Story by Stephen Standifird on 02/24/2017(Editor's note: This is the second article in a series about the service- specific training our sister services provide at Fort Leonard Wood.)
Deep behind Army lines at Fort Leonard Wood, the Marine Corps established a stronghold of heavy equipment operators and vehicles, and have worked side-by-side since 1995.
The Marine Corps Basic Engineer Equipment Operator Course didn't start as a service-only course, according to Marine Gunnery Sgt. Russ Barajas, staff noncommissioned officer in charge. There were some joint classes when he was here in 2000 as a basic student, but with changes in equipment and training requirements, the Marines phased out of training with the Army equipment and taught their own equipment to students.
The BEEO Course is 45 training days long and trains more than 500 basic heavy equipment operators each year. The course puts the Marines behind the wheel or in the cab of seven different heavy- equipment vehicles, including a Medium Crawler Tractor, Military Millennium Vehicle all-terrain forklift, Light Capacity Rough Terrain Forklift and a Caterpillar D6.
The Marines start their course by learning "shop operations," Barajas said, where they learn basic shop safety, technical manuals, forms and preventative maintenance on the vehicles.
From there, the students move into each vehicle phase, beginning with instructions on controls and safety measures. After that, it's all "stick time," said Marine Cpl. Daniel Meggerson, Material Handling Phase instructor.
Time on the vehicles is broken down in four to eight day cycles, in an effort to give the students as much time as they can in order to pass the required tests.
"We'll have class in the morning, then the next few days they are operating," Meggerson said. "It's all about repetition, repetition, repetition. Not everyone learns at the same speed."
Marine Pfc. Daniela Salinas, a student in the course, said having the time to get in the cab has been beneficial to her learning the job.
"I really like how it is hands-on," she said. "I'm the kind of person who learns easier with hands-on."
For students who have no driving experience, or a fear of driving a vehicle as large as some of the ones they learn here, Meggerson said she and her fellow instructors ensure the student's needs are met.
"Believe it or not, we have some students who have never driven a car before," she said. "We put them in this piece of gear; not only is it bigger, it's a little intimidating for some students. With those students we ensure they are comfortable before we put them at a station."
Barajas said it all gets worked out through practice and the experience and passion of the instructors.
"Through the instruction and actual stick-time, they are able to understand the piece of equipment and work their fears out," he said. "At the end of the day, it's good to see the change and the impact the instructors are having here. That's our overall goal, as their first experience in their MOS, that they hopefully look back at their instructors as mentors."
The Marine Corps Detachment operates as one of the largest military occupational specialty schools, with one of every seven new Marines joining the Corps passing through this command. With a permanent core of 300 Marines and an annual student load of nearly 7,000, the detachment is the Corps's largest standing detachments not located on a Marine Corps installation.