On Tuesday, I was picked up at 4am (along with a coworker of mine) by a Marine recruiter and driven to Newark airport to hop on a plane to Atlanta, Georgia, and then another plane to Savannah, Georgia. We then boarded a bus with other educators from the state of New Jersey and headed to our hotel in Beaufort, South Carolina.
This was the first leg of our journey to the United States Marine Corps 2017 Educator Workshop and we had no idea what to expect.
We were given no itinerary. Our short packing list included just four items: sunscreen, bug spray, comfortable clothes, and a business casual outfit.
Some of us (like me) had watched a fewYouTube videos from previous educator workshops, so we had some vague expectations. My roommate and I knew that we would be yelled at, but we didn’t know when that would happen. As we rode the bus to the hotel, we just held our breath in anticipation of when the yelling would begin.
Upon arriving at the hotel, the Marines were all very kind to us. We checked in and had free time until dinner, so I went for a run to see some of the area.
When we piled back onto the white buses to head to Parris Island for the first time for dinner, we were again nervous, waiting for the yelling to begin. We eventually realized that none of that would happen until Wednesday morning. So much worrying for no reason.
One group of educators (28 of us) was from Recruiting Station (RS) New Jersey and the other group was from RS Pennsylvania (30 of them). We had dinner together, along with some of the Marines. We were able to ask any questions that we had while enjoying our meal together.
After dinner, they told us to expect Thursday to be the physically active day. For Wednesday, they just made it clear that we would experience the wrath of the drill instructors. Uh oh.
We rode the bus back to the hotel. I went swimming in the hotel pool, and then hit the sack early since breakfast would be from 5-6am the next morning.
After an early breakfast we loaded onto the buses toward Parris Island. Immediately upon arriving, a female drill instructor boarded the bus and started screaming at us.
She ordered us to get off of the bus and run onto the yellow footprints, leaving no empty spaces between the members of our “platoon.” Even though we knew that we were not actual Marine recruits, the drill instructors were still quite terrifying. The yellow footprints are a significant tradition at Parris Island. Every new recruit steps onto these footprints upon arriving, which means that every Marine who has ever lived has stood either on the footprints in Parris Island, South Carolina, or those in San Diego, California. (Recruits from the east of the Mississippi River head to Parris Island while those west of the Mississippi head to San Diego.)
The first thing we did was head into the first building that the new recruits would enter. We each sat in a small metal desk while we learned about the intake procedures. Each recruit gets just one phone call home to let their families know that they have arrived safely. They get three attempts and if they are unable to reach a loved one, they will try again each day until they are able to relay the message of their safety. After that, there is no contact with anyone from home (other than letters) until the day before graduation (12 weeks later).
After learning about the intake, we asked some questions and were then released back into the hands of the drill instructors. For RS New Jersey, we had Staff Sergeant King and boy, was she intimidating.
“Roust that march!” “Ay, ma’am!”
“Sprint!” “Sprint, ay, ma’am!”
“STOPPPP!” “Stop, ay ma’am!”
She had us lining up in formation, sprinting forward, then turning around to run back to the footprints to line up again. Every time she spoke, we had to scream a response. If it took too long to get back into formation, we ran another sprint. If someone didn’t scream the response loud enough, we would run another sprint. If someone scratched their face, we would run again. “Did I tell you to scratch your face?” “No, ma’am!”
We also had to learn how to count off. So after she yelled some commands, we would kneel down one at a time while calling out our number. There were 28 of us, so whenever the last person said “28,” all of us would yell, “28, done ma’am!” Unfortunately, people kept messing up with the counting and kneeling and yelling back commands, so we went up and down a ton of times. All of us had sore legs and butts the next day.
Then she had us run into the pit. It’s a box of dirty, sand flea-filled sand where the drill instructors command the recruits to go through a series of exercises: running in place, running in place with arms lifted and high knees, push-ups, crunches, mountain climbers, you name it.
We were probably only in the pit for 5-10 minutes, but we were exhausted. People were dripping with sweat. Thanks to the combination of sweat, sunscreen, and bug spray, the sand/dirt from the pit stuck to any exposed skin.
“I need to text my wife and tell her how I don’t know what to expect for the physical day if this is the non-physical day,” said one of the teachers who was regretting his decision to wear jeans on Wednesday.
We then went into one of the barracks to hear from more drill instructors and to ask questions. Most people were hesitant to ask questions around the drill instructors since they were so intimidating when they were yelling at us.
Later, we went into an auditorium, where we would be learning more about the Marines. They explained that we had 5 minutes to “make a head call” if we “desperately” needed it. They use the term “head” to refer to the bathrooms.
I opted not to go to the bathroom since I wasn’t desperate, but then I was soon nervous, wondering when they would offer another head call. I quickly learned to try to go to the bathroom any time they offered it since we never really knew how many hours it would be until we had another chance.
During the presentation, I learned so much about the Marines that I previously had no knowledge of. We heard about the qualifications and how 71% of current high school students are ineligible, for a variety of reasons which may include:
-incidents with the police/law
-low ASVAB scores
-lack of a high school diploma
I had no idea how tough it was to get into the Marines.
We also heard from a woman who explained the educational benefits of the Montgomery GI Bill and the 9/11 GI bill. And we heard from a man who told us about the musicians who are in the Marines and the requirements to enter that program. I had never considered mentioning that as an option to some of my students who are musically inclined, but there are some Marines who are responsible for playing in their bands at various celebrations, ceremonies, and other gatherings.
After that, we had lunch. We got to eat with some of the Marine recruits. It was really nice to be able to speak with them and to ask them questions about their experiences. The Marine who was sitting across the table from me had finished his Crucible a few days prior. He had received his ring and his new uniform and he was very excited to graduate on Friday. His girlfriend’s graduation occurred three days after he started boot camp, so we hadn’t seen her in about six months. He was clearly proud of their accomplishments, yet very humble at the same time.
After lunch we went to learn how to shoot the M16 rifles. First, we tried it indoors on the virtual version. The gun was much heavier than I expected. The Marine who was helping me asked me if I was a lefty or righty. I told him that I wasn’t sure since I do some things lefty, others righty, and I’ve never held a gun before.
He then asked me which eye is my dominant eye.” “Um…I don’t know that either.”
So he told me to squint. Because I immediately shut my right eye, he said that meant that my left eye was my dominant eye. Learn something new every day.
Then it was time to practice shooting the target on the screen. The gun was pretty heavy and my right shoulder is a little bit injured right now, so I took my 3 shots and then gladly put down the gun to pass it off to the next person.
After everyone practiced shooting, we went to the firing range. We learned about safety and then each of us was able to take a turn shooting the real M16. We had the option to shoot standing, kneeling, or prone (laying down). I opted to shoot prone so that I didn’t have to worry about my shoulder and lifting the heavy gun.
We each got to fire 10 shots. There were targets placed in the field anywhere from 100-500 meters away. The first shot I took was a miss, but after that, I did really well, hitting the next shots on targets between 100 and 300 meters away. Once I tried the 400 and 500 meter targets, I missed again.
Most people were really excited to fire the rifles. I’m not really interested in guns, so although I was happy that I performed well, I don’t really feel the need to ever shoot a gun again. We were in a competition between RS New Jersey and RS Pennsylvania to see who could get the most hits. RS Pennsylvania won.
We left the firing range and then headed over to the pool to learn about the swim test. We heard from the MCIWS (Marine Corps Instructors of Water Survival) team. For many recruits, this is the scariest part of boot camp since they don’t know how to swim and may have never had the opportunity to try to swim before.
They said that if a recruit cannot swim physically, that is an easy fix since they just teach them flotation techniques. What is more difficult to overcome is those who cannot swim psychologically because of their fear of the water. If a recruit is unable to pass the test after multiple attempts, he or she will not be able to become a Marine.
The recruits don’t really need to know how to swim well. It’s more about survival than actual swimming. They have to be able to float for a certain amount of time while treading water. They have to be able to remove their gear in the water. They learn how to tie off their pant legs and inflate them with air as a makeshift life vest. It’s not like they are training them to swim laps.
They told us the story of a Marine who fell off of a ship and nobody noticed when it happened. He ended up floating in the middle of the ocean for over two days, surviving as a result of his Marine training and because he was able to inflate his pants to use for flotation.
Then they let us watch instructors go through the tests that the recruits experience.
They also showed us some extra games that the MCIWS instructors do together to try to push themselves and to have a little fun. One guy took two 35-lb kettle bells, jumped into the water, walked all the way across the bottom of the pool and then back to the other side in just one breath.
After that, we drove the buses over to the aviation part of Parris Island. We heard from some Marines who work on the fighter jets (mainly the F18). They also told us about the new F35. Two of the pilots also spoke to us and then they brought us outside to look at the jets.
They let us put on a helmet and climb the ladder to look into the F18, but we weren’t allowed to take any pictures up there.
After that, we went to have dinner. It was a crazy long day, with every minute accounted for. By dinner, I was pretty tired and REALLY hungry. Luckily there was delicious eggplant lasagna as one of the buffet options for dinner.
Many of the teachers wanted a drink, so they were excited to learn that we could go to the officer’s club for drinks. I was tired (and I don’t drink), so I was just ready to get back to the hotel and go to bed.
On Thursday morning, we again had breakfast from 5-6am and loaded up on the buses. I was simultaneously excited and nervous for the day’s activities since I knew that it was our physical day.
First, we got to see the Marines who would be graduating the following morning as they took their motivation run. This was their last workout before graduation and also the first time their families would see them. Since there are so many Marines and they all look very similar, most families probably couldn’t pick out their son or daughter, but the energy was vibrant.
We took a group picture and then we went to the visitors center. I had a chance to speak to the chaplain, which was interesting. She said that they have quite a few conversions because some of the new recruits end up finding their faith as a result of trying to cope with the difficulties that accompany boot camp. She said that she would be performing seven baptisms later that day.
After that, we went to the Marine museum. Then it was time to go to the obstacle course. I was excited for the obstacles since I would be running the Spartan Beast soon after heading back to Jersey.
The first obstacle was a series of logs across other logs. You had to jump on the first horizontal log, then up to the next, and finally up to the third, before bear hugging it, rolling over, and jumping down. This is what it looked like:
Then, we had to run and jump onto this rope and swing across the gravel area:
Then there was an inverted wall. Here, one of the Marines is helping me to get my leg over:
There were also monkey bars and then this balancing log obstacle:
After the obstacles, we had lunch with more Marine recruits. Then it was time for the 50 foot rappel tower. I’m not scared of heights, so I wasn’t as scared as many of the other people in our group, but the tower definitely looked pretty tall.
First, they taught us how to tie the knots for our harness. The Marines checked to make sure that each of us had tied the harnesses properly and then we walked up the steps to the top of the tower.
I stayed close to the front of the line because I didn’t want to have to wait too long for my turn. I knew that the longer I waited, the more nervous I would feel. They ensured us that even if we slipped, we wouldn’t crash down to the ground. Worst case scenario, we would flip upside down, still attached to the harness.
When it was my turn, I intentionally just stepped backward toward the edge of the ledge, not looking at the ground below me. I knew that I would be more scared if I saw how far the ground looked.
When the Marine told me to, I slowly leaned back, still not looking down.
We were told to keep our legs straight. If we bent them, we might end up flipping over. Our left arm was supposed to hold the rope loosely while the right arm was supposed to hold the rope tightly since it was our break hand. As we let go with the right hand, we would start rappelling down. The Marines would rappel really quickly, almost running down the wall. I didn’t want to go that fast, so I never loosened my right hand too much.
I slowly made my way down the wall and it was pretty fun. I’m happy that I went early on because after me, there were a few people who slipped. I saw at lease three or four people flip upside down. I would have been absolutely terrified if that had happened to me and I was hanging upside down at the top of the tower.
After the tower, we went to the gas chambers. First, they asked who wore contacts. I raised my hand. They said that any of us with contacts would have to close our eyes as we walked through the gas chamber. Otherwise, we would get these crystals stuck under our contacts and they said it would hurt even worse when they did whatever was necessary to clean them out.
I had an immediate stomachache because I was so nervous about going into the gas chamber without my eyes open. I had to hold onto the shoulders of the person in front of me. I tried to hold my breath for as long as I could, but I eventually had to breathe. I breathed in through my mouth and immediately felt a burning sensation in my throat and lungs.
We were probably only in the gas chamber for a matter of seconds and I probably only took 2-3 breaths while inside, yet all of us were immediately coughing the moment we exited. People without contacts probably had it worse because their eyes had been open, so they were burning in addition to their noses, throats, and lungs.
They told us to walk around to get fresh air. The gas chamber was pretty painful and the gas wasn’t even on. They said that it was worse for us because it was such a hot day, so the brick building was hot. The gas gets stirred up by people walking through it, so even though it wasn’t on full blast, it was still pretty strong.
The Marine recruits enter the gas chamber with gas masks on. Then they eventually must break the seal, letting the air into their masks in order to get used to training in a chemical situation and not just freaking out. I can’t imagine how strong the gas must feel when it’s on full blast.
After that, we went to see part of the Crucible, the last event that the recruits have to endure before becoming actual Marines. It’s a 54-hour culminating event. We got to participate in more obstacles there. These were team-building obstacles that required everyone to work together in order to accomplish the tasks.
We also got to see the recruits doing some sparring during the Crucible.
From there, we went to a dinner that they were having. Some of the families of the Marines who would be graduating on Friday were there. After dinner, we went to a shop that was on the island and then back to our hotel.
My roommate and I went on a 6 mile run with one of the Marines. The rest of the group had a karaoke night at the hotel bar.
Friday morning we had breakfast and then went to the ceremony where they raised the flag. From there, we went to the graduation ceremony.
It was amazing to realize that they have this same ceremony every Friday for a new group of Marines.
Then we went to the auditorium to talk to the General. We then took pictures with the Marine dog, Legend, and with some of the Marines we had been working with during the workshop.
This woman, staff sergeant King, was the drill instructor for RS New Jersey. By Friday, she was nice to us and speaking normally, but on Wednesday morning, she was completely terrifying with all of the orders she was yelling at us.
We then got some boxed lunches and hopped on the bus for our flights home. I flew from Savannah to North Carolina and then from North Carolina to New Jersey. At Newark, I was picked up by my local Marine recruiter and then brought back home.
Overall, the experience was really awesome. I learned so much about the Marines. I definitely feel better prepared to give advice to some of my students who may be trying to decide whether the military is right for them.
I actually have a student who just told me this week that he signed up for the Marines and he was asking me questions about my experience at the workshop. I like the fact that I can now better understand what he should expect in terms of enlisting and eventually heading off to Parris Island for boot camp.
I would definitely encourage any educator, principal, or guidance counselor to attend the Marine Educator Workshop if they have the opportunity.