Twenty-four Marines from Company A, 3rd Combat Engineer Battalion, are currently honing their close-combat skills in a Marine Corps Martial Arts Program gray belt course here.

The engineers are adhering to the standards set by Gen. James T. Conway, the commandant of the Marine Corps, through All-Marine message 034/07, that ecourages all combat arms Marines to have at least gray belts.

The Marines practiced their hand-to-hand combat techniques during a pugil sticks bout Wednesday.

For some Marines, like Lance Cpl. Justin Brock, a student in the course, the opportunity to strap on a helmet and pads and knock someone to the dirt doesn’t come often.

“This was the first time I’ve done pugil sticks since boot camp,” said Brock, a Loveland, Ohio, native. “I love the intensity we have out there.”

Gray belt student Pfc. Nicholas Weissgerber agreed.

“It was some really good training out there,” said Weissgerber, a Bloomington, Ill., native. “I got a great workout and got my adrenaline going.”

Sgt. Chris Belcher, an instructor in the course, gave a class after the training session stressing the importance of being mentally combat ready at all times.

He told the story of Medal of Honor recipient Cpl. Jason Dunham, who was killed in action, saving the lives of his entire squad, by using his helmet and body to smother the blast of a grenade dropped by an insurgent.

Belcher also said the Marines need to remain in the warrior mindset throughout the course.

“Every Marine needs to take MCMAP seriously,” said Belcher, a Philomath, Ore., native. Everything we do as Marines has a purpose and these hand-to-hand skills the Marines are learning will come in handy one day.”

With nearly half of the 39 training hours required to graduate the course under their belts, the Marines will continue to train this week, with an aquatic event, the obstacle course, medical evacuation training and other drills that aim to push the Marines to their mental and physical limits.

The students are scheduled to be tested on their proper execution of the moves Friday. Those who pass will also receive their gray belts that day.

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