When I was at 2d Recon Bn, I had the opportunity to attend the French Amphibious Commando Course in Martinique. The course is only 3 weeks long, but let me tell you … it’s a ball busting 3 weeks. You train on a little bit of everything jammed into that short course – hand-to-hand, rope work, boat work, and raids and ambushes.
Just a side note, the pictures are not of our class at the course, but they’re the only ones I could find online.
I have to admit that some of the details and timelines may be a bit off; I went to the course over 15 years ago. The first 2 plus weeks of the course are the training phase. First off, we did our water training and obstacle course. The water o-course was kind of like a jungle gym set in the water. It was tough, but nothing too crazy. The most memorable part of the training phase was by far the obstacle course throughout the mangrove trees. If you’re not familiar with mangroves, they’re basically trees with exposed root systems in coastal swamps. The course was through the mangrove roots and the mud we crawled, humped and “swam” through was so thick you actually had to wipe it off of your face in order see. And, to make things even better, it was full of huge crabs and smelled like garbage.
Intertwined among the obstacle courses was some hand-to-hand training. I have to say that most of the hand to hand was pretty crazy and very different from what we were used to. The coolest thing out of their fighting skills was getting trained on the effective use of the garrote. The garrote is basically a piece of wire used to silently take out an enemy. Cool stuff that we never had been introduced to back stateside.
The remainder of the training portion was taken up by another obstacle course (yes, they’re very into o-courses) and some rope bridges, climbing and rappelling. We did have to rappel with 550 cord and no harness. Basically it’s wrapped around your body in such a way to slow down your descent. It burns like hell and is uncomfortable, but works in a pinch.
The final exercise of the course was the last week. We moved about 75 kilometers in less than 36 hours through city streets, rolling hills and double canopy jungle. To say the least, the movement sucked. Guys had bleeding feet, dysentery, fire ant bites and all of our cammies were shredded from the “black palm” ripping into you. It was pretty cool to patrol through peoples’ backyards and get ambushed refitting at a local version of a 7/11. Things you could never do stateside without a lot of coordination. We just kept thinking “Can you imagine if we were in the US and someone saw a fully kit’d out foreign platoon moving in a staggered column through their backyard; total and utter panic. They’d probably shoot us!” Once we finished the raid on the target, we were supposed to get airlifted to the next objective. But, they told us our air was cancelled. Truly, I think that our instructor really didn’t like us. Earlier in the movement, we had offered a local with a school bus $20 USD for a ride within a kilometer of the objective, he agreed. It’s supposed to be a commando course, adapt and overcome, but our wonderful instructor said no vehicles. So we pressed on.
Once that raid was completed and we had moved back to our extract, we had a day of down time before our final amphib raid. Not as bad as the dismounted movement, but equally sucky. We paddled our Zodiacs around a large part of the island. I can’t remember for the life of me how far, but far enough. At one point, we had to cut across a peninsula by low carrying our boats. That was about a kilometer. We finally got to the objective; we took out the sentry with our new toys, the garrote, and hit the target.
After both final missions were complete, we enjoyed some of the islands finest beer, a lot of it and packed to head back to the states. The course was definitely a gut-check and I will say we all walked away with a couple of new tricks in our bag. Another valuable lesson we all learned is that the island of Martinique does not sell Copenhagen anywhere, so bring enough!
Bill Janson is a former Recon Marine and is the founder of Eleven 10, a tactical gear manufacturer.