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.
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.
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