In his powerful book, The Few And The Proud, Larry Smith shares how the U.S. Marine Corps takes teenage civilians and, in just thirteen weeks, transforms them into Marines. The key to the entire process is the Marine Corps Drill Instructors. They are the ones who mold, mentor, manage, and motivate young men and women to become members of the most elite fighting force in the entire world. And they do it in approximately three months.
In the book, Smith lets the Drill Instructors tell how they do it in their own words. First of all, they lead by example. Lee Ermey, who played a Drill Instructor in the movie Full Metal Jacket and was a D.I. himself, said, “The Drill Instructor is the best the Marine Corps has to offer. Their leadership qualities are second to none. Nobody ever forgets his drill instructor.”1 Morton Janklow, another D.I., said, “If I were in combat, what I would want next to me in the foxhole is any Marine drill sergeant. Not an Army commando, not a Ranger, a drill sergeant. Those guys, first of all, could go for thirty-six hours without a wink of sleep.”2
The discipline and work ethic of the Marine Corps Drill Instructors is second to none and is absolutely essential because of number two: they toughen up their recruits. Upon arrival at Boot Camp whether at Parris Island or in San Diego, things are instantly tough. They meet their Drill Instructors and during that first week, called “Forming,” they get their heads shaved, receive their gear and undergo medical and physical tests. Once that’s done, twelve weeks of the most intense training known to man begins.
The training is tough and the Drill Instructors intentionally try to break them down because if a Marine is going to break down, they would rather it happen in boot camp than in combat. The Marine’s life and the lives of others will depend upon his discipline, mental and physical toughness. Therefore, in the three months that follow, recruits will learn how “to march, to move through water with packs on, to rappel from sixty-foot towers; they will practice hand-to-hand combat, and fight with the bayonet - simulated by use of the pugil stick. They must shoot and qualify with the M-16 rifle, handle gas masks, and solve both the Confidence and the Obstacle Courses. The twelve-week training cycle culminates in the Crucible, a fifty-four-hour challenge that happens in the eleventh week of training.”3 It consists of simulated combat activities that can only be accomplished through teamwork. Recruits are allowed only four hours of sleep each night and their rations are limited.
One of the first things recruits learn is that the Drill Instructors demand obedience. Right from the start recruits are taught immediate obedience to orders. Chuck Taliano, another D.I., said, “You had to give them an instant willingness to obey orders. In war, you haven’t got time to debate the issue, you’ve just got to do it.”4
Drill Instructors instill that kind of discipline by example. As you might expect, their training is tougher than what recruits face. D.I. Bill Paxton said, “If you don’t get discipline in boot camp, it’s too late to get it in combat. It’s technique and discipline. The more we sweat in peacetime, the less we bleed in war. No Marine ever died in his own sweat.”5 D.I. Ed Walls said, “There is no comparison between the Marine Corps and the other services. No comparison in discipline, in looks, wearing the uniform or anything. We’ve got the most demanding boot camp training in the world.”6 History will show the Marines suffered fewer combat casualties per hour than the Army in Korea and also during World War II. Training was the difference.
Drill Instructors honor tradition, instill motivation and emphasize teamwork among their recruits, with a number of increasingly difficult challenges, impossible to complete without working together. Recruits quickly learn things get done faster and better when they help each other. They work incredibly hard all thirteen weeks of training. Smith says, “When recruits receive that eagle, globe and anchor pin the day before graduation, many recruits will cry. They know the torch has been passed to them.”7 They also know they’ve been changed forever. They’re Marines.
You think we could learn anything from the Marines? Paul told Timothy we should “endure hardship like a good soldier of Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 2:3). Shouldn’t the church produce even better soldiers for Christ than the Marines do for our country? Shouldn’t we produce soldiers who not only have been changed forever, but who also can change the world; soldiers who possess the highest qualities of self-discipline, character, honor and integrity; soldiers who won’t crumble in combat or shrink in the face of the enemy?
If we’re going to do a better job of it, we need to improve the way we train our soldiers from the very beginning. Starting with our Drill Instructors.
© 2014. Barry L. Cameron
1. Larry Smith, The Few And The Proud (New York, London: W.W. Norton & Company, 2006) 164.
2. Smith 126.
3. Smith xxiv, xxv.
4. Smith 10.
5. Smith 51.
6. Smith 72-73.
7. Larry Smith, “How We Make Marines,” Parade Magazine 4 Jun. 2006: 4.
Barry L. Cameron has been the Senior Pastor of Crossroads since 1992 when the church was averaging 188 in morning worship. Pastor Cameron and his wife, Janis, have three children and two grandsons. He’s the author of the bestseller: The ABCs of Financial Freedom, Contagious Generosity, and The Financial Freedom Workbook. The Cameron family has been completely debt free since November 2001.