Marine stereotypes are abundant, and while Marines are often frustrated by misconceptions, there is one perception they readily welcome: The perception that Marines are good at drill.
While most Marines would say that is a gross understatement, Marine Corps Sgt Ethan E. Rocke decided to look into the health of drill in today's Corps. He set out to answer the questions: What happens to drill after boot camp? Is it thriving? Is it dying? Where does drill exist besides the basic training depots?
Here, Rocke reports as both a journalist and as a sergeant of Marines with his own insight.
Watching over 50 or so sergeants, Gunnery Sgt. Yomen English looks for discrepancies. They're not hard to find. In fact, they're everywhere. That's why they call it practice.
English seems to perk up when he sees one of the sergeants effectively butchering a drill movement; It's sort of similar to the instinctive reaction he used to have when one of his recruits at Parris Island was doing something, anything wrong. The difference is English doesn't charge into a seemingly psychotic rage after his acute senses zero him in on a flanking movement called on the wrong foot, someone's sloppy execution of the sword manual, or a weak command voice. He doesn't need to. After all, this is not boot camp. This is Sergeants Course, and the Marines practicing drill have a good understanding of what drill is to the Corps. That's why they're here - to better themselves, to ensure they're doing their part as leaders to carry on the standards, the traditions. English knows this, and he is more than happy to step in and show them how - to fix them using his own example.
English teaches drill with a passion that is infectious. An Arkansas boy whose fit frame stands about 5-feet, 5-inches tall, he speaks with a quick southern drawl. His animated character compliments an unflinching confidence that you would expect from someone about a foot taller.
Out on the parade field, English is at home. The sergeants know it, and while many of them might not say it aloud, their goal today is to be like Gunny English. He awakens something in them. He reminds them who they are. Suddenly, the flanking movement goes smoothly, the sword snaps and pops, and the voice that was timid and uncertain now commands with confidence.
English left his impression on the sergeants of Class 3-06, as well as countless other Marine leaders he taught while serving as an instructor at the Staff Noncommissioned Officers Academy on Okinawa. He is not easily forgettable. I should know. I was in that class, and he was the chief instructor.
Although English left for a new assignment in Quantico, Va., just as I was beginning this story, I caught up with him over e-mail. He offered this assessment of what drill is to the Corps.
"Marines are famous for Battlefield performance," he said. "It is the most important characteristic of our Corps, and it comes from our desire to be the best regardless of our personal feelings. Correct drill requires this. It requires attention to detail. It requires practice. It means that an individual Marine will get in front of a group and, by his or her example, cause a group to respond to order."
Of course, there are thousands of Marines like English - the type of leaders who serve as a catalyst for the desire and commitment to not only keep drill alive, but to keep it strong, healthy and intrinsic to our nature as Marines.
I found these leaders all around me. They are the sergeants major who have been to the drill field and back again, the instructors and students at the Staff NCO Academies, the sergeants and corporals in the individual work sections, the lance corporals waiting in the wings to pick up the NCO sword and eventually pass it down to the next motivator eager to leave his mark on the Corps.