USMC Mountain Survival Course- Part 5, by E.T.

Casualty Exercise

A few hours later, after dawn, we began our death march back to the USMC Mountain Survival Course base. To add excitement to our return, the instructors gave us several “casualties” that had to be carried out. We cut poles and ran them through our buttoned blouse sleeves to make stretchers. We soon realized that even with the casualty holding on, they would need to be tied onto the litter. As we carried it over rocks and up and down inclines, they would slide around and fall out. We almost made them into a real casualty several times.

This was extremely draining, but it was uplifting to know we were on the home stretch. At this point we were all emaciated and filthy. The hump back seemed to take forever. We moved continuously, passing the casualty from group to group of six people. As one group passed the stretcher to the next, they would move past them up the trail a few hundred feet then wait. This way we “leap frogged” with short breaks as we waited on the casualty to catch up.

Arrival into Base

After several hours, we humped into base, posed for the obligatory picture, and were turned loose into the barracks. Orders were to drop gear, strip to skivvies, and go out back for our weigh in before anything else.

Weight Loss

We came out the back door a ragged mess of filth. In front of us were hot dogs and hamburgers on the grill with drinks. We weighed in and pigged out. After enjoying food, we took long showers and shaved our filthy beards off. At best guess over the field portion of the course, I ate less than 2,000 calories over 13 days. My total weight loss was 31 pounds.


There is some equipment worth mentioning:

  • Bow and Drill. I could write a lot about how not fun this was. But for those of you interested, I will say the type of wood matters as much as the technique. Unlike survival TV shows, if you hear a whistling noise while you are working the bow, it’s not making an ember. You need dust and friction. Whistling is the noise of smooth wood on smooth wood. Whittle your drill a little bit rougher and start a fresh notch in your fire board.
  • US Army Survival Kit. This is pretty good. But I see them going for around $100. You could build a better one for a lot less. Look up what they contain as a starting point. Ditch the silly wax candle for a flashlight and spare batteries and the junk knife for a multitool. Toss in some Gorilla Tape and 550 cord. Or make it a little bigger and toss in a .22 pistol. (But you do have a pistol on your person at all times….right?) I could have gorged myself on mule deer meat if I had one.
  • Grid Fleece. This is excellent. You can find new ones for $30. They are worth every penny. They are super comfortable, and with the grid design extremely durable. The sleeves are long with thumb holes. This is awesome!
  • Cold Steel Recon Tanto. Except for the tanto point, this is a great knife. It has a thick blade and a good handle. It hacked and hewed everything I swung it at. I even beat a rock against it to split wood with just a little finish scarring to show for it. You can make do, but Samurai Swords weren’t designed to skin animals. Buy a good blade with a curved point. Don’t go cheap.
  • Space Blanket. You see people wearing these in movies all the time while they sit in the back of an ambulance. Unless there is a heat source to reflect or you need to signal for rescue, don’t bother unfolding it. Even then, do so gently. It’s thin. Still, it’s a worthy addition to your kit once you know its limitations.
  • Shemagh. This was the most versatile piece of equipment I had. It kept me warm, kept flies off my face when I napped in the sun, and kept embers out of my face at night. It could be wadded up and used as a pillow, wash rag, scarf, just everything. The sky is the limit. Get a few.
  • Iodine Tablets. I used the ones in the survival kit. I later found out I shouldn’t have, since it doesn’t safeguard against micro-organisms that will really mess you up. After the first few days I went to boiling. Boiling water is slow and hot. Tablets are easy and cold. You still have to wait 30 minutes, but you drop it in and go. Read up on these before you stock them. Save them for true emergencies and boil first.
  • Gun. Don’t leave home without it. I could have been roasting venison steaks and dancing naked around the campfire. Instead I had warm water with specks of ash in it. Even a compact .22 will greatly increase your chances of survival.


  • Mentally. I really didn’t have a hard time with the lack of food. I was able to compartmentalize the hunger and ignore it for the most part. Towards the end, we were all thinking of what we would eat first when we made it back. We made lists of things we wanted to do or eat afterwards. That was pretty common across the group. I still have mine somewhere. Optimism and plans for the future take your mind off the current misery.
  • Leadership. Like anything else, there is good and bad leadership out there. Bad leadership almost got a group of Marines hypothermia. Good leadership got a group of Marines to cuddle. If you are in the military, you have a command structure. Do everything you can to lessen the impact the bad decisions have on those around and under your influence. If you’re a civilian, you have a lot more flexibility in your options. Be creative. Eat them first! (It’s not recommended.)
  • Physically. We all started out in excellent shape. By the end, we were worn ragged. We had lost a lot of fat and muscle. Our strength and endurance had dropped significantly. Towards the end it was sheer determination and stubbornness that won the final hump back. The best part of being in an organization of Alpha males is that no one wants to be the loser who falls out or has to quit because they’re tired or weak. So you put your head down and slog on, or you die.
  • Re-feeding Syndrome. Let me say a word on re-feeding. Don’t gorge yourself. It will end up violently coming back out of you on both ends. All of us had some issues for several days to get our stomach and intestines working properly. In our condition and living quarters, it was a nuisance. For the rescued Jews of concentration camps in WWII, it was deadly. Even today, sufferers of eating disorders who are admitted to hospitals are closely monitored as they are treated. The jist of it is, your body changes energy sources from carbohydrates to proteins and amino acids. The sudden injection of carbs can cause a lot of neurological, cardiac, and pulmonary symptoms. None of us suffered anything more than bowel problems that lasted a week. Food had a tendency to run right through us.
  • Overall. This was an excellent course. It was hard, educational, and ultimately canceled by the USMC.

Overall Review

While I don’t recommend the experience of starvation to everyone, I do recommend you get outside and get general experience in survival skills. It’s not enough to know something or the general theory behind how to do it. If you can’t do it on demand, it doesn’t count as a skill. There were military men in my group who had never made a fire before, never slayed an animal, and never been camping except for field operations or military maneuvers.

So what about you? Can you pet a cute, furry bunny and then kill it and eat it? Can you start a fire without having to search for newspaper and lighter fluid? Maybe you can wax a bad guy at 700 yards. But are you in good enough shape to carry the rifle and pack up a mountain? Get out there! Experience the great outdoors, try and fail and try again. Failure can be good for you. It builds character if you survive it!


Remember: You aren’t a Survivalist if you can’t survive the basics.

Don’t Sweat the Big Stuff

Right now you have an unlimited opportunity to test yourself, learn new skills, and try out gear. Don’t let yourself get so hung up over the gear though. With minimal equipment and less than a daily average of calories, we survived 13 days, 11 cold nights, and many kilometers of travel. I bet you already have everything you need in your house right now to make a survival kit or vehicle bug out bag. It may not be pretty. Perhaps its a pink Hello Kitty backpack, but it’s better than nothing. It can get you home with some good old-fashioned American ingenuity and relentlessness. Don’t wait to buy that $150 assault pack in desert tan with molle straps that is on back order for months before you build a kit.

Don’t Wait

Bad things aren’t going to wait for you to be ready. Take that old college backpack, toss in a used work tarp, an old long sleeve shirt, a spare pocket knife, a couple lighters, handkerchief, a metal thermos/cup, a couple plastic bottles of water, a jar of peanut butter, and a small bag of rice. You’ll do just fine. If you want to really get fancy, go to the local dollar store and let yourself go wild. If you used my list, you’ll have a lot of room left over for comforts, like more food, or a compact sleeping bag or an AR-7 rifle. Take it camping/hiking for a weekend and see how it goes. Upgrade as time and resources allow.

Don’t be afraid to start at the bottom. You’re gonna do great.

Further Reading:

SurvivalBlog Writing Contest

This has been part five of a five part entry for Round 71 of the SurvivalBlog non-fiction writing contest. The nearly $11,000 worth of prizes for this round include:

First Prize:

  1. A $3000 gift certificate towards a Sol-Ark Solar Generator from Veteran owned Portable Solar LLC. The only EMP Hardened Solar Generator System available to the public.
  2. A Gunsite Academy Three Day Course Certificate. This can be used for any one, two, or three day course (a $1,195 value),
  3. A course certificate from onPoint Tactical for the prize winner’s choice of three-day civilian courses, excluding those restricted for military or government teams. Three day onPoint courses normally cost $795,
  4. DRD Tactical is providing a 5.56 NATO QD Billet upper. These have hammer forged, chrome-lined barrels and a hard case, to go with your own AR lower. It will allow any standard AR-type rifle to have a quick change barrel. This can be assembled in less than one minute without the use of any tools. It also provides a compact carry capability in a hard case or in 3-day pack (an $1,100 value),
  5. An infrared sensor/imaging camouflage shelter from Snakebite Tactical in Eureka, Montana (A $350+ value),
  6. Two cases of Mountain House freeze-dried assorted entrees in #10 cans, courtesy of Ready Made Resources (a $350 value),
  7. A $250 gift certificate good for any product from Sunflower Ammo,
  8. Two cases of Meals, Ready to Eat (MREs), courtesy of (a $180 value).

Second Prize:

  1. A Model 175 Series Solar Generator provided by Quantum Harvest LLC (a $439 value),
  2. A Glock form factor SIRT laser training pistol and a SIRT AR-15/M4 Laser Training Bolt, courtesy of Next Level Training, which have a combined retail value of $589,
  3. A gift certificate for any two or three-day class from Max Velocity Tactical (a $600 value),
  4. A transferable certificate for a two-day Ultimate Bug Out Course from Florida Firearms Training (a $400 value),
  5. A Trekker IV™ Four-Person Emergency Kit from Emergency Essentials (a $250 value),
  6. A $200 gift certificate good towards any books published by,
  7. A pre-selected assortment of military surplus gear from CJL Enterprize (a $300 value),
  8. RepackBox is providing a $300 gift certificate to their site, and
  9. American Gunsmithing Institute (AGI) is providing a $300 certificate good towards any of their DVD training courses.

Third Prize:

  1. A Royal Berkey water filter, courtesy of Directive 21 (a $275 value),
  2. A custom made Sage Grouse model utility/field knife from custom knife-maker Jon Kelly Designs, of Eureka, Montana,
  3. A large handmade clothes drying rack, a washboard, and a Homesteading for Beginners DVD, all courtesy of The Homestead Store, with a combined value of $206,
  4. Expanded sets of both washable feminine pads and liners, donated by Naturally Cozy (a $185 retail value),
  5. Two Super Survival Pack seed collections, a $150 value, courtesy of Seed for Security, LLC,
  6. Mayflower Trading is donating a $200 gift certificate for homesteading appliances,
  7. Montie Gear is donating a Y-Shot Slingshot and a $125 Montie gear Gift certificate.,
  8. Two 1,000-foot spools of full mil-spec U.S.-made 750 paracord (in-stock colors only) from (a $240 value), and

Round 71 ends on July 31st, so get busy writing and e-mail us your entry. Remember that there is a 1,500-word minimum, and that articles on practical “how to” skills for survival have an advantage in the judging.


  1. As a long time reader of survivalblog, I have enjoyed many articles and stories passed on by JWR and many other contributors, I feel that this is one of the best additions to the blog I have ever read. While I am now 57 y.o. and plan to bug-in, in the event of SHTF, this article is an eye opener about the true hardships of roughing it in the outdoors.

    It sounds as if most of the excercise occurred during relatively good weather, add in any extreme weather event and imagine the hardships faced. The fantasy of bugging out into the wilderness harbored by the lone wolf types just took a serious hit for those that read this account. Bugging out without a known destination with shelter and supplies already in place is no plan at all.

    1. Thank you very much for reading all the way through.

      With the exception of some low temperatures, we had very good weather. It snowed the following week. Which would have added an additional layer of discomfort and difficulties.

  2. Great series! I waited until the end to comment. As hard as that was it was worth it the best advice came at the end. Try and fail and try again. Grit and determination will see you through even when your gear fails you. My family and I thank you for serving and enduring such rigorous training. It matters to us and you are appreciated. God Bless!

  3. I really enjoyed your write up , it helped immensely
    during the personal trial I have gone thru this week,after taking care of my mother for the last few years,
    My Mother passed away in hospital on June 6th (very important day in my family history , (an uncle served in the 101 AB and was at Normandy) I was there to the end held her hand . Like JWR says keep you family close and be grateful to God for the time you have with them. All life is a survival test we tend to forget how fragile our lives are. brings to the heart “by the grace of God Go I”. Today I am a different world than last week with many trials to come.

    Perseverance , Spirit and Heart.


    1. I’m sorry to hear of your mother’s passing. My condolences. I’m glad to hear my article helped you during your difficult time.

      Perseverance to the end!

  4. Excellent article series! Lots of great advice, with the exception of not eating bugs. Crickets, grasshoppers, earthworms, grubs and ants are a gold mine of protein. 12 ounces of bugs can yield your daily required amount of ~50 grams protein. Yes, that is a lot of bugs, but thankfully ants are close together in one place for you. One log full of carpenter ants can keep you well fed for several days. That is how 200+ pound omnivorous bears do it all year in between catching fish, small prey, carrion, nuts, berries and other plants. It’s survival, not pick & choose time.

    1. Thank you for reading through.

      You bring up a good point, but remember bears do not need fire, wood fuel, clean water, tools, or shelter like us weaker hairless creatures. Their palate, time, and energy maintenance is much different than our own.

      But an interesting article would be something in regards to eating bugs. Doing some quick research, a pound of ants requires 1.5 million ants. While Bears are swallowing lumps of wood and miscellaneous creatures and organisms all at once, most of us would be more selective in our intake.

      Here’s a neat article though, apparently the UN wants us to eat more bugs.

      I suppose we all have limits to the length’s we will go to survive. (For example most would refrain from cannibalism/murder/generally things that go against Christian morals.) It was an easy choice for me knowing when my flight was. I knew the course ended at some point. I just didn’t know what would happen in the meantime.

      As my wife put it, “Only if they are chocolate covered!”

  5. Thanks for the great article! Doing a self assessment, I think I should add 25 pounds of beans, 25 pounds of white rice, and a bottle of hot sauce to my stash of mylar-bagged items for another $40.

    My younger brother gave gave me a new Marine Corps Fighting Knife 35 years ago. It’s the big brother to the smaller, better known K-Bar. it works for everything from chopping to carving and has never broken or rusted. Highly reccomended. I carried it in combat too.

    1. You know, I’ve had a KBar for a long time now. Far from before I enlisted. I replaced the leather sheath with a Kydex molded one. But it’s seen very little use. That would have been a great one to have taken.

      If you buy in bulk you should be able to get those items for well under $40. Even at Walmart a 20lb bag of rice is only $8.

      Always improve when funds allow!

  6. A couple of 24-48 hour fasts in the weeks leading up to the school would have helped acclimate you to reduced calorie intake and blood sugar drops. Have to agree with eating anything in sight(worms,bugs,etc),was a “diet” in boot and later laughed at others when chow hall deliveries were late and rations were cut(there was a fight over the last slice of bread) E5VT

    1. I suppose that would have helped – but I like to eat. 🙂

      A more realistic course would have dropped us in the middle of no where with only what we had on our persons.

      Because, like life, you can’t choose the time, place, or method of your misery – you just have to survive it.

  7. Great article! Great course! Can’t believe the Corps cancelled it? Anyways, after you pass that, they should make you go out and do it again with the idea that the ENEMY IS LOOKING FOR YOU. No fires, no noise, no footprints, moving only at night, etc… It seems like what you did should have been a primer for a next phase. It doesn’t seem likely that a soldier would find himself weaponless, alone or with a few others, and in unknown territory and not think that the bad guys are looking for you along with the good guys.

    1. I suppose the next level would be SERES school. That’s a course that is highly selective and most often limited to Recon, Scout/Snipers, and so on.

      Thank you for reading!

  8. Whew, I broke a sweat a couple times reading your account, E.T. I’m going on short 300-500 cals/day this week as a prep exercise.

    Curious, why did the Marine Corps cancel training at the camp?

    1. Budget cuts. The course had been previously canceled and this was the first time they had tried to bring it back in some years.

      From what we were told by Course Instructors, this course was on the cutting block from the beginning. The Marine Corps would rather invest in courses that are more beneficial to units then the individual.

      This course could be useful to a unit, but only if it found itself in some dire straights without resupply. Or, the USMC could spend the money on Combat Lifesaver courses. Courses that would more likely be useful.

      Thanks for your comment and good luck in your misery!

      1. And that means, as John Farnam says, YOU ARE ON YOUR OWN! Each Marine, Soldier, or Sailor should invest in their own survival skills. To heck with the government. Learn it yourself!

        Sure government is interested in the ‘unit’ and not the individual. They think ‘for the good of the whole’ and not ‘All for one, and one for all’. Just remember… you are on your own!

  9. E.T.
    Thank you for the series of articles. You have convinced this 67year old disabled vet he is not going to run and survive without a resupply capability. Convinced now hunkering down is my and my wife’s chance. Still defianant and will be always. Thank you for your service and luck always.

    1. After reading several of JWR’s books as well as numerous articles here, I would agree bugging in is the best option. If you don’t have anywhere else to go, you are a refugee with very little control over your life and at the mercy of everyone else.

  10. Awesome read. Recently ‘lucked out’ when finding a AR-7 at a yard sale for $125.00. Fixing the jamming problem was easy, but it would have worked fine as a single shot. As one of your recommendations, it makes me feel even luckier to have that rifle. These shoot CCI Mini Mag HV ammo, 36 or 40 grain, either variety, best. 2 MOA is possible with the peep sights. A scope can be mounted as well. I would be also lucky to hit anything with a pistol at 50 yards. At 3.5 pounds, the AR-7 would be a practical last resort defensive choice for the very weak or injured. 15 round magazines are available. Thanks for the article. Very useful stuff.

  11. If this course was cancelled by the USMC, what does that say about our modern USMC? In a TEOTWAWKI scenario most of us will be trying to do exactly what the USMC tried to teach. This will contribute to the 90% death rate that is expected. We can’t take care of ourselves without the modern food supply chain. With everybody hunting for food, small game will disappear quickly, big game even faster. That is why happening an ample food supply (2,000 calories per day) is mandatory to get you past the first year.

  12. It was a dang good writeup! Makes one think. Kind of like Les Stroud (SurvivorMan) and how hard it was for him to make it seven days.

    Yes, a good fishing pole or firearm gives one 10 times the ability. Don’t need fancy pole are fancy gun. Even a cane pole with cork and hook is plenty. Same with the gun. And old Sears and Roebuck single shot .22 and a box of ammo will keep you fed!

    For hikes in the Crockett National Forrest down here I have a simple Eddie Bauer vest with pockets. Plenty to put things in and add a walking stick and one is good to go. But I do suggest down here bring some mosquito repellent. There are lots of ’em here!

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