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“Mississippi No More”; Drill Instructor School, MCRD San Diego
Leatherneck Magazine ^ | February 2010 | R. R. Keene

Posted on 02/19/2010 1:02:57 PM PST by real saxophonist

February 2010

“Mississippi No More”

Drill Instructor School, MCRD San Diego

By R. R. Keene

“I wanna be a drill instructor,
I want to cut off all of my hair,
I wanna be a drill instructor,
I’m gonna earn that Smokey Bear.”

—Cadence at Drill Instructor School

Tradition, discipline and the spirit of innumerable young men manifests itself in cadence that echoes across the massive grinder, off the distinctive amber arcade with its sculpted Marine Corps emblem, ramparts, courtyards and Spanish-style barracks picketed by tall palm trees.

The cadence emanates from the rank and file within platoons—the collective voices of young men learning to march as one, to respond instantly, to believe in them­selves, in their Corps and in their drill instructors. It has been so at Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego since 1923 and still is so today for the more than 21,000 recruits who, annually, earn the title Marine at MCRD San Diego.

If you listen and believe, you can hear the cadence of generations—San Diego recruits such as William J. Bordelon, Eugene A. Obregon, Dale M. Hansen, Louis J. Hauge and Jimmie E. Howard. Hear the voices of Harlon Block and Ira Hayes and the pitched responses of men you’ve served with in war and in garrison. You may even discern a much younger you sounding off: “Aye, aye, sir!”

Over them all, there are the command voices—those voices so distinct that each recruit instantly remembers and recognizes, even though there are dozens of similar mentors all barking orders at the same time—the sound of drill instructors. Decades later Marines still hear their cadence in their sleep and will remember their drill instructors until the day they die.

Drill instructors—icons of discipline, paragons of U.S. Marine bearing, men who measure up to bigger-than-life personas—also are made at the recruit depots.

For the most part they were, before check­ing in at Drill Instructor School, ordinary Marines who possess an extra adrenaline shot of “gung-ho” in their brain housing group. “One hundred percent of our students are volunteers,” said Gunnery Sergeant Allen W. Mullis, who has been the school’s chief instructor for two years. “I think that in the back of their minds every Marine wants to be a drill instructor. But wanting to be a drill instruc­tor and being one are two completely different things.”

He’s not talking about DI caricatures such as “Gunny” Carter of “Gomer Pyle, USMC” or even GySgt R. Lee Ermey of “The Boys in Company C.” This is for keeps—no celluloid “retakes” unless one considers the numbing rote of close order drill.

“We’re looking for a Marine that is mature,” stated Mullis. “Drill instructors are charged with the welfare, health and discipline of Marine recruits. He has to be able to make these young men into Ma­rines. It is his sole mission. The stress can be hard on them.”

Mullis knows. He’s a 1996 graduate of MCRD Parris Island, S.C., who during his 2000-04 tour as a DI at San Diego gained the knowledge, experience and savvy to be hand-selected on his second 36-month tour by the Recruit Training Regiment (RTR) commanding officer as chief instructor. Mullis looks the part—physically fit, big arms, muscular neck and broad shoulders and razor-creased utilities with the senior drill instructor’s service, or “fair leather belt,” and the “Smokey Bear” campaign hat or “hat.”

The “hat” is actually modeled after an old Army felt field hat the Marines borrowed during the Spanish-American War of 1898. They liked it and made it standard issue headgear until World War II when the felt became critical war material. Even then, members of the Marine Corps rifle and pistol teams wore the hat during shoot­ing competitions.

In 1956, the Parris Island Ribbon Creek incident, which resulted in the court martial of a drill instructor after six members of his platoon drowned, led to changes in recruit training. The number of drill instructors assigned to each platoon was ex­panded to three, rather than two, and the role of the drill instructor was restructured to emphasize leadership by example, persuasion and psychology in the process of recruit training.

The “hat” was re-introduced as a distinctive symbol of office, in part to recog­nize a new norm of professionalism and special importance of the drill instructor billet, and in part to signify a break between the “old” era of recruit training and the “new.” Worn properly with flat black emblem, it has powerful influence on recruits and is coveted by those privileged to wear it. Nobody ever wears it to go fishing.

However, GySgt Mullis cautioned, “The campaign cover doesn’t make a drill instructor. I should be able to don my garrison cover and get the same results.”

Mullis believes, “It is self-confidence. With Drill Instructor School students, we try to build their self-confidence.”

Humility is not a touted Marine trait. But neither is bravado confused with self-confidence.

“We get some who come to the school thinking they are hot crap,” explained Mullis. “But when they come with a bunch of similarly minded Marines who are serious about being drill instructors, it is a reality check, a gut shot, ‘Ooh, I’m not as good as I thought I was.’ ”

Nonetheless, they are damn good Ma­rines or they wouldn’t be there. They’ve been screened by their unit commanders whose checklist states, among other items, they are medically qualified, physically fit, financially responsible, stable and have family stability, and have “presence of mind,” a block in Section B of the old fitness report. It takes on special meaning at Drill Instructor School.

According to Mullis, “Marines being considered for drill instructor duty should possess a calm demeanor during stressful situations.” Although not a showstopper for the school, “a Marine who has exhibited an explosive personality or is known to ‘fly off the handle’ is not normally the Marine for drill instructor duty.”

The school is first and foremost a leadership school that focuses on positive, con­cerned and ethical leadership. The course itself is not easy. The Marine Corps knows there’s too much riding on the results.

There are 10 handpicked senior drill in­structors teaching their alchemy to 65 to 95 candidates during four crammed 11½-week classes each year.

The school expects every drill instructor student to complete every task they will in turn demand of their recruits.

The training day actually begins around 0500 Marine Corps time and can go to 1930 or even longer.

Mullis said, “The course consists of everything from leadership classes all the way to close order drill, physical fitness, the techniques of military instruction, gen­eral military subjects, marksmanship, basic warrior training and standard operating procedures.” Throw in advanced first aid and CPR, swim qualification instructor classes, general orders, history and traditions, and soon it adds up.

Things start coming as second nature—such as learning effective time management, studying for exams, rehearsing the drill movements and learning drill commands verbatim, preparing uniforms and all the while making time for intense physical training. Physical training, or “PT,” as a unit is conducted in two-hour sessions at least three times a week, in addition to warming up, stretching and calisthenics.

Physical training tones future drill instructors for the Marine Corps Physical Fitness Test, which consists of pull-ups, abdominal crunches and a three-mile timed run. Drill instructors routinely are required to spend 20 hours a day, or more, on their feet, marching or running. The Ma­rine Corps has two speeds: running and running faster. Both take endurance. Track workouts, formation and fartlek runs develop the older drill instructors so they can keep up with young jocks just out of high school. Endurance is what lets the drill instructors leave recruits gasping for breath with their tongues dragging.

Throughout the DI training course, every student is continuously evaluated, corrected and mentored. Attention to detail, no matter how small, is almost a fetish. The proper placement of a finger is measured to within a quarter inch of its required location along trouser seams, as is the angle of the M16 during the manual of arms. Also closely measured are the 40 inches between ranks, the 30-inch step and progress toward developing a command voice, where consonants are sharp and cut short, and vowels are prolonged.

“Close order drill, it is very important,” said Mullis. “It is the foundation of the Ma­rine Corps. It instills instant obedience to orders. That’s important in combat.”

The school’s taskmasters do not let up. Perfection in close order drill can be frustratingly elusive, but it must be mastered, for there are written examinations and practical applications in other important subjects and uniform inspections—scheduled, unscheduled and continuous.

“With drill instructors it is like a competition,” Mullis said, smiling. “Who looks best in uniform? Who is more physically fit? We are always trying to outdo each other, and we teach that in Drill Instructor School. We try and teach them to go above and beyond the bare necessities. We try to lead by example, set a good impression and always do the right thing.”

It is about the Marine Corps’ image pre­sented to recruits and to the nation. The drill instructor is expected to present the tanned image of stern taskmaster, skilled leader with high standards and integrity under the rigid brim of his “hat.”

Sergeant Scott C. Chromy is now a “hat” in RTR’s 1st Battalion. The veteran of seven years graduated first in his class.

“I wanted to leave my impression on future Marines. I figured this is the best way to do that. I think you change their lives. I want to influence as many recruits as possible to carry on the tradition—keep the Marine Corps going.

“The school was challenging … the quick, very fast pace. Everything was so compact. You had to prioritize, manage your time and be organized. They took us out of our comfort zone.” Pausing, he said, “All my classmates chose to come here; they volunteered and are very competitive.”

GySgt Adam L. Blake was his class commander. A veteran of 11 years, he’s been trying to get on the drill field for about three years, becoming eligible after completing his deployments. “I wanted to do the same things my drill instructors did, but I also realized that here is the future of the Marine Corps,” Blake said.

“Time management and prioritizing tasks was difficult. Physical fitness was the other big piece. We were running and moving and constantly going. It isn’t just running on the PT field. It is the long hours. It all kind of ties into physical fitness and being mentally, as well as physically, strong.”

Sgt Chromy said, “Close order drill took a lot of learning in a short period of time. We put in a lot of hours out there on the parade deck.

“I thought the SOP instruction was well given. The instructor gave real life examples of what the recruits would do or act like. This is what will happen and here’s what you need to do in accordance with the SOP.” It’s all going to really apply.

Standard operating procedure: The SOP manual is the definitive authority on how to train Marine recruits, and it is the bible for drill instructors at San Diego and Parris Island.

Mullis said, “To be a drill instructor you need to take a common sense approach to drill instructor duty, as you would in life. If you do that, you’re going to be fine.” The SOP is there to ensure it. The drill instructors are watched. Mullis explained, “They cannot physically abuse any recruit. They understand that. We also do a [recruit] series commander’s course, and the series commanders understand that rule.”

It is important to note that both recruit depots, San Diego and Parris Island, have their own drill instructor schools, but the schools and recruit training regiments’ training syllabus at both depots mirror each other. It is vital that basic trained Marines seamlessly integrate into the operating forces or supporting establishment with the same indoctrination, knowledge and esprit de corps.

Mullis said, “There’s a way you train recruits and there’s a way you train Marines. Different mission concepts, two different leadership styles.”

Nonetheless, he stated: “Leadership qualities are essentially the same. What I tell you as a student, what I tell you as a recruit, is what I would tell anybody.”

The Marine Corps is more a vocation than a job. It is a calling, and Marines such as Mullis and his students come as close to being acolytes of the profession of arms as seminarians.

“I do it because I like doing it,” Mullis said. “It is something I can look back on that I accomplished.

“All I can do is help shape them. Open their eyes and teach them to do the right thing when they go across the street and pick up their own recruit platoons.

“Being a drill instructor is kind of like a father figure.

“I like being able to help a kid that’s had a rough life. I think about 50 percent of the people in the Marine Corps had a rough life. You got young kids with no direction. Some are confused, some have been abused, and some have even been arrested and have minor police records. The Marines may not be giving them a second chance exactly, but it pushes them in the right direction in life—‘do this. This is what you can accomplish. This is what I’ve done with my life.’

“You definitely have to believe in the Marine Corps’ core values: honor, courage and commitment. As soon as those recruits come on the footprints, honor, courage, commitment is ingrained in them.

“Why would a Marine want to go on the drill field rather than Marine security guard duty or be a recruiter? Because we make Marines! That’s the bottom line.

“From the time you pick those kids up all the way until the time they graduate. Seeing that transformation from a young, snot-nosed punk into a grown man, a Marine, there’s no comparison in the world.

“You can’t even explain the feeling you get. When I was a senior drill instructor, just standing out in front of my platoons, I used to get chills hearing moms and dads clapping and seeing them crying because their son is a Marine. There’s nothing like it in the Corps.”

Beyond the grinder in the training areas, platoons of young recruits, soon to be America’s fighting men, run in a tight formation responding easily to the slightly hoarse, but confident cadence from a drill instructor in boots an’ ’utes who really isn’t that much older than they are.

“I had a girl in a Mississippi town,
Marine Corps livin’ got her down.
She said, ‘It’s either me or the Corps,’
Now, I don’t go to Mississippi no more.”

TOPICS: Culture/Society; Extended News; Foreign Affairs; US: California
KEYWORDS: di; marines; mcrdsd; usmc
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1 posted on 02/19/2010 1:02:58 PM PST by real saxophonist
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To: SandRat; txradioguy; MarkLevinFan; tiredoflaundry; Bahbah; SoCalPol; HonestConservative


2 posted on 02/19/2010 1:10:32 PM PST by AliVeritas (Stolen from smoking frog at FR)
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To: real saxophonist

Thanks for sharing. When I attended my son’s graduation at MCRD San Diego, the people sitting right behind us were the parents of one of the DI’s for the graduating group. The mother was just as excited and proud, giddy, taking a million pictures as were those of us with fresh, new Marines.

Semper Fi... thanks for the memories.

3 posted on 02/19/2010 1:11:10 PM PST by NEMDF
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To: AliVeritas

Thanks for the ping Ali.

I live less than 3 miles from MCRD, San Diego

4 posted on 02/19/2010 1:26:01 PM PST by SoCalPol (Reagan Republican for Palin 2012)
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To: real saxophonist

I wanna be an Airborne Ranger, I wanna live a life of danger.

5 posted on 02/19/2010 1:27:43 PM PST by Griddlee
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To: real saxophonist

Good ol’ MCRD Dago.. home of the ‘Hollywood’ Marines.. since 1923 ? wow. Class of ‘72 here.

All my DIs were Vietnam vets, tunnel rats and snipers mostly , really bad dudes but nice guys too (rarely).. they only acted like they wanted to wring our necks.. tho it was hard to tell occasionally.

Yup, it takes a special Marine to wanna make pukes and momma’s boys and 4-eyed geeks into the fighting machine that is in action today in Afghanistan and Iraq.

6 posted on 02/19/2010 1:32:49 PM PST by NormsRevenge (Semper Fi ... Godspeed .. Monthly Donor Onboard .. Chuck DeVore - CA Senator. Believe.)
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Comment #7 Removed by Moderator

To: real saxophonist

Semper Fi, Marines!

8 posted on 02/19/2010 1:52:52 PM PST by FoxInSocks (B. Hussein Obama: Central Planning Czar)
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To: Griddlee
The prettiest girl
I ever saw
Was sippin' bourbon
Through a straw
9 posted on 02/19/2010 1:59:20 PM PST by A.A. Cunningham (Barry Soetoro is a Kenyan communist)
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To: NormsRevenge
To SSgt. Fox, SSgt. Cooper, SSgt. Moore, Plt 3074, 1970: It's been 40 years, and I still remember thier names. Oddly enough, the tin Quonset huts my platoon were in are still there, per Google Earth, as the new squad bays were being built on the south side of the Grinder.

A few years ago, I was contracting in Charleston, SC, and went down to Parris Island to the museum, on a day off. (This was pre/911.) My wife asked me a question about how I still remembered my "DI", and I explained that "DI" stood for "Damned Idiot" and the term was avoided, and some guy in cammies, walking in front of us, folded up laughing...

10 posted on 02/19/2010 2:07:27 PM PST by jonascord
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To: Griddlee
The Proper Version:

I wanna be a Recon Ranger,
I wanna go to Viet Nam!
I want blood an' guts an' Danger,
I wanna kill some Viet Cong!

11 posted on 02/19/2010 2:12:33 PM PST by jonascord
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To: real saxophonist

As NEMDF posted, “Semper Fi... thanks for the memories.”

We had two Senior DIs; the second was a short, black Gunny (Gunny Truell) who sang the best cadence on the grinder. He was a cross between Yoda and maybe Brook Benton or Otis Redding. Our first Senior DI had been “canned” when the Series Sgt Major caught us hanging by our toes from the top rung of our racks, “playing bats” (we had screwed up over something?)

Years later I was at OCS (Officer Candidate School) at Quantico, running across the compound on the first day. The Company Gunny stopped me and asked, “You were one of my hogs, right?” “Yes, Gunny, I was!” was my proud reply.

It was GySgt Leist, my first Senior DI, of the hanging from our toes incident. That remains one of my best honors; my senior DI remembered me after nearly four years. Another surprise happened later that day. The Company XO stopped me and asked, “Don’t I know you?”

It turned out to be Capt Lohr, who as a 2nd Lt was the platoon commander on my last patrol in Vietnam. Small Corps, lots of memories, faithful friends.

Semper Fi!
USMC Corporal 1968-69
USMC Captain 1972-78

12 posted on 02/19/2010 2:29:47 PM PST by BwanaNdege
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To: A.A. Cunningham

“AA Cunningham”....

What did you fly in the Corps?

13 posted on 02/19/2010 2:32:56 PM PST by BwanaNdege
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To: jonascord

SSgt. Mode, SSgt. Mangrum, Sgt. Dobson - Platoon 102, 1959 Parris Island.

I had the honor to run into Sgt. Dobson two years later. He chastised me for calling him Sir and I responded that he would always be Sir to me.

SSgt. Mangrum never wasted a step; he believed in the platoon meeting him instead of the other way around. SSgt. Mode was the intense one who never missed a thing. His swagger stick was calibrated in inches to measure precisely the distances between items on a “junk on the bunk” inspection.

Semper fi

14 posted on 02/19/2010 5:32:25 PM PST by NTHockey (Rules of engagement #1: Take no prisoners)
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To: real saxophonist; Warrior Nurse; Chieftain

We have something in common: for the first 16 weeks I was in the Navy, at the Naval School of Pre-Flight in Pensacola, the United States Marine Corps was in charge of my life. It was a hellofaneducation!

I have always respected the Marine Corps — those crusty Sergeants had their work cut out for them, and they came through in magnificent style, if I do say so myself!

Armed with the special set of survival skills those very special men taught me, I was able to proudly serve my country for 28 1/2 years.

Furthermore, because I never left my locker unlocked, I never landed with my wheels up!

Semper Fi!

15 posted on 02/19/2010 7:41:34 PM PST by Taxman (So that the beautiful pressure does not diminish!)
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To: Taxman
1982 PLT 2043 SSGT Wilson, SGT Gilliland, SGT Racel and SGT Degeso
OCS 1983 SST C.Q. Timberlake aka Timberwolve, CAPT T.E> Rankin. I served for 8 years in my beloved corps.
16 posted on 02/19/2010 11:10:18 PM PST by Warrior Nurse (President Obama is proof that affirmative action is a process that has failed)
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To: Taxman; Warrior Nurse; opbuzz; Recovering Ex-hippie; A.A. Cunningham
I graduated from MCRD San Diego in 1971. I was in Platoon 3056, India Company, 3d Battalion. My 'hard hat' Drill Instructor, Sgt Eggleston, came up to me when I was standing at attention waiting to get on the bus and congratulated me. My eyes never moved from the 500 yard stare, because I wasn't going to do or say ANYTHING that might cause him to keep me there one extra second!

Fast forward 35 years later and my twin sons graduated from MCRD San Diego, Platoon 3071, India Company, 3d Battalion!

My sons' Senior Drill Instructor, SSgt Good, posed for this photo with my sons. I know they were PROUD to be photographed with him, they really admired him.

It has been almost 4 years since that day now. Both sons are Iraq veterans and now one is in Afghanistan and one is in Haiti.

I got an email from their Senior DI last November and he asked about them and said they were good recruits. He said he knew they would be good Marines. He is now a Gunnery Sergeant and both my sons are now Sergeants.

One thing for sure, MCRD San Diego and Drill Instructors are prominent in our family's history. Maybe my sons will make the trek back to MCRD San Diego and become Drill Instructors... who knows??

17 posted on 02/20/2010 7:15:07 AM PST by Chieftain (2010 begins the new CONSERVATIVE revolution!)
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To: Chieftain
Fast forward 35 years later and my twin sons graduated from MCRD San Diego, Platoon 3071, India Company, 3d Battalion!


18 posted on 02/20/2010 7:18:53 AM PST by St_Thomas_Aquinas
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To: Chieftain

I was priveleged to see the change in Chieftain’s sons from “nice young guys” to mature, strong and VERY self confident young MEN!

Chieftain and his wife, Warlie did a SUPERB job raising these fine young men with good ethics and values, courage and also sensitivity and a strong spirituality.


Becomming Drill Instructors? Ahhh, I’m thinking more like President!

19 posted on 02/20/2010 11:47:37 AM PST by Recovering Ex-hippie (Ok, joke's over....Bring back Bush !)
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To: Recovering Ex-hippie
Ahhh, I’m thinking more like President!

I am sure either would be a helluva lot better than that community agitator that's in there now!

20 posted on 02/22/2010 6:11:43 PM PST by Chieftain (2010 begins the new CONSERVATIVE revolution!)
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