A drill instructor walks us through the first four weeks of Marine Corps boot camp.

Get off my bus right now!

This is how Marine Corps recruit training, or boot camp, begins. Some guy you’ve never met, wearing a wide-brimmed hat, screams at you to get off the bus. You file out and stand on the yellow footprints, a right of passage for all future Marines, and a reminder that every one of the Corps’ heroes and legends stood where you’re standing. (be sure to watch the video below)! 

The first 72 hours are called “receiving,” and they’re a mild introduction to what’s ahead. Those first three days consist of a flurry of knife-hands, screaming, rough buzzcuts, gear issue, and general in-processing and paperwork.

If you’re tired or having second thoughts by then, you’re in trouble. The real work hasn’t even started.

Task & Purpose spoke to Staff Sgt. Thomas Phillips, a drill instructor at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, South Carolina, to talk about what recruits go through during the first four weeks of Marine Corps boot camp.

    Drill instructors serve a variety of roles. There’s the enforcer, often called a “kill hat;” an experienced drill instructor, called a “J-hat” or a “heavy,” who has the most interaction with recruits; and a senior drill instructor, who serves as a stern paternal figure. Phillips served in each of these roles throughout his seven-and-a-half cycles training recruits.

Recruit training lasts 12 weeks and is broken into three phases.

In first phase, civilians learn how to be Marine recruits, and later, Marines.

First phase begins during receiving, and afterward, recruits are assigned to their platoons and introduced to their drill instructors.

    The 27-year-old Marine enlisted when he was 18, and six years later returned to Parris Island in July 2013 as a drill instructor assigned to the same company where he was a recruit.

“Six years ago, I was in their shoes on that same black line they’re now standing on,” says Phillips, who has now trained eight platoons of Marines. A platoon of recruits can range in size from 50 to 100, and is overseen by three to five drill instructors, depending on the platoon’s size.

Enlisted Marines are trained at only two locations: Parris Island and Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego, California. Parris Island is home to 4th Recruit Training Battalion, where female Marines are trained.

    First phase is that indoctrination,” says Phillips. “They’re not recruits yet, you’re teaching them how to be recruits. It’s a whole new lifestyle.”

Recruits relearn everything they thought they knew: how to dress, walk, talk, eat, and even how to shower and properly clean themselves. Throughout boot camp, recruits must refer to themselves in the third person. The words “I, you, and we,” are replaced by “this recruit,” “that recruit,” and “these recruits.”

“We have to teach them a new way to talk, a new way to eat, brush their teeth, shave their face, everybody comes from different backgrounds growing up” says Phillips, who explains that first phase “evens the playground for everyone, it strips them down and puts everyone on that even playing field.”

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Marines in training

First phase also involves a lot of lectures, conducted by a drill instructor who lays out the Corps’ history from its founding in 1775 to now.

“The knowledge is such a key part,” says Phillips. “I’ve had kids tell me they didn’t expect there’d be so much classroom time. It’s not ‘Call of Duty,’ kids are like, ‘Man this is completely different from what I’ve expected. I haven’t shot a weapon, I’ve just carried it around.’”

Recruits also drill almost non-stop — which means walking in military formation with their weapons — for 100 or more hours, explains Phillips, who adds that drill teaches recruits proper weapons’ handling, instills discipline, and builds unit cohesion.

 

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