Sunday, October 7, 2012

The Forging of an Infantry Officer

In July I had the privilege of accompanying veteran New York Times war correspondent C.J. Chivers to Marine Corp Base Quantico in Northeast Virginia to document the last all-male Combat Endurance Test in Marine Corps history. For the first time in history female Marines are now allowed to volunteer for the course as part of an experimental program. The CET is an intensely grueling and secretive ordeal that all Marine Officers must endure on the path to becoming infantry officers. Because the test is designed to weed out officers who don't have what it takes to lead Infantry Marines under fire, it's the first segment of the strenuous Marine Infantry Officer Course. 

I was half expecting to spend the day in the back seat of a humvee, being chauffeured around the base for various photo ops, but to my delight the Major in the charge of the course had other plans. We hoofed miles and miles and miles through the thick Quantico forest, crossed streams, and logged many hours on the base's blacktop roads on one of the hottest days of the summer to give us just a small taste of what the Marines on the other end of my camera were going through.

To protect the integrity and efficacy of the training for future officer classes, the Marine Corps asked that some events not be photographed and that the timeline be obscured when describing the Combat Endurance Test. For this same reason I won't say how long the test lasted, but I will say this was both mentally and physically the toughest assignment I've ever shot. I have a newfound respect for our Marine Infantry Officers and the men who train them.

Marine 2nd Lieutenants muster before beginning the Combat Endurance Test. The CET is the first test of the Infantry Officer Course at Marine Corps Base Quantico in Quantico, Va. Luke Sharrett for The New York Times.

Marines receive a briefing for the Combat Endurance Test on the morning of July 6, 2012.

2nd Lieutenants march during the land navigation portion of the Combat Endurance Test. Participants are not allowed to speak to each other for the entirety of the event.

A map of Marine Corps Base Quantico in Quantico, Va., home of the Infantry Officer Course.

A sweaty Marine 2nd Lieutenant consults his map the Combat Endurance Test, the first event in the Infantry Officer Course at Marine Corps Base Quantico.

Infantry Officer Candidates endure both physical and mental challenges during the test. 

A Marine 2nd Lieutenant makes his way through the obstacle course during the Combat Endurance Test.

The Combat Endurance Test also includes a swimming portion.

Numbers dwindled as the CET wore on.

A Marine hustles past a Naval Corpsman.

Marines nursed injuries after crossing the finish line of the CET.

The rigors of the Combat Endurance Test take their toll on the Marines' feet.

Thanks for looking!

**Photos copyright Luke Sharrett and The New York Times**

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