NEW ORLEANS – Standing on the yellow footprints, crawling through the Quigley, holding the eagle, globe and anchor for the first time. These are moments that are emblazoned on every Marine’s soul. The title of Marine is earned, never given. For our brothers and sisters in the U.S. Navy who pursue their qualification as Fleet Marine Force Warfare Specialists, the moment they earn the FMF insignia is an equally memorable experience.
The Marine Corps is, first and foremost, a naval combined arms expeditionary force. A key element to the success of our Navy-Marine Corps team is the integration of sailors throughout the Marine Corps operating forces. The FMF program is prime example of that close integration. Qualification is a requirement for all Navy personnel assigned to Fleet Marine Force units. Earning it is not easy. In order to qualify and receive the accompanying insignia, the Corpsmen must study Marine Corps history, weaponry, and unit-specific information in addition to several other courses of study. These areas require months of study and memorization, culminating in a board review which must be passed with a minimum of 80 percent proficiency.
Chief Billini Benoit, a reserve Corpsman assigned to 4th Medical Battalion, 4th Marine Logistics Group, Marine Forces Reserve, has developed an innovative program that helps his fellow reserve Corpsmen earn this coveted qualification. Witnessing first-hand the lack of reserve Corpsmen earning their qualifications, Chief Benoit saw a problem and an opportunity.
“Traditionally if the battalion saw four or five Corpsmen receive their qualifications, that was amazing. Realistically, it is not,” said Benoit. “In a unit that can have 100 sailors and only five receive qualifications; I wasn’t satisfied with that.”
Leveraging Civilian Experience
After getting permission from his chain of command to create a training program to address these shortfalls, Benoit got to work. As a FMF-qualified Corpsman, and a reserve sailor intimately familiar with the unique time constraints of reserve duty, he was uniquely qualified to design a methodology that worked for reserve personnel. Benoit is also a high school teacher by trade and has leveraged that experience into creating this program. Benoit said he relied heavily upon lessons learned while pursuing a master’s degree in educational leadership from Barry University.
The intent was to build an easy-to-follow framework that steadily covered the pertinent information for each of the Corpsmen in their respective situations. As with many educational institutions, an internet-based system was the most logical methodology.
“I worked with a fellow educator, and she made a list of a bunch of free online learning applications,” Benoit said. “Together with one of my high school students we went through and used each of the applications until we identified the easiest one to use for me and for the students.”
Benoit’s use of his high school students is yet another innovative facet of his program. High school students received service hours for helping with the program by creating the first user profiles and beta testing various studying and testing methods. The result was an online course geared specifically for reserve Corpsmen seeking to earn their FMF qualification. The course guides the sailors through all required program areas of study, over a period of four months.
“The sailors study and take quizzes one section at a time. In the course documents section of the page, there are various study guides, index cards, and other techniques for each of the sections. There is a quiz on each section and a chapter test on each chapter; no different from any other learning environment,” Benoit said.
Impact on Recruiting and Retention
According to Benoit, of the 16 Corpsmen that have completed the program since January, all 16 have passed their board and qualified as Fleet Marine Force Warfare Specialists, giving his program thus far a 100 percent passage rate.
“In the old days you would have been handed the manuals and told to study them for a board ‘some time in the future.’ This allows for constant contact with the material and I am in constant contact with the students,” he said.
Benoit says he calls or emails the corpsmen in the course at least once every other day and that he lives for the emotion in their voice when they can call him and tell them they have passed. Benoit began working with sailors at the beginning of the year and believes that by the end of the year, he will be able to at least quadruple the number of sailors in his unit that receive their FMF qualification.
He is helping to improve the recruitment and retention of other reserve sailors to Marine Forces Reserve, said Lt. Col. Trey Chairsell, the inspector-instructor for 4th Medical Battalion. By having this course, which serves as a clear path and has a proven track record of success towards the qualifications necessary to join a Marine Corps unit, he added, more “blue side sailors” will be encouraged to join MARFORRES units.
With the continued success of his program, Benoit plans to make more classes available including an officer’s course in November. The courses are open to anyone that would like to use them to study for their qualification. If you would like to participate, please contact him at Billini.Benoit@hotmail.com.