Into the Crucible: Making Marines for the 21st Century

Into the Crucible: Making Marines for the 21st Century

by James B. Woulfe

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“This is a book for all Marines and future Marines. . . . [and] will also appeal to Marines of the ‘Old Corps’ since it shows we still ‘make ‘em like we used to.’”—Leo J. Daugherty III, Marine Corps Gazette

“Something so tough, so powerful, that unless you join together, you can’t accomplish the defining moment. Your team will not make it unless you pull together.”—General Charles C. Krulak, Commandant, United States Marine Corps

Welcome to the Crucible Event. This is the culmination of Marine Corps basic combat training, boot camp. The Crucible Event is the “defining moment” for young Marine recruits. Once inside the crucible, the recruits are faced with fifty-four gruelling hours with little sleep, little food, and a series of events that will tax them physically and mentally. The recuirt platoon will be profoundly tested as individuals. Even more important, they will discover that they are unable to pass through the crucible except as a team.

Beyond the Crucible Event’s physical demands of endurance is the reinforcement of the core values of the United States Marines: honor, courage, and commitment. The crucible creates a change of mind, body, and spirit that will alst a lifetime, whether one wears the uniform for four years or forty—a constant reminder of the supreme responsibility that comes with the title “United States Marine.”

Praise for Into the Crucible

“Provides a wealth of factual information and insider insights. . . . [and] provides a fascinating first-hand look at the revolutionary training ‘event’ and shows why it has become so effective. Readers—whether Marines, civilians, or other members of other services will find Woulfe’s book a worthwile read.”SeaPower Magazine

“A powerful and inspiring book.”—Terry Mapes, Mansfield, Ohio, News Journal

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780307532893
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 03/12/2009
Sold by: Random House
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 208
Sales rank: 851,174
File size: 4 MB

About the Author

James B. Woulfe began his Marine Corps career in 1986 as an enlisted recruit. He was previously assistant director of the Drill Instructor (DI) School. Currently based at Camp Pendleton, California, Captain Woulfe is commanding officer of a Marine rifle company.

Read an Excerpt

In late 1775 the Second Continental Congress sat in Philadelphia and debated the need to establish a Continental Navy. Full-scale war with the British was a reality, and the Continental Army could not be victorious without support from the sea. The question of Marines was raised: If there was going to be a Navy, would not there then be the need for Marines? Half seaman and half soldier, Marines were basically infantrymen detailed to sea duty, but not expected to sail the ship. They assisted the captain in maintaining order and discipline aboard the vessel, but also turned their bayonets toward the enemy as boarding parties and landing forces when the need arose.
The answer was obvious: Yes, there must be Marines! A committee was raised, a resolution offered, and on 10 November 1775, it was passed by the Congress:
Resolved, that two Battalions of Marines be raised consisting of one Colonel, two Lieutenant Colonels, two Majors and Officers as usual in other regiments, that they consist of an equal number of privates with other battalions; that particular care be taken that no person be appointed to office or enlisted into said Battalions, but such as are good seamen, or so acquainted with maritime affairs as to be able to serve advantage by sea, when required. That they be enlisted and commissioned for and during the present war between Great Britain and the colonies, unless dismissed by order of Congress. That they be distinguished by the name of the first and second battalions of American Marines, and that they consider a part of the number, which the Continental Army before Boston is ordered to consist of.
The president of the congress, John Hancock, signed a captain’s commission on 28 November, making Samuel Nicholas the first Marine officer. The challenge that lay before him continues today: to recruit qualified individuals to serve as Marines. Nicholas’s family owned a tavern, not the background expected for the leader of a maritime fighting force, but an important qualification for the new recruiting effort. An early poster said: TAKE COURAGE THEN, SEIZE THE FORTUNE THAT AWAITS YOU, REPAIR TO THE MARINE RENDEZVOUS, WHERE IN A FLOWING BOWL OF [rum] PUNCH, AND THREE TIMES THREE, YOU SHALL DRINK.
By late December 1775, five detachments were raised consisting of a collection of semiskilled and unskilled laborers in their teens and midtwenties. One roster provides insight into the quality of the new recruits, with only eight of the forty-one being native-born Americans. Also, in complete disregard for the direction set forth in the Congressional resolution, none claimed any knowledge of life at sea or naval warfare. With these new recruits came another challenge that continues today—to make Marines.
In the beginning there was no formal Marine Corps recruit training. New members learned their trade through the use of “rookie squads” and on-the-job training supervised by seasoned privates at various posts and stations. There were attempts to formalize the training as early as 1805, when Lt. Col. Franklin Wharton (commandant 1804–1818) tried to standardize how Marines were trained to shoot and march. He organized a school for recruits at the Marine Barracks in Washington, D.C., covering up to two months of rudimentary training in drill, manual of arms, and marksmanship. Those first recruits who fell in on the “yellow footprints” were often illiterate, unfamiliar with the English language, younger than the recruits of today, and trained by men not much different from themselves. The commandant’s idea was revolutionary, but also impossible to implement with the limited funds and qualified trainers available. It soon faded away.
Several of Lieutenant Colonel Wharton’s successors attempted to revive recruit training, but none had much luck during the 1800s. Colonel Archibald Henderson (commandant 1820–1859), the “grand old man of the Corps” (so nicknamed because of his more than fifty years of service), was the most successful at enhancing the entry-level training his Marines received. Unfortunately, the same old reason of not enough money prevented extensive improvements. Another obstacle was the lack of a national transportation system to transport recruits to centralized locations. The completion of the transcontinental railroad on 10 May 1869, changed that. When the tracks of the Union Pacific joined those of the Central Pacific at Promontory Point, Utah, the Corps could begin the process of standardizing recruit training.
It was not until a full century after Commandant Wharton, in 1911, that formal Marine Corps Recruit Training was established. The Marines’ fame during operations in China, Nicaragua, Mexico, and the Philippines at the beginning of the century led to increases in the numbers joining. That, along with the need to provide better training on the new M1903 Springfield rifle, made recruit training a practical necessity. The country now had the infrastructure needed to transport recruits effectively to training locations. The transformation of young Americans into the world’s premier fighting men became official.
At first, an eight-week schedule of drill, physical training, close combat, and marksmanship began at recruit depots in Philadelphia, Norfolk, Puget Sound, and Mare Island (California). These locations made sense, being at the seacoasts of the country and within reach of major ports. Eventually, recruit training would be centralized at depots at Parris Island, South Carolina (established in 1915), and Mare Island.
During World War I, the training was specifically designed to prepare a recruit for the trenches of France in an eight-to-ten-week course. The strength of the Corps was about 10,000 in 1916, but it would be over 75,000 by 1918. The depots at Parris Island and Mare Island were soon bursting at the seams, making it necessary to establish temporary training sites at the Philadelphia, Brooklyn, and Norfolk Navy Yards. It was the first real test of recruit training, one that the Corps passed with flying colors. The performance of Marines in action against the Germans became legendary, thrusting the Corps into the light of international attention. Before the war, the Corps was mostly limited to service with small detachments on ships and naval installations, but now they were “Devil Dogs,” the name the Germans gave to the Marines during the battle of Belleau Wood to describe their tenacity in combat—Teufelhunden!
In 1923, the Marine Corps Recruit Depot at San Diego was established. Today, San Diego and Parris Island remain the two boot camps where Marine recruits are trained. Although both produce warriors, the two are like fraternal twins who are complete opposites. Parris Island seems isolated, located across the tidal swamps of Archer Creek. The uniform of the day is usually camouflage utilities because of the severe weather conditions. San Diego on the other hand, is surrounded by development, seems always to have a number of visitors on board, and sits adjacent to the city’s airport. Camouflage utilities are rarely worn in San Diego, with one version or another of the dress or service uniform being preferred. Graduates of each like to claim that one is better than the other, but there has never been any truth to the assertions. Both are equally effective at producing Marines. Regardless of their differences, it’s impossible to identify where a Marine was trained without asking.
Between the World Wars, the Great Depression forced the use of indoctrination training to make up for the sparse resources. The force hovered around 17,000 for this period, but Marines were still to be found in harm’s way. As Maj. Gen. Smedley Butler put it, “Marines are given orders, and they go.”1 They were ashore many times throughout the Caribbean, some fighting bandits during the “Banana Wars” in Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Others protected the stability of the Canal Zone with landings in Panama, Cuba, and Mexico, as well as preserving democracy with occupation duties in Nicaragua. The jungle experiences would prove to be valuable in the near future, as would basic techniques developed for close air support and amphibious operations.
In the late 1930s there were only 300 recruits a month at Parris Island, making it look more like a ghost town than a military base, but after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the depots exploded as the Corps began its climb from about 54,000 Marines in 1941 to over 485,000 in 1945. More than 450,000 passed through the gates of the depots at Parris Island and San Diego. With the large numbers also came the need to be more productive, and recruit training became more efficient and organized. The endless stream of recruits marched across the parade deck to become Marines, quickly deploying to the Pacific to fight the Japanese. From the results on the battlefield, it is safe to assume that recruit training was successful. The Corps was recognized, again, as one of the world’s premier fighting forces. Admiral Chester Nimitz said it best, “Uncommon valor was a common virtue,” in describing the Marines’ fight for Iwo Jima.
The post–World War II military cuts resulted in the Corps’ strength dropping to around 75,000 officers and enlisted, causing manpower turmoil when the Korean conflict began. Privates first class had to be assigned as senior drill instructors, but the Corps continued to live up to the legend.
Outnumbered South Korean, American, and other United Nations forces were forced to defend a small portion of the peninsula called the Pusan Perimeter, causing Army general Douglas MacArthur to exclaim: “If only I had the 1st Marine Division,” a wish he was granted. The Marines’ amphibious assault at Inchon put the allies back on the offensive and sent the North Koreans fleeing back across the thirty-eighth parallel.
By the end of the war, recruit training was ten weeks and a formal school for drill instructors was a permanent part of the depots’ organization.
Shortly after the Korean War, tragedy hit the Corps when six recruits drowned at Parris Island. Their drill instructor, SSgt. Matthew McKeon, was upset at their platoon’s poor performance the day before and decided to march them through the swollen waters of Ribbon Creek on the night of 8 April 1956. They walked into a fish hole, causing panic among the recruits. That incident caused immediate changes in the way recruit training was supervised, with additional commissioned officers being assigned to the depots.

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