Sunday, February 26, 2006
Marine infantrymen fight on the front lines of America’s battles, but must rely on their brothers and sisters in garrison who support them in unconventional ways. One Marine has changed his battle from the sands of Iraq to military courtrooms. Sergeant Walter J. Blagg, formerly with 3rd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, now works as a legal services recorder for Legal Services Support Section, Headquarters and Service Battalion, 3rd Marine Logistics Group at Camp Foster, Okinawa. Blagg lateral moved to the 4429 military occupational specialty so that he could spend more time with his family instead of facing uncertain deployment schedules. He was also interested in learning a skill that could potentially transfer into a successful civilian career.
The rare occupation, which has 39 total Marines, consists of the word-for-word recording of courts-martial, the non-judicial punishment of officers, and boards of inquiry. Court reporters use a device called a stenotype to quickly record every word spoken during the hearings. “It’s like writing in sounds,” Blagg said. “You make combinations and [the stenotype]makes words out of those sounds.” The Marine Corps still relies heavily on legal services recorders to provide accurate transcripts of military judicial proceedings for a number of reasons. Although audio recording devices are used in courtrooms, the sound quality can be low and not easily understandable. Court reporters provide hard records of trials faster than would be possible if the records had to be completely transcribed by hand and are also more easily deployable than audio recording machinery. The Marines Corps remains the only U.S. armed forces service branch to employ court reporters. For this reason, only Marine legal services recorders can be authorized to record the proceedings of the war-crime tribunals that take place in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. To become a court reporter, Blagg attended one of the U.S. military’s longest enlisted job training courses. The course takes place at the Virginia Career Institute and lasts nearly two years. Marines receive training to learn how to correctly transcribe their court recordings into an official document and undergo a 90-hour civilian internship to get a feel for their new trade. Although most Marines never reach the course’s graduation goal of 225 words per minute on the stenotype, Blagg hit the mark in only 15 months. He is one of about five Marines who have graduated at a 225 wpm average in the past twenty years, according to Master Gunnery Sgt. Kevin M. Black, the chief court reporter at LSSS and the Corps’ most senior legal services recorder. “Marines have to be highly self-motivated to succeed at this job,” Black said. “With his writing potential, he could become one of the best court reporters in the Marine Corps.”