ISLAND PARK, Idaho --
The sound of military style cadences could be heard echoing through Targhee National Forest, as five Marines from Recruiting Station Salt Lake City and the Recruiting Substation Twin Falls, Idaho, led 54 high school students through a grueling training camp there.
The Marines joined football players from Highland High School in Pocatello, Idaho, for their inaugural high altitude training camp 6-9 Aug.
The Marines participated in this event to instill teamwork and leadership traits into boys who are rapidly approaching adulthood, according to Maj. Jeffrey H. Buffa, commanding officer, Recruiting Station Salt Lake City, 12th Marine Corps District.
“What we are teaching these young men will not only help them become a cohesive football team, but become good citizens as well,” Buffa said. “The core values we learn in the Marine Corps, honor, courage and commitment, are characteristics I believe every American can benefit greatly from. If they can grasp these, plus our leadership traits, they will be successful in most any task they tackle.”
Highland’s head coach, Gino Mariani, has been contemplating the idea of high altitude training for years, and he said it was a “huge” bonus when the Marines accepted his invitation to join them for their first one.
“As a coach and as a father, being able to watch these kids and how they’re coming along … it’s been awesome,” Mariani said. “They’re learning a lot about character. The teamwork aspect of it has been tremendous, and that is something, as coaches, we try to get across to the kids. But, hearing it from organized people like the Marines, I think it hits home.”
Initially the boys didn’t seem happy with the new addition to their training routine.
From being herded off the buses boot camp style to tearing down the tents they just finished putting up, nothing seemed productive to them, the players said.
However, as the camp progressed, they began to see the motives behind the Marines’ unique training methods.
“I wasn’t expecting getting off the bus and doing everything like putting up our tents just to take them down again,” said Mitchel Haber, 15, a wide receiver on the junior varsity team. “It is pretty ‘on’ though, because the Marines are hardcore. I think it helped us. At first no one was working as a team when we put up our tents. When they made us take it all down, we thought ‘we got to get organized and work as a team better’ – and – we did.”
Once they made camp, the Marines separated them into six teams within three platoons. Each platoon had a Marine in charge. The teams competed in training exercises and a final “Marine Corps Challenge.”
It wasn’t a seamless experience though.
Halfway through the second day, the coaches and Marines decided to eliminate that afternoon’s portion of training since the boys were showing signs they were beginning to be overstrained after a three and a half mile run through the shallow Snake River.
“They are learning as they go and we’re learning as we go,” Mariani said.
The Marines adapted the training and implemented a less physically straining style of leadership and teamwork training for the rest of the day.
The platoons received more personal mentoring from their Marine leaders while drinking water and getting checked for injuries by the onsite emergency medical technician.
The final day consisted of a circuit course, the “Marine Corps Challenge,” with such obstacles as stretcher carries, pull ups, relays and sit ups. Each team received a list of words to memorize before the course. After the course, they had to write the list down to add to their overall score for the course.
After the challenge, the football players, coaches and Marines gathered around a camp fire for a distinctive ceremony.
During the training camp each of the players wore a colored bandana on their head to distinguish which team they were on. During the closing ceremony, they threw the bandanas into the fire and all donned a black one signifying they are all on the same team.
“This is something they’ll never forget,” Mariani said. “It is a great jump start for us – great ground work of teamwork and character building. The Marines have done what we would like to do, but in a way I think will stick.”
Mariani closed the training camp by addressing the players.
“You’ve gone from everybody here and there, to now you’re one, and don’t forget it,” Mariani said to the team. “Take what you learned from this camp and take it back to your other team mates who couldn’t be here. We need to teach them the things you’ve learned, and the things that you learned, you need to live by on and off the field. You are going to be a better person for it, and we are going to be a better team.
“If you guys work that hard on every play this season, no one will beat you. Hands down.”