SAVANNAH, GA — Commitment. Courage. Honor.
Those are the characteristics that the U.S. Marine Corps instills in the 20,000 recruits who arrive each year at its Parris Island training facility. Along with nearly 60 other educators from Northern Ohio and Southern Michigan, I had an opportunity to visit Parris Island last week and see, first hand, how the Corps trains recruits.
“We Make Marines” is what the sign says at the entrance. Those three words summarize the intensive transformation that occurs to the young (most are 18 or 19) men and women who arrive here for 13 weeks of molding and shaping.
The Marines have been the “tip of the spear” for U.S. military action for nearly 100 years. Whether it was clearing out stubborn German opposition at Belleau Wood in 1918, removing the Japanese from Guadalcanal, Tarawa, Iwo Jima and Okinawa in World War II, or eliminating terrorist threats in Afghanistan and Iraq today, our government leaders and Pentagon strategists have turned to the Marines time after time to win battles and protect our nation’s freedom.
In a “post modern” era when society seems to say that EVERYTHING is relative, the US Marines remain steadfast in their approach to training new recruits. A sentence from the Parris Island Graduation Ceremony program says it eloquently: “At the very time when a host of factors tend to undermine character development in society, Marines are facing an operational environment that requires stronger character and moral virtue.”
This statement correlates with the ever-more-complex missions of the Marines. Last year the USMC took the lead in the nation’s disaster relief efforts in Haiti. Travel to any US embassy around the world, and you’ll see Marines on guard. And of course, it is the Marines who are clearing out clusters of Taliban fighters and freeing provinces in Afghanistan from the draconian and ruthless evils of the terrorists.
Coming from about 50 different colleges and schools, those of us who educate saw how the Marines prepare and teach. Preparation is an important component in the “Leathernecks’” approach. Through careful recruiting, Major Greg Jones and his staff of about 80 Marines really live up to that old slogan of “a few good men (and women).” Through screening, questioning, testing (a great battery assessment called ASVAB) and long-term preparation, the local Marine recruiters weed out people who don’t belong in military service.
Drug screenings, challenging physical and mental training, and a frank ‘here’s what Boot Camp is like’ strategy removes some applicants from the “pool” of potential Marines. But there’s a payoff: More than 90 percent of the recruits going to Parris Island now make it through the training process and become Marines. The intense preparation works.
A second successful strategy is a rigorous training program. We got a first-hand view of how the Marines accomplish this. Drill Sergeants, often working up to 16 hour days, continually indoctrinate their recruits. The young men and women are “on the go” from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. every day, undergoing very demanding physical and mental training to become Marines. Shared hardship, mutual commitment, and teamwork all play a key role in the Boot Camp process. We witnessed recruits toiling away in squads of 16 men, collaborating and helping each other overcome an all-but-impossible series of obstacles in a near-graduation culminating challenge called The Crucible. Before getting to this point, the recruits have mastered many swimming and water survival techniques, learned how to be an expert rifleman, engaged in hand-to-hand combat successfully, and navigated many other physical and intellectual challenges and tests.
We had an opportunity to observe one drill sergeant provide us with a “practice motivation” of how the process works. “A Marine is a person who is characterized by having the highest of virtues,” Staff Sgt. Hector Roman said. “He strives to be the very best that he does….Discipline and spirit are the hallmarks of a Marine….give 100% at all times….treat every Marine and recruit with courtesy and respect…never lie and cheat…never steal….work hard to stretch your body, your spirit, and your mind.”
Marine Corps training represents an amazing commitment on the part of these recruits. And it is the recruits who are the third part of this transformation process. They WANT to become better, more disciplined, and part of something much bigger than themselves. The recruits devote significant time learning and incorporating Core Values into their lives. It’s an integral part of Boot Camp.
They voluntarily surrender cell phones, video games, computers and free time for an intense physical, mental and emotional training regime that last 13 weeks. These young men and women willing give up just about all of their personal comforts throughout Boot Camp, for the right to then invest three or four more years of their lives serving on the freedom’s front lines.
After Boot Camp, it’s on to even more training and education. The Marine Corps has more than 300 occupational specialties (called MOS), and some can take six months or longer to master. USMC’s generals and planners believe that it’s better to bleed in training and preparation. That way there are many fewer lives lost on the battlefield.
For me, the Educators’ Workshop was more than a powerful learning experience. It’s personal.
My father was a Marine, and he did his boot camp at Parris Island in 1952. His older brother, my uncle Paul Kerezsi, served in the Marines for 25 years. He fought in the “island hopping” campaigns against the Japanese in the Pacific War, as later saw in combat in Korea. He began at Parris Island too.
My son is also a Marine recruit right now. I’m hoping to return to Parris Island and see his graduation from Boot Camp in the near future.
So, if you ever become a little unsure of what those words – Commitment, Courage, Honor – mean in the year 2011, you can find out in a hurry. Ask anyone who is proud to claim the title of United States Marine.