MARINE CORPS RECRUIT DEPOT SAN DIEGO --
The depot’s rappel tower may have looked easy for some Company H recruits as they stood at the base of the obstacle and looked up.
Recruit Jeremy McAlinden, Platoon 2170, said his thoughts were no different until he climbed 60 feet to the top. Fear then settled in and his body began to sweat and shake as he stepped near the tower’s edge.
“I could smell rope-burn from (the other recruits rappelling) when I got to the top of the tower,” said McAlinden, a Muskegon, Mich., native. “My adrenaline started pumping and I could hear my own heartbeat.”
In a matter of seconds, McAlinden rappelled safely to the ground thanks to the training he received that day.
“I definitely felt more confident in myself,” said McAlinden. “I felt like I walked away from this obstacle a little taller.”
With two weeks left until graduation, recruits get the opportunity to become familiar with rappelling through a basic course. They learn three methods for rappelling: fast-roping, “hell hole” insertion and wall rappelling — all of which are used for controlled vertical insertions on combat objectives.
Fast-roping – descending from a platform 15 feet above the ground – is the first technique recruits learn during this training phase. Fast-roping is similar to the way fire fighters slide down poles in their firehouses.
Marine use the technique is used to insert into an area as quickly as possible. Recruit after recruit slides down the rope so quickly that they need to clear the landing zone immediately to prevent being landed on by the next recruit.
Like the fast-rope technique, the hell hole is used for fast insertion from a helicopter. The term refers to an opening in a helicopter’s fuselage. Unlike fast-roping, hell hole insertion is used with a safety harness and is done at a higher altitude. This version of rappelling is a controlled vertical fall from the top of the tower.
The other technique recruits learn is the wall rappel. This method is also used with a safety harness, and simulates rappelling down the side of a building.
Recruits learn how to make their safety harnesses, or seat, using six feet of rope. They wrap the rope around their legs and hips, securing it with a series of square knots.
“Safety is very important during this phase of training,” said Sgt. Mauricio Ramirez, drill instructor, Instructional Training Company. “We check the recruits’ safety harnesses three times before they rappel.”
With their seat, a tactical helmet, gloves and carabiner, the recruits are ready to tackle the obstacle. An instructor on the ground spots the recruits as they rappel. Known as the belay man, it is his responsibility to ensure the recruits are safe as they descend from the obstacle.
If a recruit falls or loses his footing, the belay man kneels and pulls on the rope, stopping the recruit in place so that he could regain his position and continue his descent.
Although some Company H recruits may never again rappel in their Marine Corps career, there’s always the chance they may be called on to perform the maneuver to fulfill their duty as basic riflemen.