There was something a little off last week at the Marine Corps Recruiting Depot is San Diego.
A group of recruits arrived that were kind of slow a bit older and just could not quite get the hang of marching. The drill instructors were uncharacteristically lenient and even cracked a smile from time to time at their incompetence, though they tried to hide it. This was the Educator’s Boot Camp and the job of the teachers and community leaders who attended was not to be in perfect time and formation but, to observe how the Marines mold and shape young men and women into soldiers and what benefits the recruits receive when they serve their country.
Participants from Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska and Oklahoma made the trip to the west coast to get just a taste of what a Marine experiences over the 12 week camp. Teachers from Greenwood, Charleston, Alma and Magazine attended the five day workshop.
Julie Raggio, counselor for Magazine Schools, attended after being invited by Captain Matthew Wagner, Executive Officer at the Marine Corps Recruiting Station in Oklahoma City.
“Most of our students go to the National Guard,” said Raggio. “Because that is the presents that is in our schools. Captain Wagner called and asked if I would be interested in coming so that I would have information to share with students about the Marines so that they can make an educated decision about active military or reserves.”
The Corps made it clear that they were looking for; more access for recruitment and to encourage educators to offer the Marines as an option to students.
The Yellow Footprints
The teachers received first hand the experience a new recruit has when they first arrive at boot camp. Raggio was chased off the bus by drill instructors and made to stand on the infamous Yellow Footprints where she and others were taught loudly and aggressively how to stand at attention. The prints are in the shape of boot prints and are at a 45 degree angle to show a young recruit how to stand.
According to museum guides this is a tradition that started when those who wanted to be soldiers went from the recruiter’s office to boot camp with little to no instruction on the basics. Today however, a new recruit can remain in the delayed entry program for nine months up to a year before reporting and has the opportunity to learn what to expect. However, the tradition of the footprints remains and has become a rite of passage.
Raggio stated that the experience of the footprints left a lasting impression on her.
“Standing there I was really empathetic with the young kids,” said Raggio. “Thinking about those kids who are 18 and 19 years old feel being yelled at. Most of them have never been away from home and here they are in the middle of the night, tired and most of the time you can’t understand what the Drill Instructors are saying but they expect you to follow every order. It made me tear up a little to think that these kids go through this and are scared. But they do this so that they can serve their country.”
From the footprints the educators were rushed into the process room where recruits have all of their bags searched for contraband not allowed on the base such as tobacco, candy, weaponsc etcetera. The recruits are then ordered to line up and call home, but there is a catch; when a family member picks up the recruit has a script that they must read word for word and hang up. The script goes like this: “Hello, this is recruit (Last Name). I have arrived safely at MCRD San Diego. The next time I contact you will be by postal mail so expect expect a letter in two to three weeks. I love you goodbye.”
The educators were informed that all of this happens in the first 15 minutes of camp and that recruits are no longer allowed to refer to themselves in the first person and cannot even call a Marine by rank, only “sir”. The reason behind this, according to senior drill instructor Staff Sergeant Rodriguez, is to give the recruits the mentality that they are no longer individuals and to build a team mentality. At the end of the camp, when they make the transformation from recruits to Marine they can once again refer to themselves in the first person and can refer to others by their rank.
All throughout the week the educators were taken from event to event. They completed a small portion of an obstacle course, made an attempt at the Marine fitness test, learned how to properly hold and fire a rifle in a virtual simulator and given problem solving and teamwork tasks to complete which they were unable to accomplish in the allotted time. These experiences gave those involved a greater appreciation of what goes into make a solider.
However, it was not all hard work. The group was exposed to a different side of the Marines. They were given the opportunity to speak to enlisted men and women that took up a roles not normally associated with the military such as videographer and cyber security. They were also serenaded at lunch one day by the Marine Corps rock band who played Michael Jackson and Stevie Wonder songs. The Marines have 10 such bands and are always looking for new talent.
One event that the educators were not invited to was the end of the Crucible. It is a private event that only a few members of the media are allowed to attend. After 90 days of mental and physical training, of tearing the recruits down and building them back up again; the men and women that dedicate their life to the Marine Corps come out the other side with a new found discipline and mindset.
All of this training culminates in the Crucible. The Crucible is a 54-hour endurance event to mark the transformation from a recruit to a Marine. The Crucible is a 31-mile hike, each soldier is given only three MRE’s (Meals Ready to Eat) and must ration them for the duration. Recruits can sleep no more than four hours each night and must complete 24 stations that consists of obstacles that require teamwork, endurance events and ends in an emotionally charged ceremony where the recruits are given the symbol of the Marine; the Eagle, Globe and Anchor pin by their drill instructors.
Needless to say the soldiers are hungry and tired by the time they are seen cresting the final hill known simply as “The Reaper”. The recruits line up and as the DI places the emblem in their hand and takes the time to speak each and every recruit about their progress and gives them advice.
A senior DI with the Delta Company, First Recruit Training Battalion spoke to one young man by the name of Robinson, who had just completed the Crucible, and said “This is what it is all about. I told you on day one that all of the hard work and dedication that you put into training, every time that you wanted to quit leads to this moment right now. Your career is going to go up but always remember this moment.”
There was one Marine that seemed out of place. He was taking pictures and seemed to be fighting back tears. His name was Jon McFarlane and his son, Gabriel, had just completed the endurance march. Jon has been a Marine for 25 years and his father had been a Marine as well.
“It was his decision,” said Jon. “I told him just because I am in the Marine Corps doesn’t mean that you have to be in the Marine Corps.” When asked how proud he was of his son on that day he could only get out the word “very”.
Gabriel described the experience on the reaper as the best moment of his life.
“That feeling was indescribable,” said McFarlane. “All the effort and time for that moment was the best.”
Gabriel stated that he plans to make a career out of being a Marine.
After the Crucible the young Marines clean up and eat one of the biggest meals of their lives before preparing for graduation day. The educators were given the opportunity to eat with the new Marines that day and speak to them about their journey in the armed forces, which was a welcomed change to eating in silence for weeks.
The next day Raggio and the attendees of the Educators Boot Camp sat in the stands and watched those same men graduated from boot camp. After the graduation ceremony, with thousands in attendance, the Marines have 10 days of leave. After leave they return to the camp for additional weapons and field training.
“I have never been against the military,” said Raggio. “But I have never pushed it as an option because I didn’t understand enough about it. I have always offered it but I have never had enough information to actually feel like I could give recommendations so this experience will certainly help.”