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Surviving Marine Corps Basic Training

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Marine Corps Basic Training

Pugil Sticks are a timed-tried method of teaching recruits agression.

Official USMC Photo

Forming is the period when recruits are taken to their training companies and they "meet" their drill instructors for the first time. During Forming's 3-5 days, recruits learn the basics: how to march, how to wear their uniform, how to secure their weapon, etc. This period of time allows recruits to adjust to the recruit training way of life before the first actual training day.

Immediately, you'll be expected to learn a brand new vocabulary (no mistakes allowed!). You don't go "upstairs," you go "topside." You don't go downstairs, you go "down below." Your bunk becomes a "rack." The latrine is a "head." The floor is a "deck." The walls are "bulkheads." The windows are "portholes." the ceiling is an "overhead." You face "forward." Behind you is "aft." Facing forward, left is "port," and right is "starboard." Never, EVER call the D.I.'s office an "office." It is, and always will be the "D.I. House."

Third-person language is also a cardinal rule. It's not "me," or "I," it's "this recruit." It's not "them," or "us," it's "these recruits," or "those recruits." Never, EVER, say the word, "you" to your drill instructor. The proper phrase would be "Sir, this recruit does not understand the drill instructor's request, sir." (Shouted at the top of your lungs, of course).

While I use the word, "D.I." in this article, Never, EVER, call your drill instructor a "D.I." Your drill instructor is referred to as "Drill Instructor [Rank][Name]."

Drill instructors are not supposed to use profanity, nor are they allowed to physically touch a recruit (other than for safety reasons, such as on the weapon's range). So, how to they maintain discipline? In the other services, it may be push-ups, or possibly some running. In the Marine Corps, you get "quarter-decked."

Your three drill instructors work as an effective team. The senior D.I. gives most of the commands and orders. The "second hat," or "Heavy A," singles out those who seem to be having problems understanding simple shouted English and administers note-worthy tongue-lashings. To keep things interesting, the "Third Hat," administers the physical discipline, known officially as IPT (Incentive Physical Training), unofficially known as "quarter-decking."

IPT consists of prescribed exercises (a maximum of five minutes outside in "the pit," no maximum inside). Exercises one can expect if one is "quarter-decked" are: bends & thrusts, leg lifts, side lunges, mountain climbing, running in place, side straddle hops, and push-ups, done as fast as the D.I. can "encourage" you to. D.I.'s use a combination of individual and group IPTs to keep the platoon "on their toes."

During the "forming" portion of week one, you and your platoon won't be able to do anything right, and you'll be quarter-decked often. Some "jobs" can expect to be quarter-decked more than usual. Because of their relative high-visibility, the person chosen as platoon leader, as well as squad leaders, and those chosen to be "administrative assistants" to the Senior D.I. can expect more than their fair share of quarter-decking.

A Word About "Punishment"

Jason, a member of our message forum, adds the following:

    We didn't get "dropped," so to speak, at Parris Island. If you mess up a general order, they'll usually give you another chance to get it right. If it's obvious you don't know what the hell you're talking about, they'll either send you to the quarterdeck or, if they can't quarterdeck you right then, they'll give your name to the scribe, and you'll be put on one of two lists: the "Kill List," which the drill instructor will call everyone on the kill list up to the quarterdeck later on and smoke them, or the Firewatch List, where you'll get to wake up at 0100 or so and stay awake for an hour doing next to nothing. There's 16 firewatch per night, so everybody gets firewatch every 4-5 nights, but firewatch as punishment is always brutal on a night you were hoping to sleep. The quarterdeck can last a long, long time. I was up there for a total of about 4 hours on Christmas Eve (I didn't qualify my first try on the rifle range, but shot Sharpshooter the next time out). You're basically exercising your @$$ off and sounding off at the top of your lungs at the same time. Anything from pushups, crunches, running in place, arm rotations, side straddle hops, steam engines and more can be used on the quarterdeck or the pit. If you're a guide, squad leader, or "special recruit," expect to get smoked on a daily basis. I was only up on the quarterdeck 8 or 9 times total in the 12 weeks of training (there's no physical punishment during Receiving).

One more word about discipline: It's a whole lot easier to get into Marine boot camp than it is to get out of it. The Marines traditionally only fail about 15 percent of all recruits. D.I.'s are a stubborn lot, and while it's possible to finally get thrown out, the way to discharge will be long and hard (simply refusing is not an option -- that way lies court-martial).

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