You are on page 1of 9

Force Recon PT By Garm Olafson As suggested, here's a general introduction to Cold War era Marine Force Recon physical

training. What we did, why we did it, and how you can emulate some of this training for yourself are included. Anyone attempting to get in shape for similar duty can use this as a test of readiness, but the methods are simply not recommended for constant use. Introduction The first thing we have to do is flush out our headgear. While your Old Uncle Garm may be a 6'5", 275pound powerlifter today, when I was a Team Leader and Platoon Sergeant in 2nd Force Reconnaissance Company's Deep Recon Platoon I never weighed more than 210. Came back from an op or two around 180. I wasn't the biggest guy in the outfit - the Company Gunny was a good six inches taller and much heavier - but he was an exception to the rule. The Hollywood image of buffed and puffed muscleboys in 'elite' units is simple fantasy. Maybe the officers and company clerks had time for bodybuilding, but the actual operators, shooters, and hunters had completely opposite physical requirements. This article will discuss the physical demands of such a line of work, the physical requirements for selection to such a unit, and the physical training activities through the various stages of development. A few notes before we start. First, 2nd Force Recon no longer exists. This was the darkest day in the history of the free world, and passed without a single cry of anguish outside of the very small community of veterans of the unit. The Force Recon Association is all that is left (www.forcerecon.org). Second, this unit was a Company, which means (depending on the time and TO - Table of Organization the number of billets and the structure of the Marine Corps), three or four platoons. At the largest TO in my tenure, a platoon had four teams. A team had four men. There were about 110 members of 2nd Force Reconnaissance Company at any given time, with many of those being administrative or management personnel. The point is that the number of claimed members far exceeds the actual vets. Navy SEALs have expanded to at least six teams, and there have always been many thousands of Army SF people, but the Marine Force Recon Ranger is a very rare bird. Most of the people you meet who say they were weren't. Third, the methods of physical training may not have made a lot of scientific sense. This should be considered a report of what we did, as opposed to a program of what you should do. Running in boots on roads with 100-plus pounds of gear every day of the year is a sure path to multiple repetitive motion and overuse injuries. Finally, I am going to leave any 'close combat' training for another day. Hand-to-hand fighting received very little official attention, mainly because there are only so many hours in a day and mission-oriented skills were more important. We did a lot of unofficial training in this area, and there was a series of official programs, but they are beyond the scope of this article. Entry-level Conditioning and Skills The 'elite' US military units are generally thought of as the Navy SEALs, Army Special Forces, and Marine Recon. While there are/were certainly others (Special Forces Operational Detachment Delta, some Air Force and Coast Guard units, etc.), these are the 'big three'.

do 20 pull-ups without stopping. Nobody cares whether sit-ups are bad for you. and perform 80 sit-ups in two minutes or less. these are easily attainable goals. All of this information is dated by over twenty years. Attitude and temperament in non-stressful situations are often not valid indicators of how an individual will perform in a strange environment under arduous circumstances. However. These are generally jump and SCUBA qualified individuals who are tasked with gathering information for large scale (from a USMC perspective . This provides our first clue into the physical requirements of real modern combat.STA . the theme is definitely durability. As a measure of General Physical Preparedness (GPP). experience. These are generalizations. However. they will not be discussed further. Selection to a force-level reconnaissance unit is based on physical and medical qualifications and mental screening. perform 20 consecutive pull-ups. Recon gathers intelligence on the ground. Maggot. of course. Since those who can't get into Force Recon populate these organizations. the PFT is not very broad. either. You probably already know how to do it. it was theoretically possible to go directly to Force Recon from ITS. Thus. The bottom line here is that lots of 'cowboys' volunteered for Force Recon. Nonetheless. So. Marine Corps' general physical standards formed the basis of physical selection criteria.outfit). so get to work. The desire to kill communists is not a . Since the officers in Force Recon rarely went out on operations.These outfits had specific missions in relation to their parent organizations. meaning that there were no valid tests available. and specialized general roles in the overall 'special warfare' community. Since we went to the Army for parachute training and the Navy for SCUBA training. we also had to meet the physical qualifications for these schools before being allowed into battalion recon. one tradition is sacrosanct: Old Corps ways are always better than any newfangled silliness. resourcefulness. All these tests are measures of anaerobic strength endurance and basic capacity for relatively mild force output over time. but always hovers above 275 points. This is a reasonable baseline. The actual minimum changes depending on personnel needs. so there may be a few people who made it via this route. as none of the factors require the abilities of a world-class athlete. Anyone without major injury or permanent physical deficit can attain this level of fitness. in the Marine Corps. to get specific with respect to the Marine Corps. What this meant was the ability to score 300 points (perfect) on the Physical Fitness Test (PFT). here's your first tangible objective if you want to try to become a bad ass: Develop the ability to run three miles in 18 minutes or less. including the battalion reconnaissance units themselves. it was possible to be assigned to battalion-level recon directly from ITS (Infantry Training School). Mental requirements were subjective. and typically selected from battalion recon ranks. in the various company-level units of the Marine Corps (generally an Infantry unit or Surveillance and Target Acquisition . and do 80 full sit-ups in two minutes. Infantry battalions have recon assets. Force recon personnel were expected to be veterans. they tended to screen for more tangible indicators like maturity. Fundamentally. While some power is required. but are essentially correct. As far as athletic performance goes. This meant that the prospective FR Marine must have nearly the ability to run three miles in 18 minutes. there are two varieties of reconnaissance organizations. but what was needed were very disciplined men. What they were looking for was an innate ability to make sound decisions under conditions of extreme stress. Screening is conducted at Infantry Training School.these would be small units in the Army) infantry actions. SEALs kick down doors and shoot everyone they see. and motivation. SF teaches indigenous personnel how to fight.

since Marines are not allowed to quit or fail any Army or Navy schools. Fundamental Skills Training Once selected. be dismissed. Marines are also not allowed to die without written permission. Significant stress is used in the attempt to get you to quit or wig out . I went to Jump School in Georgia while in battalion recon. were not smart or self-reliant enough to make the grade and sent to guard embassies or pose for recruiting posters. Anyway. This was unquestionably the hardest school I attended.. In any case.good indicator of one's ability to quietly sit neck-deep in muck for multiple consecutive days in the middle of a group of said communists. tanks. we would go to various USMC. In these situations. Neither. There is a great deal to know to go with the massive physical demands .classes and training at any time all the time. RIP is like boot camp on steroids . The stressors included the extremes of fatigue. used to be called UDTR Underwater Demolition Team Replacement).you may meet undereducated Force Recon personnel. How long you stay in RIP depends on how long they wish to fuck with you. If you could 'take a licking and keep on ticking'. meaning that if we had time and funds. your first stop in Force Recon was RIP (Recon Indoctrination Platoon).if the next ARS is six months away. etc. The basic skills required are: . noise. however. it is also important to weed out any non-hackers in the privacy of RIP. Airborne..better in RIP than in combat. verbal harangues. Jungle Environment Survival Training (JEST). The choices are that you may quit. my first school after ARS was the Navy UDTR School. Of course. they get to pull off your mask. All the stuff you see on TV ("hell week") was essentially correct. It goes on for hours. which was four weeks of training and five novice jumps. and physical pain. Freefall. No matter where you came from. Timing is a potential problem . generally. you were required to negotiate field problems or otherwise take effective action. Jump. etc. but the worst part was not being cold and miserable and hungry for a week . ARS was in Little Creek. Here. Pathfinder. Sniper. is the ability to shine one's belt buckle to a state of high gloss. and Navy schools. he has been to this school but not yet earned his Marine Corps Jumpmaster status. danger. highly stressful situations were created for the purposes of evaluation. If you ever see a Marine with silver jump wings. so that avenue of escape is also blocked. etc. I hated it . Once you passed. SCUBA). Training continued as mission needs allowed. you were assigned to your Force Recon platoon. The worst part was the 'instructor harassment' component of the first weeks in the pool. don't tell"). but you will never meet a dumb one. the hazing and observation also begins in earnest. Special Forces Advanced Reconnaissance and Target Exploitation. It will take at least a year after RIP for anyone to get up to speed.as you swim underwater. you will be in RIP for quite some time. training begins in earnest. The spit-and-polish jarheads. Army. fins. and pretty much certified as a bad ass. CA please remember that this was decades before "don't ask. which is attained after five additional 'combat' jumps and indicated by the gold Marine Corps wings. You have to deal with it and can't surface. VA (those suspected of homosexual tendencies were sent to Coronado. etc. given the amount of material that needs to be covered and the timing issues around the availability of the basic individual schools (ARS. Survival Resistance Evasion and Escape (SERE). I think they call this school Basic Reconnaissance Course now. or go to ARS (Amphibious Reconnaissance School). Basic Underwater Demolition / SEAL (BUD/S.I was used to that from childhood. Ranger. but have no idea what the difference is. you might pass.

etc. and Chemical (NBC) defense Camouflage and Concealment Movement Friendly and Threat equipment recognition Intelligence reporting Survival. After the 1979 TO change. Evasion. This is said to strengthen the concept that 'operator' does not equal 'cowboy'. patrol reports Observation and recording of data Field sketching and ground photography Nuclear. A was for relative shitbirds and boots . because contact with the enemy is generally the result of a mistake.A. and quiet first. Biological. and C.little training money. and multiple other esoteric aspects were introduced as necessary. please remember that the above skills were considered basic. Anyway.the 'characteristics of a particular area and any known or potential enemy within it'. Marine Force Recon people are sneaky. They are deadly last. This will make you a fundamentally apt 'operator'. 2nd Force Recon Company was divided into three 'companies' (they were actually platoons) . patrol orders. B. including education in such distasteful and illegal things as 'physical interrogation' techniques. Resistance (SERE .another very hard school) Weaponcraft and Marksmanship Physical Conditioning Field Sanitation Combat Medicine Land and Sea Survival Communications Intelligence Gathering Communications and Information Systems training Swimmer Conditioning Parachute Training Demolitions Weapons Training Route Reconnaissance (road and bridge construction/classification) Advanced SERE SCUBA Training Advanced NBC Training Helicopter Insertion and Extraction Water Operations Surf and Open-Water Swimming Submarine Training Inflatable Boat Handling Reconnaissance Patrolling Initial Terminus Guidance (ITG) Sensor Implanting and Extraction Etc. Escape. Patrolling. Please remember that reconnaissance is about obtaining information .Fundamental rifleman's skills (infantry) Core recon competencies: Map and aerial photograph reading Land navigation / compass use / at night. no . smart.

Endurance is mental. Running for distance as a group while performing call and response 'singing' is very good for breath control. You've seen it in 'Full Metal Jacket' . We would run first thing in the morning. Teamwork was the single most critical component. run. There were a thousand different ways to run. more often than not. restricting the ability to breathe with gas masks. Run a few miles at a 6-minute pace. Or two.Success breeds success. the ability to do things like outrun a marathon specialist is simply not physical. Port-au-Prince. and belief that you can do something is the first and most important attribute you can have. so we often ran as a team while carrying an inflatable boat with all our gear inside. 20 miles was not uncommon. run. run a few more miles. You should add some build up to your break down. and run some more. C Company was the elite of the elite. The best way to attain that belief is to have done it before . Bruce Lee style was common . Carrying heavy packs. period. We had complete latitude in operational details. Run. Stressors were introduced that produced a variety of training effects. specializing in Deep Recon Patrolling (DRP. but races or PFTs allowed PT gear consisting of shorts and running shoes. The boot camp scenes are exactly accurate. and we worked on a regular basis. but could attain this level of physical readiness by any means necessary.everyone was HALO qualified. Given a mission. B Company was nicknamed the 'Shooter' company. We would run twice a day. and always will be running. 'Work' means real missions. so we were of course called 'drips') . . Running with logs or railroad ties on our shoulders was another common approach. However. Especially if hung over from evening PT in Olongopo. Results were all that mattered. It is also the reason why you never see a 20-year veteran of Force Recon who does not work behind a desk and walk with a limp. in my opinion. because digesting a meal would cramp you up. sprint a few hundred yards. Time tested exercises made up the bulk of our PT activities. but sometimes we would just start running. Most of us would not eat before morning PT. Most often this was done in boots and utilities.we were expected to be in top condition all the time and ready to go hot with zero prep time.too much stress induced by the extra gear. etc. capable of doing every task that may be required of any team member.please rent that movie. we were empowered to accomplish it by any means necessary. Generally. a series of calisthenics were performed first. This outfit concentrated on close-quarters combat and hostage rescue operations. Sleep deprivation is also idiotic from a physical perspective.operations of which I am aware. increasing body temperature with plastic full-body NBC suits. This was also the case with PT .changing pace at irregular intervals. Force Recon PT The first and foremost PT exercise was. No Marathon or Triathlon athlete could hack the training without a few months of acclimation . or Jacksonville. and five miles in full gear was considered a walk in the park. is. This is the most boring and painful kind of training in the world. I truly hope that current PT theory includes at least some recovery time. with incredible volume as the key strategy.

Bends and thrusts are performed from standing.feet together. Endurance is the key. The one-arm pushups are self-explanatory. Fingertip pushups are for hand strength. After a while.The other tried and true exercises are pushups. flutter kicks. Bend and Thrust. SEALS need SDVs . You can clap with these. often with gear or people hanging onto us as we did them. Recover by reversing the movements. Begin the exercise by kicking your feet in a scissors motion. and catch yourself before your face hits the ground. The clapping variety is very hard on your fingers if you weigh very much. We also did a lot of pull-ups. we did them on our knuckles and fingertips. you cannot swim for hours in cold open ocean water with hundreds of pounds of gear. As always. The other basic punishment calisthenics are all used. as always. If you cannot do flutter kicks and hello dollys for hours without stopping. try to clap twice before you hit the ground. and the tendon shock will be significant. The 'resting' position of a leg lift is the starting position for this exercise . extreme volume is the order of the day. so a few hundred pushups is considered entry level. Stress can be increased by wearing boots or fins. Flutter Kicks and Hello Dolly's are for swimming.four people in a square on the ground. heels about six inches off the deck. and most people will never be able to develop the ability. and hello dollys. but open and close your legs horizontally like you are on an abductor/adductor machine. you are The Iron Claw From Outer Space. just like you were swimming with fins on. We knew that strong hands plus strong cores equals strong people before we read Pavel. Perform a standard pushup and clap your hands while in the up position. which is useful when using a handgun in combat among other things. too. If you can survive fifty fingertip catches. speed.Recon Rangers are SDVs. We did them raw and uncooked. Continue for a few thousand repetitions . You have to spring up hard and clap quickly. Make sure you absorb most of the shock by bending your elbows as you hit. Knuckle pushups are great wrist and forearm strengtheners. in pushup position with their feet on each other's upper back. please. Team pushups . Eight Count Bodybuilders.no joke. . We did team pushups. do team pushups on one hand and switch hands in synchronized manner every few reps. then kick both of your legs out to a pushup position.clearly plyometric and ballistic. legs straight. We did the plyometric variations that have been Marine Corps staples for a hundred years before the term plyometrics was coined. and coordination. Hello Dollys start in the same position. but great core exercises. All together now… Increase the team building by clapping or pushing up on knuckles or fingertips. etc. Three claps would be phenomenal. Pushups have as many variations as running. Here are descriptions of the various modes: Clapping pushups . Mountain Climbers. Bend down and place your hands on the deck in front of you. A Flutter Kick is performed by lying on your back and clasping your hands behind your head. Leg Lifts. For added fun. and we did them with one arm. A few thousand more. Very good for power development.

obviously. stop at these stations. To swim for distance. with equal components of anaerobic strength endurance and pure aerobic capacity. bandages. to swim deep. snow or hurricane. and pump out as many curls or military presses as possible in a short measured period of time. There were some circuit-style exercises that used weights. The goal was to move quickly between stations and to maximize the number of reps when you reached a station. Patrolling required the ability to walk all day under heavy load. Muscle size was not an issue. Body conditioning exercises included getting kicked. and measured over 9. beautiful sunny day. About eight miles in the open ocean. They may do so nowadays.000 Calories per day for a month-long period. On to swimming. Nobody ever went to the weight room. I was an analytical type. rain or shine. speed. If you went to Camp LeJeune in 1979 and walked around Recon Island. to swim fast. We also did reverse flutter kicks. Puerto Rico. a reasonable level of useful power. back bowed. We would run through an obstacle course or similar circuit. where you lie on your stomach with you hands clasped at the small of your back. nor was limit strength. but beyond that endurance was the necessary attribute. but anyone who had any energy left over after a day of Force Recon PT would spend it in town. stepped on. The final qualification swim at Combat Swimmers School was between two islands at Vieques. You had to be strong enough to hold up your end of the boat. In Search Of… I do not recall any stretching or flexibility exercises. you may or may not eat for long periods. hit. Hydration was optional. or nursing any number of nagging injuries and diseases ranging from Jungle Rot to crotch rot. burnt. which may be the single most effective training modality of all. and general physical and mental durability. Bad for longterm health. limping.hot or cold. Forced marches of around 30 miles in a day with at least eighty pounds of ammunition and assorted gear were standard when there was nothing else on the agenda. In operational mode. You cannot eat enough to gain weight with the training demands imposed. The bottom line of the above is that the goals of training were endurance first. To emulate this kind of deprivation. and rapidly alternate legs like you are climbing Mount Surabachi on Iwo Jima. and dropped from various heights. but if we did any of this it was very minimal. Diet consisted of huge quantities of everything. 100 4-counts. we often did not eat in training. Bring one knee to your face. and breathing a barely tolerated luxury. depending on the situation.Mountain climbers start in the pushup position. just out of the hospital. sick or well. All training occurred all the time . Head up. frozen. and start kicking. please. nice warm water. Operations beyond the reach of supporting units mandated that we carried everything we needed or made do with what we found. May be selective memory. and to swim quiet will work every muscle and every energy system in your body. you would have seen about half of the people wearing casts. Outdoor areas where we did calisthenics often had bars with coffee cans full of concrete attached laying around. Like a Sunday .

I would counsel doing it one time and following it with a week of inactivity. The tall guy (me) got most of the load. A rubber boat full of gear has a lot of bounce and a log does not. I know. Let's assume some water time. It is also traditional for the sun to not have risen yet. you just had to not drown. so I'll drive to the nice warm gym while you are doing this. No time limit. from 25 to 100. but try to never slow to a jog. An ALICE pack full of rocks is a tried and true alternative. You could emulate this with a short. but no matter what our objective for the day was we would run. Add stress in various ways . Training varied after this PT. and fat as you can fit. Long open water swims. lots of diving with various gasses (depending on depth). If you can hack it. extremely dangerous Navy retread rebreather apparatus.stroll. . Start with a set of 4-count jumping jacks. protein. 0-Dark-Thirty . and about 300 pounds worth of boat and gear. Throw a 50-pounder on your shoulder and run a mile or two. A team would take an IBS (Inflatable Boat. There were often six men in a boat team. dense log. Calisthenics. but a smarter guy would always demand some calories with his liquid . After the run and last minute vomiting. It is traditional to sprint to the finish. but the goal is to be able to do as many of each of these as you can. Extreme pain is extremely good. I did my time. An Example Training Day If you want to try the 'Jarhead Challenge' below. so you might be able to come up with a better emulation if you think about it. Vary the pace at random intervals. you are a solid performer. and at least two bazillion flutter kicks and hello dollys. Small). At least a couple of hundred each without stopping before you can clam to be in shape. try it every day for a while.carry a rifle (or legal alternative). and a host of other training activities. Add a bazillion mountain climbers.whole milk. Get a weighted vest and run with it on. You might not think you could get hypothermia in eighty degree water… Anyway. pool work was not in fashion. bends and mothers. Always outside. pushups of various types. Gets the blood moving. except for the current that made the actual swim more like eighteen miles. 10-mile (minimum) run in boots and utilities. Pain is good. Shovel in as much carbo. If you can do this for fifteen or twenty miles. A smart guy would guzzle a gallon of water.Morning PT. 'Bazillion' is an amorphous term. Weather does not exist. Best on a cross-country trail with various terrain features. We used this training for missions ranging from underwater recovery to mining harbors to mapping locations for amphibious assault. We would then pick it up and double time to wherever we were going. very sweet juice drinks. Sleep deprivation and minimal recovery are counter to any sensible training plan. throw their diving gear and assorted kit inside and pick it up on their shoulders. shower and eat. I (and any chiropractor) would advise switching sides at the halfway point. but we never did this. Do yourself a favor and do not attempt to emulate the constant grind of the 'It'll make a Man out of you' mindset. submarine lockouts in sub-freezing dark water. etc.

You may or may not eat lunch. The eight-mile test in current should be your ultimate objective. The pool people will not like you.Now it's time for some open water swimming. When I took my first Jujutsu class. but if you do you must eat in water deep enough so that you must tread water. wet. you are getting it. Do things you are afraid to do. is to always do something different and stress all of your energy systems in varying ways. Heavy slug loads in a light twelve-gauge pack a wallop after a hundred rounds or so. but you can get a nice wet suit or dry suit for comfort. Wear fins if you wish. If you want to really get with the 'Recon Experience'. So. decide to go on a long hike in the mountains with a heavy pack. A program of mild beatings will toughen you up from the inside out and make the real beatings less telling. but so is not eating at all. therefore. and miserable. wrapped up the day. A bunch of plyometric depth jumps will simulate parachute landing. Double the distance if you can't swim in a river or ocean to even things up. by the way. This is going to take all day.we did do flexibility exercises that pertained to shooting. swim across the local lake. you will need some hip. Run in shorts in the snow or full sweats in July every once in a while to break up the monotony. you must defecate in your wetsuit. of course. Combat is dynamic and chaotic. Do things that make you cold. Medicine balls are a viable alternative to a boot in the gut. Mix it up. and hamstring flexibility. and the only way to make that happen is if you can completely relax into them. You cannot anticipate and prepare for the physical and psychological demands. the instructor said that we would all gain five or ten pounds in the first few months as our bodies developed denser fascia to deal with the constant hard falls. The best move. Another PT session before evening chow. . and every situation is different. This is decidedly unsafe unless you have a safety boat. generally lighter on the calisthenics but always including a run of at least ten miles. One day. and eventually work up to carrying some gear. No such thing as cold. Overeating here is a good way to cramp up. I forgot . I found this to be the case. When you are done. Take up kickboxing or Jujutsu to absorb some knocks and falls. Log is good enough. back. Remember that endurance is the most pertinent quality. If you are feeling like Wade Hannah (the 'Dinosaur Training' guy) meets Marathon Man. If you are into rifle craft. The next day. Kneeling and sitting positions need to be rock solid. what do you do? Throw the gear in the boat and run back home. an indoor pool is the more civilized alternative. and that endurance is mostly mental. shoulder. hungry. You can emulate some of the hazing and toughening by doing it to yourself.