dirty," said Sgt. Dwight Bletcher, Camp Lejeune Motor Transport operator. "It's an experience. You can't know what it feels like until you go through it yourself. I will always remember this."
The Fort Leonard Wood Marines that teach the course like it that way -- memorable. The lessons students are learning today will be used to save lives and vehicles in the future.
Fort Leonard Wood is the only place the roughly eight-week Marine Vehicle Recovery Course is taught. The curriculum consists of four classes: crane operations, oxygen acetylene cutting, vehicle recovery operations and tow operations.
The students are usually either mechanics or motor transport operators. They must have one year in the fleet, and are nominated for this class by their motor pool chief.
Last month a class of 24, split into teams of six Marines, was challenged with getting a Mine Resistant Ambush Protected Vehicle out of one pit and a Buffalo Mine Protected Clearance Vehicle out of another.
Cpl. Joseph Brockmeier, Vehicle Recovery Course instructor, Fort Leonard Wood Marine Corps Detachment, said they have designed the course so the Marine students can train the way they are going to perform these tasks in real life one day.
"Vehicles can roll over into canals and they have to have the training to think on their feet and know how to get it out of the situation," Brockmeier said. "We give them a real life scenario, like you can only use one side of the pit and the vehicle has to be recovered a certain way."
To make the training more realistic, the instructors place old bumpers, tires and fuel tanks in the pit to create obstructions.
"This way, they have to really recon the area and make sure the vehicle is okay to be recovered," Brockmeier said.
This means the students will be spending even more time in the squishy trenches.
"Our pits are wet and muddy. They water is about chest deep. The vehicles sink in them pretty deep," Brockmeier said. "There is some wildlife in there. There are frogs, and sometimes we see snakes and turtles."
After only minutes of trudging through the slimy pit, collecting debris and hooking the Medium Tactical Vehicle Replacement MK36 7-ton wrecker to the upside down Buffalo, Bletcher's team had turned the Buffalo over and safely hauled it out.
The training is dirty, but it doesn't end there -- sometimes the profession of a vehicle recovery operator can be a dirty job, too.
"Worst-case scenario -- somebody is hurt or killed during the rollover and we still have to recover the vehicle," Brockmeier said.
During the class, the instructors stress safety and speed, as often these recovery maneuvers are performed in dangerous zones when deployed.
Bletcher, his camouflage coveralls soaked through with Missouri mud, said this was already true for him.
"I actually experienced this on my last deployment to Afghanistan when our vehicle rolled over into a wadi," Bletcher said.
He is looking forward to being on the other side of the situation.
"Being able to recover a vehicle like others have done for me in the past is pretty exciting," Bletcher said. "I can do more. I can actually get out and save some lives and vehicles. It feels good."
Bletcher was glad to be training on Fort Leonard Wood, so he could benefit from the Interservice Training Review Organization.
"The Marines are training very hard out here. We are not only doing this for us; in country, we help out other branches, so we cross-train on different vehicles out here," Bletcher said.
Students can leave the VRC course with a Medium Tactical Vehicle Replacement MK36 wrecker license and a Logistics Vehicle System Replacement MKR15 wrecker license. If they pass both, they will have a secondary military occupational specialty of 3536 Vehicle Recovery Operator.
"This is a great school. To be able to come to Missouri and do it, with the great terrain out here, is very pleasing," Bletcher said.