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MARINE CORPS RECRUIT DEPOT PARRIS ISLAND, S.C. — Before Marines put on the campaign covers and yell at recruits, they spend a lot of time preparing their bodies — and their voices — for the demands that come with the three-year-long tour.
Drill instructor duty is not easy. And those who take it on, Marines from a wide variety of military occupational specialties, must undergo serious preparation. Between 10 percent and 20 percent of the students at drill instructor school wash out, primarily for medical reasons, said Maj. Chad Craven, the director of the school here. They’ll either injure themselves during the physically demanding training or aggravate a pre-existing injury, he said.
But those who complete one of the four classes held each year master the boot camp curriculum, learn how to properly mentor recruits and even perfect the art of yelling. Craven and his staff make certain only Marines who display the strong leadership skills required on DI duty graduate following their 11 weeks at the schoolhouse, he said.
Marine Corps Times met Craven to discuss the demanding duty and how he and his staff work to prepare Marines for life as a drill instructor. Excerpts edited for space and clarity:
Q. What do Marines attending drill instructor school take away that they might not expect?
A. This is the premiere leadership opportunity in the Marine Corps. Marines in MOSs that don’t get to develop a lot of leadership qualities can get that here. And as we start to go through changes in our organization, the fact that people volunteer to come down and be a drill instructor is going to be a feather in their cap as far as future promotions.
Q. DI duty is intense, and they can get as few as four hours of sleep per night. How do you prepare them for what it will be like when they’re with the training regiments?
A. We have several training evolutions throughout the cycle when the students go out and do observations. They are initially shown some of the places they’ll work on the depot. Then towards the end of the class, they have a final observation when we send them out to the actual battalions they’ll be assigned to when they graduate. They work a full schedule, for four- or five-day periods, with the drill instructors. They have some restrictions because they’re not drill instructors yet, but they work the schedule so they can start to get used to the process.
Q. Mentoring, foot locker discussions and teaching about ethics and values are huge parts of boot camp. How do you prepare Marines for those aspects of their job?
A. We put them into immersion-type training here. The students will set up foot lockers and will have their peers in a conference room, outside under a tree, wherever, because that’s what they’re going to do once they get out to the regiment. We’ll say, “Hey, Sergeant Smith, today you’re going to give a core values guided discussion on ethics. Here’s your handout, study it and be ready to go.” So they go through how to discuss those issues. They’re also prepared when a recruit inevitably throws a zinger at them, which is going to happen — we get recruits from all walks of life here.
Q. A lot of today’s DIs are combat veterans. What does that bring to recruit training?
A. Usually maturity and judgment. When they get asked that zinger that I was talking about and the recruit throws out the question that no one is prepared for, especially if it’s a combat-related question, they can offer a personal experience. It has the potential to help them once they get out to the regiment, but it doesn’t correlate to what will or will not make a good drill instructor.
Q. If Marines are unsure about doing DI duty, what would you tell them?
A. When I ask most Marines why they don’t want to be a DI, it’s not the hard work, it’s not the hours — it’s that they have this visceral reaction that somehow links subconsciously back to when we were all on the bus and got rolled in here in the middle of the night. It’s not actually like that for DIs here, but our mind likens it back. But when I ask, “Do you remember the impact your drill instructors had on you while you were here?” I always get a yes. There might have been sheer terror for about the first three weeks, but then you really start to look at them as a role model, especially when they start to take on that mentorship role. The Marine Corps has to be bigger than just “me, me, me” — you have to give back.
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