Boot Camp. . . through the eyes of a recruit
Submitted by: Don J. Flickinger Sgt. USMC
Recruit Training, United States Marine Corps, officially comprises three definitive phases. First Phase concentrates on orientation, study of military subjects and physical training. Second Phase includes marksmanship training, combat exercises and long hikes. Third Phase is service week, final polishing and, finally, graduation.
Three phases also exist in the mind of the recruit. These are not, however, the same three phases measured by exact dates in the drill instructor’s schedule.
Phase one begins in the small, dark hours of the morning. The former happy civilian steps off the bus into a world of disorientation. His mind is snapped into abject shock. Cardiac arrest is a distinct possibility.
The drill instructor is absolutely the most sadistic, maniacal tyrant he has ever encountered. It is beyond comprehension that one human being could treat another in such fashion. In his daily struggle to survive, the recruit becomes psychoneurotic wondering if the psychopath in charge will allow him to live another day.
The days pass. The crying in the sack at night subsides as the mind becomes numb and the spent, weary body literally dies. Forgotten are the lofty principles and goals that fired enlistment. Graduation is not a word in the vocabulary. The recruit lives in limbo, a lethean existence.
One night after lights out, the recruit lies on his rack contemplating “the worst mistake I ever made in my life.” The body and the mind have reached the limits of endurance. Slowly, he begins to make a decision.
Initially, his thoughts are that he cannot continue another day. If that is the end of the thinking process, he sinks into despair will soon be released to return home.
Continued thinking, however, brings the drill instructor into focus. Anger begins to rage within the recruit. Further thought heightens the wrath within to a frenzy. The irrevocable decision is made, “I will not let that son-of-a bitch defeat me.”
Second phase begins the next morning at roll call. The recruit responds in a voice that is sharp and quick, loud and distinct, and permeated with a tone of defiance. On the parade deck his movements suddenly become snappy, displaying a newly found arrogance. Despite the aching body, his physical training scores shoot upwardly.
The recruit has engaged the drill instructor in a mental duel. He is determined that he will excel and that the drill instructor will never again single him out. Yet, as he struggles it seems that the drill instructor is answering the challenge and singles him out with continuously accelerating the demands ever increasing expectations. With grim determination, the recruit rises to the challenge.
One day the recruit is astonished with the sudden realization that he has executed a command, perfectly and with relative ease. His mind engages in further introspection. He notices the transformation of mind and body. Gone is the deep-seated defiance, replaced with absolute confidence. He has achieved the “can do!” attitude, which he will have for the rest of his life.
Third Phase has begun. The recruit now struts, proud and tall. Graduation, wearing the Eagle, Globe and Anchor, and being awarded the title “Marine” are realities.
He minimizes his own participation. All credit is given to the drill instructor. All earlier attitudes give way to one of genuine deep respect and hero worship. “If I ever go into combat, I want him as the leader.”
The former civilian will be forever a Marine and the drill instructor will live within his mind.
On 16 April 1954, I proudly strutted across the Parade Deck, Marine Corps Recruit Depot, Parris Island, South Carolina, having earned the title, “United States Marine.” Again, on 20 May 1994, I strutted, with even greater pride, across the Parade Deck, Marine Corps Recruit Depot, San Diego, California, coming from the reviewing stand, in uniform, after the ceremonies, to welcome my son to the “Band of Brothers.”
The mental phases of training as perceived in the mind of the recruit are based upon my own impressions and reflections from the time. They were confirmed by my son’s Senior Drill Instructor. He further indicated that the phases are imposed by design and that the drill instructor is acutely aware of the current mental phase of each recruit.