2012 Explorer Leadership Institute

Camp Pendleton


Sergeant Paul Dino

Reserve Forces Bureau



On a cool July morning at 4:30 AM, thirty L.A.S.D. Explorers from various stations began showing up at Sheriff’s Headquarters for a journey they were a little unsure of.  Sleeping bags and duffle bags in hand, they began to huddle together in small groups, chatting, for they knew they will live with each other for the next five days. The look on their faces was that of nervous anticipation, but most were eagerly waiting what lie ahead. These young men and women were the “best of the best” that each Explorer post had to offer. They were the ones that excelled at their post and were rewarded with the opportunity to attend this week long course.


The Explorer Leadership Institute was developed at Reserve Forces Bureau to help cultivate and foster personal growth and leadership in the young men and women involved in our Explorer program.  The program and staff work in conjunction with the United States Marine Corps at Camp Pendleton, CA.  Each year sworn staff from Reserve Forces Bureau along with Deputies from other units volunteer their time to accompany and mentor the Explorers.  This year the program was organized by Sergeant Britta Kjellstrand and was assisted by myself, Deputy John McNeal, Reserve Deputy Dan Cortes, Deputy Jaqueline Morales, Deputy Monica Sanchez and Deputy Clarissa Torres.

At around 7:30 AM, we arrived at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton.  It is the major West Coast base of the United States Marine Corps and serves as its prime amphibious training base for Assault Craft Unit 5. It is located on the Southern California coast, in San Diego County. The base was established in 1942 to train U.S. Marines for service in World War II. By October 1944, Camp Pendleton was declared a "permanent installation" and by 1946, it became the home of the 1st Marine Division. It was named after Major General Joseph Henry Pendleton (1860–1942), who had long advocated setting up a training base for the Marine Corps on the west coast. Today it is the home to myriad Operating Force units including the I Marine Expeditionary Force and various training commands.

The camp is a massive, 200 square mile facility that is approximately the size of Rhode Island.  Instead of having a camp center, Camp Pendleton is made up of eighteen “areas”, each serving a specific specialty or command.  Each one of these areas is completely self sufficient, with its own exchange (stores), mess hall, housing and recreational facilities.   


 After a quick breakfast, we were off to our first experience.  We saw a demonstration from the Camp Pendleton Military Police dogs.  The unit uses German Shepherds, Belgium Malinois and Labradors for a variety of tasks from patrol to narcotics to bomb detection. Some of the dogs were also deployed to the Middle East and other parts of the world in support of our troops.


The day continued with a tour of the Marine Corps Mechanized museum where numerous vehicles, tanks and heavy weapons were on display, some dating back to World War I.


We eventually made our way to Camp Talega / 63 Area, which is home to the Marine Reserve Support Unit (West) but would be our home for the next five days.  If you’ve ever seen the 1986 movie “Heartbreak Ridge” starring Clint Eastwood and saw the 50’s era Quonset huts that were shown, that’s where we stayed.  These barracks were very basic, with nothing more than bunk beds and lockers.  Restrooms were in a separate building, which came as a shock to some of our Explorers.



Nearing the end of our first day, we’d gotten a taste of life at Camp Pendleton and everyone was excited.  Many were asking what was coming on the following days but to keep the anticipation and energy level high, the staff elected not to tell what was coming up next.  We wrapped up the day with an outstanding lecture from Reserve Deputy Dan Cortes on leadership and conflict resolution.  Deputy Cortes is not only an L.A.S.D. Reserve; he is also Gunnery Sergeant in the Marine Corps.  Dan was invaluable as a liaison between our Department and the Marine Corps, helping us navigate the intricacies of Marine life at Camp Pendleton.


The following days were packed with more hands on demonstrations that included weapons training, martial arts and the combat convoy simulator.  But a visit to a Marine Corps base would not be complete without physical training.  A casual morning jog?  A few push ups?  Not likely.  We were in the company of the most fit fighting force the United States has to offer and we were going to show them that the Deputies and Explorers of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department have what it takes to stand toe to toe with them on the P.T. field.  Three mile runs up hot, dusty trails, a five mile beach run through waist deep water and two extremely challenging obstacle courses.  But the true test came when our Explorers competed in the Marine Corps Combat Fitness Test.  

This is the same test the Marines give each new recruit and each must complete a grueling set of tasks that simulate crawling through a battlefield, carrying loaded ammunition cans, lifting and carrying a wounded Marine, accurately throwing a grenade then making it back to a secure area, all without stopping.  Each one of our Explorers completed every task, not one quit.  This speaks directly to their commitment, desire and dedication.   


Our final day at Camp Pendleton was highlighted by the presentation of certificates and the highly coveted E.L.I. pin by Reserve Forces Bureau Captain Bob Guilbault.  Captain Guilbault told the class of 2012 “...you have achieved something very few Explorers have.  Be proud of what you’ve accomplished here this week.”


And indeed they have.


As we left Camp Pendleton, each Explorer sat a little taller in their seat, a look of pride on their faces knowing that they are part of a select group and quite possibly, the future leaders in our community.