Advantages of becoming a Marine

April 18, 2017

Earlier this month, 55 other educators and I had a unique opportunity to spend three days at the US Marine Corps Recruit Depot at Parris Island, South Carolina. About 50 percent of all male Marine recruits and 100 percent of all female recruits receive their Basic Training there. We visited the recruit depot as part of an annual series of Educators Workshops which the Marine Corps offers. We had an amazing amount of access to all facets of the process, including an up-close-and-personal orientation experience showing us a bit of what it’s like at the Yellow Footprints for recruits at the beginning of their training.

It was my third (and probably last) opportunity to visit Parris Island. First a disclaimer: I am NOT objective about this place. IMHO the Marines develop an elite military branch through an intentional, strategic and thorough process. Its recruit training is longer than the other service branches, and it covers physical conditioning and marksmanship more extensively than the Army, Navy, Air Force and Coast Guard.

At the conclusion of the Educators Workshop, I asked my fellow educators for their observations and “lessons learned” with me. Here are a few of their observations:


A Marine recruit records marksmanship scores on a shooting range at MCRD Parris Island.

“The physical demand to become a Marine is real,” says Cory Brady, a teacher in the North Royalton Schools. “Train your body; get on a healthy diet before arriving.” “Get in shape physically,” adds Carol Pluess, LPC, Coordinator of Career and Assessment Services at the University of Akron’s Wayne Campus. “This includes learning how to swim if you don’t know how to do so.”

Another key point – Take advantage of the many educational opportunities which are provided. We learned that Marine recruits can earn up to nine hours of college credit by completing their Basic Training. Additionally, Marines can attend college online or “live” depending upon their duty posts, and study for additional credit toward a degree while on active duty. For some young men and women (and their families) the Marines then offer a very swift pathway to a college degree or a certification (Police, Fire, EMT, etc.) after military service without debt.

There is a third dimension which several of us discussed during the Workshops. College right after high school is NOT for everybody. There are dozens of varying motivations for high school students. Some may want to get into the most selective of colleges or universities and plow head with studying for first a bachelor’s, then an advanced degree.

Others are wired differently. They may not be academically ready yet for college. They may prefer to not pursue college and instead seek technical or professional careers. We met and heard from jet aircraft maintenance personnel who are thrilled about their MOS (jobs) in the Marines and know that their skills can lead to good careers once they leave military service.

aaaa silver door

“Silver doors” which receive Marine recruits at MCRD Parris Island. Only recruits are allowed to enter through these doors to begin their training.

Speaking of jobs, the Marines offer far more options for recruits than many of us realized. We saw plenty of the Parris Island Marine Band during our time in the Educators Workshop. Musicians can enlist in the USMC and continue playing their instruments in a variety of bands. There are also career opportunities for graphic designers, photographers, and other specialty areas.

One final important component which we learned is this: Marine recruits have a drive, an unquenchable determination, admirable distinctions in today’s society. High standards force recruits to achieve more, and they learn to de-emphasize self and focus on teams and team-building, collaboration, and discipline. These are highly desirable attributes on a battlefield , ones which can save many lives. They are also excellent characteristics in the “real” world of companies and organizations where careers begin.

The Few … the Proud … the Marines is much more than just a slogan. It’s real, and it exemplifies what we saw, heard and felt in the recruit process at Parris Island. From the Commanding General on down to the newest recruits – and we spoke with hundreds of Marines and recruits during the workshop – the elan of the Marines is genuine. For young adults who might not have been “tops” in their high school classes with their GPAs or awards, the US Marine Corps is a place where they can be a part of the very best.


Parris Island: Where the Corps makes Marines

March 31, 2017

It was 99 years ago in France when a brigade of U.S. Marines helped a combined U.S.-French force check, then later completely repel, a major German offensive. “The deadliest weapon in the world is a United States Marine and his rifle,” said General John Pershing, commander of American forces in France, after the battle of Belleau Wood, which helped turned the tide in World War I. (See note below!)

Like their counterparts in other branches of the military, enlistees in the Marine Corps sign a contract to give everything – including their lives – in defense of the U.S. and the Constitution which governs it. Next week I am privileged to be part of a Marine Corps Educators’ Workshop which will take teachers from about 50 schools and colleges to Parris Island to show us how the Corps makes Marines.

In a society today which 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.”

Standard are very high. It’s easier to get into many colleges in the U.S. than to become a Marine. Drug screenings, challenging physical and mental training, and a frank ‘here’s what Recruit Training 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. The intense preparation works.

Parris Island was the site for training of Marines a century ago, and it still has the same purpose today. Candidates sacrifice virtually every comfort for their 13 weeks of Recruit Training. They surrender their cell phones. No Netflix, tablets, or video games. They are in active training from 4 a.m. to 9 p.m. six days a week for their entire time on Parris Island. Every aspect of their daily lives falls under the constant scrutiny of a squad of drill instructors who have but one goal, a three-word entrance sign to the USMC Recruit Depot: We Make Marines.


marital arts

Martial arts combat is a component of Recruit Training for all seeking to become U.S. Marines.

The physical training (PT) is extremely demanding. Most Marines leave Parris Island about 15-20 pounds lighter than when they arrived due to the intensive PT. They must pass a vigorous Combat Fitness Test (CFT) which requires them to simulate saving a wounded fellow Marine in a realistic battle-type situation. They must also pass a shooting range challenge at seven different distances. Marine recruits spend two weeks mastering marksmanship. We may have remotely-piloted drones and cruise missiles in our arsenal today, but – just as in 1918 – every Marine is first and foremost a rifleman.

That term – rifleman – applies to both women and men at Parris Island. More than 7 percent of today’s U.S. Marine Corps is comprised of women, and female recruits there find the training and education program every bit as challenging as for the guys.



A Marine recruit records where her shot hit the target during firing week at the USMC Recruit Depot, Parris Island.

Lately, the Marine Corps has come under scrutiny due to a scandal involving inappropriate sharing of women military members’ personal photographs. No organization is perfect, including the USMC. However, the NCIS is investigating, and Marines who have violated the Uniform Code of Military Justice will be punished. “A true warrior carries himself with a sense of decency and compassion, but is always ready for the fight,” said Major Clark Carpenter of Marine Public Affairs about this scandal. “Those who hide in the dark corners of the internet with a shield of anonymity and purport to be warriors are nothing of the sort — they are nothing more than cowards.”

Major Carpenter is so right. Those who call themselves First to Fight create an indomitable “espirit de corps” which is unmatched in any branch of military service anywhere. The Marine Corps will remove the offenders, right the wrongs, and emerge from this scandal stronger than before.

Little wonder that China, South Korea, and many other nations around the globe call their most elite fighting force marines. They can imitate the name, but not the process, which makes about 180,000 women and men active duty members of the U.S. Marine Corps.

I will blog a few times from Parris Island next week, hoping to provide more information and details about the recruit training process along the way. These posts will aim — perhaps in a very small way — to help elaborate on a quote from Defense Secretary and Marine James Mattis:   “Demonstrate to the world there is ‘No Better Friend, No Worse Enemy’ than a U.S. Marine.”

It begins at Parris Island.

NOTE: An intercepted German report, which originated from the front at Belleau Wood, compared the Marines’ fighting spirit to dogs owned by the devil, or Devil’s Dogs. That became one of the Corps’ nicknames. “Come on Devil Dogs” is a frequent rallying cry for the Marines.

US Marine Corps website
NY Times, March 6, 2017
Photos are from the U.S. Marine Corps websites