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CAMP FALLUJAH, Iraq -- The graduating class of I Marine Expeditionary Force Headquarters Group (Forward)'s martial arts instructor course poses together Oct. 3 after the graduation ceremony inside Camp Fallujah's Chapel of Hope. This martial arts instructor course had the most graduates of any Marine Corps Martial Art Program's MAI classes. (Photo by Cpl. Sean P. McGinty)

Photo by Cpl. Sean P. McGinty

Marine Corps Martial Arts Program history is made on Camp Fallujah

3 Oct 2008 | Cpl. Sean P. McGinty

CAMP FALLUJAH, Iraq – Since it’s inception in 2001, the Marine Corps Martial Arts Program has churned out warriors and the Marines who train them.

 But on Camp Fallujah, a cadre of instructors from Multi National Force – West made MCMAP history by forging 95 new instructors of various belt levels, according to Sgt. Brandon W. Meng, a 27-year-old MCMAP instructor-trainer at the Marine Corps’ Martial Arts Center of Excellence in Quantico, Va.

The class of 95 service members, from various military branches and occupational specialties, graduated from the MCMAP Martial Arts Instructor Course Oct. 3 in the Chapel of Hope here.

 After five arduous weeks of training, these new instructors can now impart the knowledge they’ve learned to others, allowing their students to give back to their peers, by teaching them the physical, mental and moral disciplines of MCMAP.

 “These Marines did outstanding,” said Staff Sgt. Jeff J. Vandentop, the 31-year-old I Marine Expeditionary Force Headquarters Group (Forward) company gunnery sergeant and chief instructor-trainer for the course.

 The course was five-weeks of striking, grappling and standing workouts, standing and ground free-sparring, unit-cohesion exercises and instructor training.  Troops under black-belt who participated also obtained a higher belt level.

“The curriculum was the same as the rear, but more spread out,” said Vandentop, an Upland, Calif. native.  This was due to busy deployment work schedules the service members have to endure.  The course takes three-weeks in America.

 The record-making class size turned out to be a fun challenge for Vandentop and his four assistant instructors.  Marines even came from bases all over the MNF-W area of operations to attend the course.

 “I personally found it refreshing to have a class this size,” Vandentop said.  “Over 80 students graduating this course, that’s unheard of; and I used to run the satellite school at (Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego), and I never had more than around 20 to 24 students at a time”

 The curriculum also held many surprises for the students.  Not only did they have guest instructors, such as Col. George H. Bristol, I MHG commanding officer, and the man Gen. James L. Jones, the 32nd commandant, asked to create a fighting system for the Marine Corps.  Sgt. Maj. Larock W. Benford, Multi National Force – West’s Ground Combat Element sergeant major, black-belt instructor and All-Marine Wrestler also instructed the class. They also performed intense physical training and were taught fighting techniques that are not included in the MCMAP syllabus.

 “Thinking outside the box helps you become a more well-rounded warrior,” Benford, from Providence, R.I., told the soon-to-be graduates, as he taught them wrestling techniques.

 “The thing I enjoyed the most was the knowledge that the guest trainers gave us,” said Sgt. Sarina A. Young, a 25-year-old field mess clerk from I MHG, and now a MCMAP black belt instructor.

 Young said that she became a MCMAP instructor so that she could contribute more to the Marine Corps.

 “I want to go out there and train Marines,” the Hanford, Calif. native said.  “I believe this is a great program, and I feel a sense of ‘warrior discipline’ from it.”

 To upgrade belt levels, Marines must learn the ethos and history of warrior cultures from the past.  From the Spartans to the Marine Raiders of World War II, the students not only learn about the societies that produced these warriors, but their battle tactics and cultures as well.

 When Bristol spoke to the graduates, he let them know that they will be remembered among this list of history’s most valiant warriors.

 “But we will stand out above them,” his booming voice echoed throughout the chapel, without the aid of a microphone.  “We are free men and women who have chosen to fight.”