Under the black flag.

America’s 1stSgt Vents
The problem with being a Marine is sometimes lesser beings try to hobble you with their own perceived limitations.  In the case of FAST Co this takes the form of Sailors losing their minds over the day to day activities of Marines.

In Bahrain any time a FAST Marine is seen doing anything resembling training with an actual weapon we always get a phone call from the Naval Security types. “There are Marines with rifles! THEY HAVE RIFLES!” Seriously? I would trust the average Marine with a rifle over most anyone else.

Lately my favorite thing is getting calls about Marines conducting physical training (PT). It is summer in the Middle East which means it is furiously hot and in Bahrain, humid as well. In deathly fear of heat injuries no one is allowed to PT when the Wet Bulb Globe Temperature is over 90 degrees. We call this black flag conditions. In the Marine Corps units generally cancel all non-essential physical activity outside.  We immediately all go outside to conduct our own individual PT.  I have never had any issues conducting my own personal training on a Marine base in black flag.

I have pointed out to anyone who would listen that the Marines are expected to fight in black flag conditions yet not allowed to conduct simple physical training.  The initial response is usually the same: “But you can’t!” Sigh, never tell a Marine he can’t do something.

In World War II the Japanese commander of the garrison on Tarawa boasted “it would take one million men one hundred years” to conquer the island. It took the Marines three days.

During the Korean War the amphibious landing at Inchon was considered impossible by most American generals. The U.S. Marine Corps managed it in two days.
During my time with the Chemical Biological Incident Response Force we routinely participated in static displays of equipment or conferences highlighting our capabilities as an emergency response force. In August of 2006 we took part in a big Chem/Bio extravaganza in Quantico that included a number of various emergency response agencies, fire departments, police, and a bunch of those three letter outfits.

Despite the massive heat wave striking the continent all the vendors and various response organizations spoke to the assemblage about their capabilities and whiz bang gear they had available. Our operations officer took the podium and began to talk about what we do at CBIRF. Essentially he said equipment and training wise CBIRF didn’t really offer anything different than any other organization. What we did have was the capability to get 200 U.S. Marines on the road in two hours who would do anything you told them to. This was greeted with some eye rolling and a ‘yeah sure’ kind of attitude.

Suddenly two helicopters from HMX-1 thundered over the tree tops heading toward the open field where the expo was taking place. On board were about 50 or so of us with full Personal Protective Equipment on either MOPP gear or Level A suits with SCBAs. The helos came to a hover and rotated 180 degrees so that their tails faced the crowd. The ramps dropped and we ran out on to the field with all our equipment.

A buddy of mine in the crowd told me later an Army officer standing near him exclaimed to some of his colleagues: “They’re running in full PPE! They’re running in full PPE!”

In minutes we had set up a full decontamination site, a medical triage site, static displays of all our rescue equipment, reconnaissance equipment, and all the Marines were in a formation at parade rest. On a fine August day in Virginia during a heat wave in full PPE, Marines again did what others were unwilling or incapable of doing.

This year Bahrain FAST Marines have stood over 90 days of fixed site security missions in full combat gear weighing up to 90lbs in black flag. We have not had a single heat casualty. This isn’t necessarily because we are tougher (we are), but as a culture Marines lean heavily on strong NCO leadership.  My NCOs know the consequences of not ensuring their men drink plenty of water and keep any eye out for signs of heat related injuries.  Plus (here’s the crazy part) we train in the environments we are expected to operate in so we are somewhat conditioned to it. 

“But you’re being unsafe 1stSgt!’

Negative. Being a full fledged member of the Safety Gestapo myself my job isn’t to immediately declare we can’t do something simply because there may be a hazard. I will ensure there are procedures in place to help mitigate any hazards and if they are unsatisfactory then we will make the call.  I am also not an advocate of making training miserable simply to train for misery. Operations become miserable all by themselves without any extra help so I am not a proponent of sleep deprivation training or any of that nonsense just to “get hard”. 

Did I also mention that my Company Gunny received a “noteworthy” result as our Company Safety Ninja in our recent CGRI inspection? I think we are doing it right. 

Sorry gang, needed to vent a little. Really, I love the Navy. 

Semper Fi,
America’s 1stSgt
/ / / /


  1. Face it First Sargent the Navy does NOT want the Marines in sick bay where they will be chasin the Nurses up and down the halls. 🙂

    As far as doing what the others won’t or can’t…
    That has always been the Marine way.
    What the ‘others’ don’t like is the Marines doing it in front of everybody so that the ‘others’ noses get rubbed very thourghly in all of their can’t[s] and

    Lord-dee, I do loves all my knuckle-draggers.
    Kisses and Hugs for all of them.

    Miss Em

  2. Top,
    We have to train as we fight, in the same conditions that we’ll fight in…heat or cold.
    After the first “gulf war” we were down training at Ft Irwin.
    It was only 106 degrees F. A new LT and I were at a site a few miles out in the desert…the troops being tested had to hike to our location (if they could find us) then we tested them on common task stuff.
    When we had time between groups, we’d strip off our old woodland camos and had our PT shorts on..then we’d go for a run in the desert. We just ran around our testing site.
    After 3 days, we were told it was hot to run.
    oh well.

  3. I couldn’t stop laughing about the Navy being alarmed that Marines have weapons. What would they expect you to have?

    Do they get worried about construction workers carrying around power tools, or receptionists having staplers?

  4. Gruntsbane:

    A form of life that flourishes in protected areas. Identified by the lack of wear and tear.

    Can cause nausea, headache, violent muscle spasms, loss of temper, intense frustration, sour stomach, indigestion, heartburn, pain in neck, fatigue.

  5. One wet fall day in Oklahoma, my friend and I went down to watch a Army Special Forces reserve unit hold an open house. They were to repel, fast rope and helo this and that. Generally play with their helicopters. It began to mist and get a little foggy. THEY SHUT THE WHOLE THING DOWN.
    A Marine we served with had transferred to the unit to be a medic. He said it was always like that. They never trained in inclement weather. I asked an Army SNCO in the unit, how do you ever expect to fight in weather if you don’t train in it? He had no response. He shrugged his shoulders and walked off.

  6. *sigh*

    In defense of my favorite service, I think it’s only fair to point out that we soldiers in GA do PT as well as all kinds of training in full body armor in up to 100 degree heat.

    The 1SG is right- you just gotta drink crazy amounts of water.

  7. CI Roller, I suppose if more small unit leaders stayed on top of things then higher wouldn’t have to go berserk like that. A little supervision goes a long way.

    Saker, just remember that when you are an NCO. Stay on top of your troops and inspect what you expect.

    Grimmy, if you have those symptoms you should probably pound some water brother.

    Okie, remember, they were SPECIAL.

    Magoo, I guess it really boils down to a cultural difference. We are an alien breed to most as it is.

  8. So I suppose….let’s say it’s a black flag day and the enemy decides to attack. The bureaucrats say: “Not today, it’s a black flag day. Come back when conditions are more temperate.”

    I guess it works something like that. Right?

    No, you can choose from cheesecake, brownie, apple fritters today. Any number you want.

  9. “Grimmy, if you have those symptoms you should probably pound some water brother.”

    No sir, (I’ve been out of the Corps for a long time so I can call anyone sir I wanna 😛 }, that’s just a short list of the symptoms that I recall suffering whenever I had to deal with REMFs.

    The muscle spasms came from the effort to keep my hands and arms at my sides, instead of around the throats that begged their attention.

  10. Those who [are dumb enough to] say what a Marine can or cannot do are usually one of two types: either they can’t or they wouldn’t if they could. Common sense says that the conditions under which you are expected to fight are those under which it is best to be trained. That may be a difficult concept for some to grasp, but I’m so glad that Marines live by that understanding. Semper Fi, America’s 1st Sgt., and thank you for your service, dedication & sacrifice.

  11. SerenSojo, those who say what a Marine can or cannot do are called First Sergeant. Our level of intelligence is usually debated behind closed doors where we can’t overhear it (but I have my ways of finding out!). It is also an unfortunate fact that common sense is not a common virtue particularly among those who are supposed to be educated or experienced enough to know better.

  12. Sadly, common sense is just not that common. (I will admit to hoping for a black flag once or twice at TBS… although our radios seemed to go “weak and garbled” when the words black flag were uttered.)

  13. I remember black flag days in bootcamp.

    They just kept us in the barracks, closed up the windows, and PT’d the hell out of us.

    I can still recall the pushups. Especially the pushups. Hands separated by two floor tiles. The DIs weren’t allowed to have us do more than x # of pushups at a time by count, so they’d just have us do pushups until the sweat from or face made a puddle that touched both thumbs.

    No count off so no violation.

    That there is creative problem solving, USMC style.

    PS. I was a Hollywood Marine. We had it easy.

  14. America’s 1st Sgt., for the sake of clarity, I was DEFINITELY referring to non-Marines attempting to say what was best for you. I agree with your stance 100%. I have a friend in the 3/5 and when I hear from him following a field op, he’s smoked, but as moto as ever to face whatever lies ahead. I’ve spoken with friends in other branches of service, including family members, and it’s just not the same intensity. After well over two centuries of doing it your way, the Corps’ way, and having it been so successful, it would lunacy to change it at this point.

  15. Jim, in Okie we used to monitor the radio for the tropical cyclone conditions. If it got down to a certain TC condition we were yanked out of the field and locked ourselves in the barracks with a case of beer.

    Grimmy, there is still great debate about who had it worse Parris Island or San Diego. PI definitely had the bugs but watching planes land every day in SD made you realize there was actually real life going on outside the misery of MCRD.

    SerenSojo, no worries, didn’t think you were in disagreement. I probably should have been more clear on my response.

    Spockgirl, you flatterer!

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