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Marine Boot Camp IS Abuse, but Boot Camp Abuse is Intolerable

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“Because I am hard you will not like me. But the more you hate me the more you will learn.  I am hard, but I am fair.”  Those were the famed words of Gunnery Sergeant Hartman in Full Metal Jacket.  Without a doubt, FMJ has become the iconic movie for every Marine to join the corps since it came out.  Knowing full well what laid ahead of us, we stepped on the yellow footprints with one sadistic hope.  That Marine Recruit Training would be as awful as Full Metal Jacket portrayed it.  You simply don’t join the Marine Corps, of all branches, unless you are a glutton for punishment.  That being said, the report of a Muslim Recruit’s suicide after repeated abuse from Drill Instructors is making Marines of all generations call foul.  The young man jumped from a 3rd story stairwell in the recruit barracks because a few Drill Instructors lacked discernment and I’m afraid my beloved Corps will not be the same again.  I have hesitated to write about it for want of the facts, but I’ve landed on my opinion.  You tell me yours.

Drill Instructors are Deities

Circa 1997 I had the late fire watch at some point about halfway through training.  If you have ever been to boot camp you know that you put on your war belt, grab your moonbeam, and walk the barracks floor counting down the minutes until you can wake the next recruit.  On this particular evening, I decided to forgo the war belt because what does it matter in the middle of the night anyway.  In walks the dreaded “heavy”, drunk and angry at the sight of it.

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He makes me open my footlocker, remarkably screaming in a low whisper so as not to wake the other recruits, pull out my scuzz brush with which we wash our clothes and head to the, well, head.  With the smell of whiskey on his breath, he orders this 17-year-old to scrub the toilets as he pushes my head about an inch above the toilet water asking if I can “smell the clean.”  Then he went to his duty hut and the night was over.  Cool story, no big deal, and I never forgot my duty belt ever again. That is not abuse my friends, that was the punishment and abuse one could expect and sadistically hope for.  It made for a cool story and the need for attention to detail was not missed on me.  It was more this below, than what we see this in report.  Ear muffs for the video.

For a young recruit striving to become a Marine, your Drill Instructors are near deities.  I can’t remember a single teacher I had in elementary school, but I’ll never forget my DIs.  You see, your recruiter is the cool laid-back Marine that sucks you in but your DI is the one who introduces you to the real Corps.  They have unlimited power in a recruit’s mind and recruits almost welcome the abuse as a result.  Not really, we flee from it but we don’t dispute their ability to dispense it at will.  But then again, there is actual abuse which crosses the line and perhaps I can only recognize it in my old age.

My DI Was a POG

Granted, I was just a reserve Infantry Marine destined for a 2003 deployment to Iraq, but I was Infantry.  The Marine DI that pushed my head into the toilet water was an admin POG.  No really, it’s a hilarious story.  For whatever reason back in 1997 for platoon 1107, they had organized all the Grunts into one Boot Camp platoon.  Perhaps an experiment, not sure if they still do it but they did for us.  And I can remember this DI saying he was “admin, but he was admin for a grunt unit which pretty much makes him a grunt.”  And the platoon of recruits responded with, “Wow, he was admin for grunts he must be awesome.” Silly recruit, tricks are for Grunts.

Chattanooga Marines

We didn’t know any better at the time and neither does your average recruit.  I was literally 17-years-old when I entered boot camp and the DI could have told me he was the commandant and I would have believed it.  The dude likely got out a few years before 9-11, never deployed, and his biggest honor was pushing my head near the toilet water.  However, after over 6 years in the Marines and a deployment to Iraq I have known enough Marines to know the dude could have easily been a complete turd POG and not the deity I believed him to be.

So here’s the thing. My initial reaction to the story, and yours too, of this Muslim recruit’s abuse is to scoff at it.  But it is entirely possible the DIs in this battalion crossed a line even Marines would say exists.  After all Boot Camp IS Abuse and we welcome it, but Boot Camp abuse is intolerable.  With great power comes great responsibility and it appears these Marines dropped the ball.  It is an incontrovertible fact that harder training produces better warriors, but it is equally incontrovertible that 20 something-year-old Marines can still be remarkably ignorant.  Perhaps this young recruit could have benefited from a little more emotional resiliency,  but a put a DI Cover on the worst Marine you personally knew and tell me if you would send your son to train under him.

Abuse from 20 Year Olds

I truly think age is a discerning factor here as at 17, I wouldn’t question the Drill Instructor’s actions.  In this case, they put the recruit in a dryer on multiple occasions and tumbled him.  Talk to me about it at 17 and I’ll ask what fabric softener they used, but pushing 40 I’m looking at these 20 something DIs like the immature kids in the room.  Speaking of those who perpetrate the legit abuse of course.  The DI has nearly unlimited power to do what he wants and, in fact, inflict physical pain on the recruit through exercise at will.  The stuff mentioned in the report of this kid’s suicide was absolutely unnecessary.  It was poor judgment from young kids imbued with unlimited power over their fellow man.  Battalions of new recruits are being made Marines without it and this group decided to go rogue.

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I recognize being a Muslim recruit in the post 9-11 era has to be hell.  Sucks for you, but blame the terrorist.  But the DIs are supposed to be the grown-ups in the room and did they ever ponder the benefit to America of a Muslim voluntarily enlisting in the Marine Corps?  Particularly, in this day and age?  The truth be told, if that DI had told me to get in a dryer at age 17 I would have done it and never said a word.  I was but a kid, but now I am a man and father.  Treat my son harshly future DIs but abuse him for your own joy and you will answer to this old Marine.  I know what makes combat Marines and it’s not the high heat cycle on your standard industrial dryer.

Consequently, I am a testament, as are many of you, that you can be made into a Marine without being put in a dryer.  You can be made a Marine without being slapped in the face.   You can be made a Marine without being mocked, no wait, you cannot become a Marine without getting mocked that’s pretty standard.  But, those Drill Instructors have unlimited control over those kids and either you are equipped to deal with it or you are not.  Would I send my son to boot camp if I knew he would get a gut punch for back talk? Most certainly, whatever.  Would I send my son to boot camp if some sadistic 23-year-old would stuff him in a dryer for his religious beliefs?  Absolutely not.  The Corps has an obligation to be the Corps we remember and we helped build, abuse and all.  Boot Camp IS abuse and I welcome it even for my own children as it will make Marines out of them.  But Boot Camp abuse is intolerable and perhaps only Marines can recognize the difference.

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Jeff Edwards

4 Comments

  1. I saw recruits take abuse for everything. Arriving with USMC tattos, having crabs from their farewell roll in the hay with little Susie rotten crotch, having red hair, being from NY (me), being too slow, not understanding english (no joke), even being ugly. But the guys who got it the worst were the ones who showed up to Boot Camp overweight. They were separated out and put into the fat body platoon where they were made to PT all day long and everything they ate was monitored. They were abused far worse than anyone else. Those of us in the 3rd Battalion knew we were too far from the parade deck to hope for any one to know what happened. Nobone ever spoke up and if they did they got a blanket party from the rest of us. I remember hearing about a suicide attempt while I was there, In the same fashion. It’s always been part of what happens to young men when they all broke. Whether it’s because you’re fat ugly from New York or just too weak, those types of things will always happen. Drill Instructors will find a way to find your weakness and once they do they will work on you until you break or you get tough. Unfortunately there will be cases where the broken can’t be fixed.

  2. Navy Corpsman here, Carter through Clinton including DS. Navy boot isn’t the same of course, but there were similarities. It wasn’t unusual to get punched and kicked. There was a lot of mean, rotten mental abuse. We had no brushes or sponges or brooms. We scrubbed the shitters and everything else with bare hands and pine cleaner. It was part of the deal and made us stronger. I never felt like serious moral or ethical lines were crossed, in part because our CC’s made it very clear what the mission was and that mission always comes first. There were a couple of suicide attempts at RTC, including a third-floor jumper, while I was there. That stuff is always gonna happen. Some people choose not to hack it. You do the best you can, within the context of reality, to minimize death and injury, but those things will happen. The important question in this case is whether the guy got tossed in a dryer in pursuit of the mission of making him a Marine or if it was about real personal, non-mission oriented abuse. That’s the line. If it’s the former then the Corps is okay. If it was the latter and it’s institutionalized then the Corps is firetrucked.

    My other thought is this. When I was marching my post at zero-dark in boot camp, complete with demilled Springfield, I liked to think of myself as Jake Holman and longed to be toting a BAR and defending the barracks from hordes of Chinese. Middle of the night 18 y/o boot camp fantasy. Lots of guys from my era had the same fantasy on that watch. But we also knew, without question, that Sand Pebbles was a movie, and that movies are not reality.

  3. My best “abuse” story was after a round of water bowl I.T. I threw up so hard that I burst the blood vessels in my eyes and had blood running out of them. I went to our Kill Hat and got about half way through the whole recruit requests permission to speak spiel, when he turns around and yells “WHAT BOY!” Its hardly out of his mouth when he sees the blood in my eyes and yells “ARE YOU BLEEDING OUT OF YOUR FUCKING EYES BOY?!” You could tell he was scared; (I imagine his career and a future court marshal flashed before his eyes) he asked me if I needed to go to medical, which I declined. I spent most of the rest of Boot camp with blood red sclera and being called devil (not like devil dog) and that particular Drill Instructor never water bowl I.T’d us again. He’s a Master Sergeant now and I still respect him tremendously for the Marine he molded me into. Semper Fidelis.

  4. My Senior made a school circle on the parande ground and put his sword in my gut and threatened to run me through if I went left again when I was supposed to go right. There are some other stories I better not mention. Had 3 Puerto Ricans and a black guy for DIs and here I am , this red neck kid from Tennessee. But, looking back, i can honestly say they did right by me. In fact, they did more to mold the man I am today than anyone else. All that being said I can add only this about this incident and the conduct of our fellow Marines. When we go into battle we take with us the ghosts of those who came before and we know damn well that we’d better not let them down. That eagle, globe and anchor, our reputation and integrity are handed to us, literally, by the Marines before us and we are duty bound tp preserve our honor. Shame on them.

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