By Lance Cpl. Sarah Wolff-Diaz , Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton
MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. – On a lightless beach, 28 Marines emerged from the Pacific, ready to embark on a 29.4 mile trek through hills and sweltering heat to complete several missions that will test their endurance, communication skills and commitment to mission accomplishment.
This was the start of the 4th Annual Recon Challenge at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Calif., Sept. 15.
The competitors, officials and volunteers gathered, in the dark, on the San Onofre Beach. The race began with the Marines sprinting into the ocean, carrying ruck sacks weighing 60 to 70 pounds. They swam 1,000 meters out into the open-water, rounded a buoy and swam back to shore.
This year’s competitors carried the names of the Recon Marines killed during Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom on their backs and the dog tags of the fallen close to their hearts, said Master Sgt. Mariota Pa’u Jr., the operations chief for Reconnaissance Training Company, Advanced Infantry Training Battalion, School of Infantry-West, Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton.
Each two-man team surfaced from the water, jogged back to the starting point, where they changed into dry gear and retrieved their rifles before hiking to the next challenge.
From the San Onofre Beach, the Marines hiked 12.5 miles which separated them from their next designated obstacle.
“Communication is huge,” said Gunnery Sgt. Collin Barry, a chief instructor for the Reconnaissance Training Company. “We have many check points along the route, and a lot of safety stations. We’ve gone above and beyond to ensure the safety of these marines participating today.”
Cresting a hill, the competitors were faced with their first two tasks.
Several teams rushed to a pallet stacked with 50 sandbags waiting to be transferred to another pallet 50 meters away. While others immediately stripped down to “boots and utes,” (camouflaged utilities) and jumped into the pool to assemble an M240G machine gun under 15 feet of water.
After transferring sandbags and assembling the weapon and performing a function check, the teams made their way to the pistol and rifle ranges, where they were briefed as they approached the firing line to help prevent delays in their finishing times.
After emptying each magazine, the pairs set out to hike the second half of the competition.
“Hiking along the 101 was a long stretch and the hard ball was so hot,” said Master Sgt. Dave Jarvis, a training chief for Force Recon Company. “I didn’t have sunglasses so that was my internal breaking point. Everything was blinding, hot and burning.”
After overcoming the heat and scorching sun on the concrete straight-away, the Marines rounded the last bend with the finish line in view.
Marine Corps Community Services’ banners and tents lined the last 50 meter stretch of the race.
“You’ve got to save energy, because the hardest part is the last two miles,” explained Jarvis.
As the teams approached the home stretch, the spectators cheered and clapped as the competitors prepared to complete the last task of dragging a 250 pound Zodiac raft 50 meters to the finish line.
With a time of 9 hours, 28 minutes, 16 seconds, Jarvis and his partner Capt. William Burns, the operations officer for Force Recon Company, were awarded first place, beating the second place team by six minutes.
Jarvis and Burns received M4 Carbine rifles and decorated oars stating their victory. The second and third place teams received oars as well.
After a grueling 14 hour trial, the competitors gathered to celebrate the winners and to commemorate the sacrifices of their fellow Recon Marines.