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Semper Fidelis: Park activities director, others attend Marine Corps’ Educators Workshop

Park strength and conditioning coach Justin Ellevold (left) takes part in the combat fitness test during the Marine Corps’ Educators Workshop in San Diego, Calif. (Submitted photo)1 / 3
A Marine Corps drill instructor shouts out instructions to the roughly 35 educators from the Twin Cities, Milwaukee, Wis., and Fargo, N.D., took part workshop in San Diego. (Submitted photo) 2 / 3
Justin Ellevold carries his partner in the combat fitness test during the Marine Corps’ Educators Workshop in San Diego, Calif. (Submitted photo)3 / 3

Area educators received their own education recently — about what it takes to be a United States Marine.

Park Activities Director Phil Kuemmel, Park strength and conditioning coach Justin Ellevold and East Ridge health teacher Bridget Plante attended the Marine Corps’ Educators Workshop in San Diego, Calif., from Monday, Feb. 10 to Friday, Feb. 14.

Semper Fidelis — often shortened to Semper Fi by Marines — is a Latin phrase meaning “always faithful” or “always loyal.”

Kuemmel said on 10 occasions throughout the year, the Marine Corps brings in teachers, coaches, counselors and administrators to its Recruit Depot for five days to try and teach them what goes into being Semper Fi.

“They immerse you in Marine culture and what goes into all of it,” Kuemmel said. “It was just to get a sense of things and to get a greater understanding and appreciation of what they do. It was truly an amazing trip and incredible learning experience. I would do it again in a heartbeat.”

Roughly 35 educators from the Twin Cities, Milwaukee, Wis., and Fargo, N.D., took part workshop in San Diego. The Marines pay for the participants airfare and hotel and actually give a small per diem to individuals for incidentals.

Park football coach Darin Glazier and girls track coach Matt Maher attended the workshop a year ago and urged Kuemmel and Ellevold to take part.

“Darin and Matt had great things to say about it,” Kuemmel said. “The main idea is to learn more about the Marine and that branch of the military. You learn about the recruiting process, about boot camp and all the different career possibilities in the military.”

Kuemmel said an added benefit to the workshop was that educators also were able to learn valuable leadership skills that can be transferred to their schools.

“I felt that a side benefit is you take away so many leadership things with what they do that you can use as a teacher or a coach or administrator,” he said. “I felt that was huge, too.”

With Monday and Friday being mainly travel days, the Marines had three full days packed with activities for the educators.

“In true form with the Marines, they don’t waste any time during the day, that’s for sure,” Kuemmel said. “It was nice that it was 75 degrees and sunny, but it certainly wasn’t like a relaxing, leisurely vacation. It wasn’t like we were in boot camp, but they kept us busy and filled every minute we had so we could learn as much as possible about the Marines.”

The first day began on the famous “yellow footprints” where every Marine recruit stands when they first arrive to the Recruit Depot. There, the participants got a small glimpse into what it feels like to work with a Marine drill instructor.

“We got a bit of the treatment like the recruits get,” Kuemmel said. “Maybe not full-fledged, but you have the drill instructor there yelling at you to get off the bus, move fast, stand up straight, heels at a 45-degree angle and everything. It was really neat to see that experience.”

That afternoon the participants learned about the physical testing and got to experience the physical demands the recruits go through to make them ready to be a Marine. Everyone who was able took part in a combat fitness test, which includes a half-mile run, lifting weights, and an agility and obstacle course.

Because of a broken foot, Kuemmel had to sit it out, but Ellevold took part.

“Justin was in his element,” Kuemmel said. “They were really impressed with him lifting the weights and all of that.”

The second day was spent at Air Station Miramar, made famous by the movie “Top Gun,” where much of the air training is done for the Marines. The participants also had a chance to walk through the Marine Museum and hear first-hand stories from a retired Marine.

“Really, throughout the whole process they always had different Marines talking to you — some who have been in for 20 years, some for four years, some from the Twin Cities, so you got to hear their stories,” Kuemmel said.

The third day of the workshop took place at Camp Pendleton, where Marines do much of their fieldwork, marksmanship and water training.

On the final day, Kuemmel, Ellevold, Plante and everyone else witnessed the graduation day parade for the platoons who had successfully made it through their 12-week training.

“To see the sheer joy on their faces for graduating from boot camp was pretty amazing,” Kuemmel said. “They get to see their families for the first time then, too. You get to kind of see what the kids’ are experiencing at the end. Then, once they’re done with basic training they go on to their next step.”

Kuemmel said he believed the Marines were not attempting to turn the educators into recruiters.

“It was almost the opposite,” Kuemmel said. “It was almost like a weeding-out process. They wanted to give educators the idea of exactly what it takes and what you need to do to be a Marine, so when we come into contact with kids who talk about the possibility of joining the military we can give them some advice on the Marines being the right path or not. It’s really a piece of knowledge so you can help kids.”

Kuemmel said they didn’t see a lot of the “nitty-gritty stuff.”

He said they could see the Marines off in the distance on the obstacle course or marching by, but we never witnessed any true training first-hand.

However, he said one of the eye-opening experiences for him was the realization of how removed the Marines are from the outside world during their time in basic training.

“You forget how cut off they are,” Kuemmel said. “They can write letters every day, but that’s it. There’s no TV, no cell phones, no internet, no computers, no movies, nothing. They didn’t know who played in the Superbowl. They live and breathe boot camp every day.”

-Patrick Johnson

Patrick Johnson
Patrick Johnson has been the South Washington County Bulletin’s sports editor since 2008. He reports on and oversees coverage of high school and amateur sports in south Washington County and Woodbury. Prior to joining the Bulletin, Johnson worked for other Twin Cities suburban newspapers. He is a University of Minnesota graduate.
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