Tomorrow’s Heroes: How We Make U.S. Marines

A series detailing How We Make U.S. Marines,

and the Men and Women who said “SEND ME!”

 MA. and N.H. Educators Attend Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island

By: Tom Duggan, December, 2010

This is the first in a series covering marine boot camp at the at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, South Caroline, where The Valley Patriot was able to attend an “Educators Workshop” for four days.

Next month we will we will cover the arrival of educators from Massachusetts and New Hampshire as they learn and experience what new Marine recruits deal with on their first of training as they begin their quest to be part of the greatest fighting force in the history of mankind.

In the coming months our series will begin with a detailed account of each phase of recruit training and the experience of educators on the tour. With hours and hours of audio and video to sift through, our staff will compile the most relevant and compelling information to chronicle how marines are made and what it takes to make it through basic training on the island.

Future segments of our series will including: the basic training of female recruits, an interview Maj. James Jarvis, (the Parris Island visits coordinator), college, health and other benefits afforded to Marines, a visit to the Marine Air Base, a talk from Brigadier General Frederick Padilla, (the Commanding General of Parris Island), The objectives of The U.S. Marines, the core values of a Marine and how it permeates every facet of their lives, physical, combat and rifle qualification, combat water survival, live firing of M16-A2 weapons, the critical importance of safety, Marital Arts training, the crucible, recruit graduation an interview with some of the educators who attended the workshop, and so much more.


Arriving as a “recruit”

From the minute we got off the bus at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island you could feel the tension and excitement in the air. While some of the educators in our group had a good idea what to expect from their four-day visit, I remained purposely ignorant of what was about to happen. I didn’t prepare, didn’t read any of the material we were sent, never glanced at the itinerary Staff Sgt. Natasha Young had sent and me the week before.

When one of the Valley Patriot’s editors, tried to brief me before leaving North Andover for our trip to South Carolina I told her she was wasting her time and I tuned her out.

My goal was to experience what it would be like for an 18 year old kid who had no clue what he was getting himself into as we arrived on the base and let the sights, sounds and activities going on around me fill that void of expectations.

Far too often our expectations dictate how we experience a movie or a vacation, and I didn’t want that to happen on this trip. Some of the best movies I’ve ever seen were movies where I hadn’t seen any previews and walked into the theatre blind, no knowing what to expect. That was what how I decided I was going to experience Parris Island.

Moving through the checkpoints onto the base, our bus full of civilian educators eventually came to a stop outside a series of brick buildings where we were told to get out and line up on rows of painted yellow footprints. This is where every single Marine recruit who comes to Parris Island begins their twelve weeks of basic training.

Within less than a minute a very tall staff sergeant took over, screaming orders at the group. Regimented and detailed he told us what was expected of us as new “recruits”. “This is where you will begin your processing,” he told us.

The day before, Staff Sgt. Lopez had given us practice drills back at the hotel. She was in charge of our group from the time we arrived at the hotel to the time we got on the bus to leave for home.

Prior to our arrival on the island she had lined everyone up in the parking lot of the hotel and taught us how we were to line up in formation. She told us how to stay in formation, explained how we were expected to act, how we were to answer any question posed to us by an officer with “Sir, yes sir” or “Ma’am, yes Ma’am.”

Not being as physically fit as I used to be, and being a member of the press I was allowed to opt out of the running and physical demands that the educators were expected to adhere to and it’s a good thing too. I could barely keep up with school teachers and guidance councilors running around the hotel parking lot the day before as they tried to stay in formation to the calls from Sgt. Lopez yelling which direction to go in. There was no way I was going to keep up with Marine recruits let alone full fledged Marines.

From the yellow footprints we were brought through heavy metal doors with the words “Through these portals pass prospects for America’s finest fighting force, the United States Marines”.

Inside the processing center we were informed of the mountain of paperwork recruits had to fill out before their training was to begin. Medical, dental all of the physical, safety and health were now to be taken care of by the United States Marines.

“When you are finished processing,” the drill sergeant yelled. “Recruits have to go through what we like to call the moment of truth.”

Anything that a Marine recruit may have lied about on their application or paperwork, anything they failed to disclose “this is the time to come clean” we were told.

Some recruits lie about having asthma, juvenile criminal records, experiences with their local police back home, whatever it is “the moment of truth” is the time to come clean on whatever they have concealed or have been dishonest about.

From there, recruits are moved to a room adjacent to the processing room and told they get to make one phone call from the row of metal phone boxes on the wall. On the inside over of the box were instructions as to what they were allowed to say while making that call:

“This is Recruit (last Name). I have arrived safely at Parris Island. Please do not send any food or bulky items to me in the mail. I will contact you in 7 to 9 days by letter with my new address. Thank you for your support. Good bye for now.”

Each recruit has one minute to make that call.

“It is usually at that moment,” one Marine explained, “that it all sinks in.”

Having been on the island for only a few minutes it was sinking in for me too. This was serious business. These men and women arriving on the island for training were about to embark on training to go off to Afghanistan, Iraq or some other far off place to fight for their country and every thing they did had to follow a code of conduct expected of every other Marine.

Honor, Courage Commitment

As we left the processing center, Marine recruits with automatic weapons were doing drills as the sun slowly started to come up and illuminate the rest of the base, mostly unseen by the touring educators upon arrival.

And throughout the tour we experienced hundred of marines in various states of training. But two things continued to permeate the consciousness of every person on base throughout each day: first, that “Honor, courage and commitment” were not just a slogan it was a way of thinking, a way of behaving, a way of life. Each Marine and Marine recruit had a code of ethics to follow and that if that code of ethics or conduct were not adhered to it could mean their life or the life of a fellow soldier. Secondly, I couldn’t help feel safer than I had ever felt. It was nothing like the movies where out of control and power hungry drill sergeants abused cadets, deprived them of food, swore in their faces or insulted their mothers. “That’s the stuff of movies,” Colonel Mellinger told us later on in the tour. “It’s all Hollywood. That just doesn’t happen here and you’ve probably seen that for yourself. We are not allowed to deprive recruits of food or use food as a punishment. We are not allowed to put our hands on recruits or abuse them. That’s not what we are all about. We are about Making Marines. We are about making sure they get the training they need to accomplish their mission and stay alive in combat. Honor, courage and commitment are ethos we live by. If a marine sees someone abusing a marine or a recruit it is their duty to do something about that. I can tell you I have seen all the Hollywood movies and they are entertaining. I like watching them, but that’s all they are, entertainment. Here, we teach recruits about the culture of Marines.”

Recruit Luke McLella

Marine Recruit Luke McLellan

Each day we were on the base we got to eat lunch, or as the Marines call it “chow” with a Marine recruit. On our first day on base I interviewed Marine recruit Luke McLellan from Quincy, Massachusetts and Recruit Carnevale of Beverly. They looked young, very young, if I had seen them walking the streets of Quincy and Beverly I would have guessed them to be 15 or 16 years old. And to be honest they looked scared as they stood at attention in front of their table with a boxed lunch on it and shortly thereafter when I struck up a conversation with them (which will be published in January).

But what I mistook as fear, recruit McLellan admitted was nervousness. “Why aren’t you eating, with all the physical demands of being a recruit you must be hungry,” I asked him. “No, sir. This recruit is not hungry sir,” was his answer. “Why not, are you nervous,” I asked. “This recruit is nervous, sir.” It was refreshing to speak with a young man of 19 years old who spoke with such respect and was so dedicated to making a difference in the world. Why was he nervous? We were the first civilians he had spoken with and probably the first non-Marines he had seen since standing on those yellow footprints on his first day of training.

Both Carnevale and McLellan answered every question referring to themselves as “this recruit”. When I asked McLellan what he wanted to do with his life when he got out of the military his answer brought a tear to my eye when he said “This recruit hopes to be a Massachusetts State trooper, sir.”

I couldn’t think of better life experience for a future State Trooper than Marine training. As I sat there, fumbling though my questions amid the noise of recruits outside shouting and doing physical training, I couldn’t help but think about what Recruits McLellan and Carnevale might be dealing with in a few short months if (when?) they are called to fight Muslim Terrorists in Iraq or Afghanistan. How these Marines will deal with the death and brutality of the Muslim world on the other side of the globe.

These were tomorrow’s heroes.

Heroes, because at a time when America is under attack at home and abroad they recognized that our nation needs help fighting the Muslim enemies who wish to destroy our way of life and take down our government in order to strip us of our freedoms. And when the United States needed someone to go overseas and fight those enemies, Recruit Carnivale and McLellan, still in their teens, stepped forward and said “send me”.

At a time when kids his age are stressed about car payments, girlfriends, and where they are going to get beer money for their college parties on the weekends, Carnivale and McLellan are thinking about how they can keep me and my family safe. They are training and being educated about how to fight evil and how important courage, honor and commitment are to preserving the American way of life at a time when Muslim terrorists live, breathe, eat and sleep with the sole mission of killing everyone we know.

I pray that recruits McLellan and Carnivale safely make it through their tour of duty. And I hope that some day in the future I have the pleasure of speeding down Route 93 and being pulled over by a hero State Trooper Luke McLellan. That ticket is one I will gladly pay.

Tomorrow’s Heroes: U.S. Marine Recruit Gallo of Pembroke, MA