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Photo Information

Marines with 23rd Marine Regiment, 4th Marine Division, run to the next sparring checkpoint during a Marine Corps Martial Arts Program (MCMAP) black belt culminating event at Fort Pickett, Virginia on Jan. 29, 2022. The culminating event included a five mile run, various exercise stations, and sparring matches where Marines used techniques learned throughout their MCMAP training. At the conclusion of the event, Marines were awarded their black belts from instructors and fellow black belts throughout the regiment. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. David Intriago)

Photo by Lance Cpl. David Intriago

One Mind, Any Weapon: MCMAP at Fort Pickett

7 Feb 2022 | Cpl. James Stanfield U.S. Marine Corps Forces Reserve

Marines from 23rd Marine Regiment, 4th Marine Division, deployed in support of Operation Allies Welcome (OAW), have been training day and night to increase their proficiency in the Marine Corps Martial Arts Program (MCMAP) on Fort Pickett, Virginia. MCMAP aims to produce Marines and units that are more lethal, exhibit greater resiliency, and are equipped to handle the rigors of combat.

MCMAP exposes Marines to physical hardship and interpersonal violence by placing emphasis on Professional Military Education (PME), the study of warrior cultures, and frequent experience with combative techniques and environments. Training is led by Martial Arts Instructors (MAIs), who are specially trained Marines who work to develop the mental, moral, and physical strength of Marines through the use of MCMAP training.

The MCMAP proficiency of a Marine is represented by the color belt they wear, similar to the belt systems used by other martial arts disciplines. Tan, the first belt, is earned during recruit training for enlisted Marines or the basic officer course for officers, after completing more than 25 hours of training. Marines can then progress from tan to gray, green, brown, and black belts through additional training courses.

U.S. Marine Corps 1st Lt. Kristen Parsons, the company commander of Headquarters Company, 23rd Marine Regiment, also an MAI, from Littlerock, California, volunteered to serve with OAW for the primary reason of facilitating MCMAP training for other Reserve Marines during this activation.

"We have 38 training days each year to complete our operational, MOS, and annual requirements, with a month gap between drills,” Parsons explained. "Both the time constraints and the time gap between MCMAP instruction make it extremely challenging to belt up Marines in Reserve units."

“At the end of the day, it's not just MCMAP, it's a bigger picture. You've got a more confident Marine, they're going to be a more confident leader no matter where they go.”Staff Sgt. James Jimenez, 23rd Marine Regiment

23rd Marine Regiment leadership was determined to give MCMAP training precedence during OAW because of the lengthy training requirements for each level of proficiency.

"Col. Jones (the commanding officer of 23rd Marine Regiment) ensured we exploited this opportunity by emphasizing and prioritizing MCMAP throughout the Regiment, resulting in a focused effort by all MAIs to belt up as many full-duty tan belt Marines as possible to a gray belt or higher," said Parsons.

While the commander's intent for MCMAP includes "exposing Marines to physical hardship and interpersonal violence," according to Marine Corps Order 1500.59A, training also aims to develop the minds of Marines. According to Parsons, MCMAP develops discipline, attention to detail, persistence, and unit cohesion. These traits, along with discussions focused on Marine Corps core values, leadership traits and leadership principles, lead to the creation of what the program refers to as "ethical warriors."

MCMAP proficiency also influences the promotion of Marines through the warfighting section of the new Junior Enlisted Promotion Evaluation System (JEPES). According to Parsons, a Marine's belt level directly affects their promotion score and is often the deciding factor for Marines to be promoted, especially in the Reserve Component.

Parsons organized, instructed, and conducted testing for over 500 Marines, advancing them from tan belt to gray, with many continuing through green, brown, and black. She was assisted by Staff Sgt. James Jimenez, an Electro-Optical Ordnance Repairer with Headquarters Company, 23rd Marine Regiment, from San Antonio, Texas, and Staff Sgt. Sebastian Agudelo, a motor vehicle operator with Truck Company, 23rd Marine Regiment, from Houston, Texas. Both Jimenez and Agudelo are MAIs.

Jimenez believes that training in MCMAP and earning new belts can help increase the confidence and leadership skills of Marines and improve combat readiness.

“There are a lot of people who struggle. If they're not confident in themselves, you just give them some kind of tool, [like MCMAP]. It builds up that confidence,” he explained. “At the end of the day, it's not just MCMAP, it's a bigger picture. You've got a more confident Marine, they're going to be a more confident leader no matter where they go.”

MCMAP training occurred three times a day: early in the morning, before the beginning of the duty day for many Marines; in the afternoon for the select group of Marines training to earn their black belts; and late into the evening, for those Marines unable to attend in the morning. This separation of classes, along with mask-wearing and the use of hand sanitizer, allowed the training to be conducted safely.

Snow MCMAP Photo by Lance Cpl. David Intriago
Marines with 23rd Marine Regiment, 4th Marine Division, perform a front kick technique during a Marine Corps Martial Arts Program (MCMAP) class at Fort Pickett, Virginia on Jan. 21, 2022. The Department of Defense, through U.S. Northern Command, and in support of the Department of Homeland Security, is providing transportation, temporary housing, medical screening, and general support for at least 50,000 Afghan evacuees at suitable facilities, in permanent or temporary structures, as quickly as possible. This initiative provides Afghan personnel essential support at secure locations outside Afghanistan. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. David Intriago)

Training and belting up so many Marines would not have been possible without logistical support from outside of 23rd Marine Regiment. MCMAP training requires special equipment, like rifle mokojus, sparring daggers, and training batons, to conduct safe, realistic training.

Parsons coordinated with Marines at the Marine Corps Martial Arts and Fitness Center of Excellence, located at Marine Corps Base Quantico, Virginia, and secured additional training equipment.

"That outside assistance was huge, enabling us to conduct pugil stick bouts, weapons-free sparring, and our black belt culminating event," she explained.

Along with instructing Marines from Task Force Pickett, one Navy Religious Program Specialist 1st Class from 3rd Force Reconnaissance Company, 4th Marine Division, and nine Army Military Police Officers from the 919th Military Police Company, New Mexico Army National Guard, took part in the training.

The ability to conduct such an impressive amount of MCMAP training was a unique opportunity, rarely seen in the Marine Corps Reserve. Its impact will continue to be seen in 23rd Marine Regiment for years to come.

"We have staff sergeants and officers who received their first opportunity to attend a MCMAP class here at OAW, arriving as tan belts and now departing as green belt," explained Parsons. "Marines were so excited about this opportunity to earn a higher belt that they attended class in the rain and snow to practice. As Marines earned their belts, their motivation, esprit de corps, and the excitement about the positive impact this will have on their career quickly spread across the Regiment."