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My Experience at the Special Missions Training Center

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Darden Purrington

Hello again world! It’s been a while since I last blogged, but it’s summer and I’m infinitely less busy now so here I am.

I am currently at the Special Missions Training Center (SMTC), which is onboard the Marine Corps base Camp Lejeune in North Carolina. I applied for this internship back in March (which feels like lightyears ago now) not because I am some weird math guru, but because I knew SMTC is where anyone who aspires to join the Maritime Security Response Team (MSRT) is trained.

I’ve been here for a week and a half now and so far I’ve been blown away. I was excited to come here, but people at school and at my first assignment would apologize when I told them where I was going to spend the second part of my summer – “That sucks, at least you get to go on a boat first though.” I heard so much of that talk I left my last unit with a little trepidation about coming here but knowing that I’d only be here for a short time and can do anything for seven weeks.

I wish I could tell every single person who talked about how awful North Carolina was or how much I wasn’t going to like the type of people here just how wrong they are. I’d been here less than two business days when one of the guys here spent over an hour explaining the training process for MSRT, where people tended to fail out, what was hard, why it was hard, how I could prepare for which parts now, and his experiences with the team. I continued to spend a week asking people questions about this and that and the other and I never was asked to stop, I was never denied a thought-out answer, and nobody ever acted like they were above talking to some random cadet they’d never met before. Never have I met people so enthusiastic about their jobs and so willing to spend their own time talking to me about what it takes to do what they’ve done or get to where they have been. I had begun to think that coming here would mark this off my list, make it easier to think I’d just do whatever for five years and leave, that the Coast Guard didn’t have anything I could do or be interested in for more than a few years, but that’s not what I found. I found people I’d want to work for and a mission I could see myself spending a career in, which isn’t something I ever even considered before.

Though I’m not totally sure what we will be doing day-to-day or week-to-week, I can’t think of a better way to spend my summer, a better place to be, or better human beings to learn from.

Week Two Madness

The past two weeks were exciting ones which started with the other cadet assigned to SMTC for this internship showing up. My newfound partner in crime and I joined CSPI (students who are part of the College Student Pre-Commissioning Initiative; it’s kind of like ROTC for the Coast Guard) for a week on the range qualifying on our pistol, the Sig Sauer P229 DAK. Our instructors were the BTOC (Basic Tactical Operator Course) Cadre, who were awesome. They took several of us from having never been through a weapons qualification in the Coast Guard to passing before the week was over. More than that, they had exercises and motions we could go through at home to better ourselves on our own time. I particularly enjoyed learning these tips because it means I can continue to get better while in my barracks room or at school or at home on leave.

The following week the other cadet and I split up for the week – he continued on with CSPI going to sector and a Free Response Cutter (FRC) and a small boat station while I joined the Precision Marksman (PM) Course and the last few days of training for the reservists new to the Port Security Units (PSU). While with the PMs on Monday night I got the opportunity to shoot the M110 (the rifle the PMs shoot!). I’m not sure I’ve ever done anything else as cool as that. Later with PSU I was able to walk around behind the group with the instructors as they patrolled through “combat town” and were shot at, put under pressure, and forced to use the medical skills they learned in their Tactical Combat Casualty Care (TCCC) Course on dummies which “bled” fake blood while evacuating their injured “comrades.”

Week three concluded with plans for us to go through Water Survival in July, knock our “math project” out during stand down, and continue to gain exposure to the different classes and courses being held at SMTC! I’m looking forward to beginning our assigned project on Monday and putting my database and excel skills to work.

Math or Management?

Though I came to SMTC on an Operations Research (mathematics) internship the great irony about my project has been how closely it actually links back to my major, Management. Math and Management, you say, how could those two be similar? Well my dear readers, let me assure you that they are quite similar in this fashion.

As a Management major at the Academy I have had to take classes in subjects like accounting and finance (which is all most people think about us, “financial engineers” as some would say), but that’s not all we do. We also take classes in Human Resource Management and Project & Operations Management and Strategy, we even get a tiny bit of computer literacy through a course called Management of Information Systems and other optional computer courses. I am lucky enough to have been able to cross over and take several courses from the Electrical Engineers, giving me an even better background in all things computer and in programming.

Enough about my major, back to this project. This project that was assigned was a scheduling problem within the Support Operation Cell (SOC). For every course at SMTC the SOC provides people to help run the flat range, shoot house, or force on force portions of training. Apparently this was an optimization, mathematics issue, but it sure seemed like an Operations Management, Human Resource Management type of issue to me. Course schedules, number of SOC members required, and unit cohesion within the divisions of the SOC all had to be balanced to create a new schedule witch not only distributes the workload more evenly, but also allows for forecasting of when would be a good time for people to take leave, when all hands will be needed, and still keeps the members of the SOC with the courses with which they are familiar. The proposed solution was presented to the XO of the base as well as the Training Officer, the Deployable Special Forces Branch Chief, the SOC Branch Chief, and several members of SOC management. This presentation was great practice for future presentations and full of good feedback from everyone who attended.