Making Marines at boot camp is a sacred mission that the Corps rarely changes.
But the commandant is revising the schedule for the 12-week regiment to make sure that new Marines can succeed in follow-on training.
Starting in February, Marines will have an extra week following the Crucible to learn from drill instructors, Marine-to-Marine, Gen. Robert Neller told Marine Corps Times in an exclusive interview. The number of training days will remain the same.
The move comes after Neller and Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps Ronald Green noticed that Marines were struggling both physically and mentally at training after boot camp, Neller said. Some Marines had not adjusted to the fact that they were Marines, not recruits.
“We ask these young men and women to grow up really fast,” Neller said. “They’ve made the transformation from recruit to Marine and then we shoot them out the door. What we’re trying to do is give them a little bit of time to get used to that and understand that OK, you’ve got your eagle, globe and anchor, you’ve earned the title ‘Marine,’ that’s just the beginning.
“Now it’s actually going to become more difficult because more and more of the responsibility to live up to being a Marine, to live a life of honor, courage and commitment, is more and more going to be on your shoulders.”
Currently, Marines earn their eagle, globe and anchor after completing the Crucible during the 11th week of recruit training.
The Crucible is 54 hours of combat drills, during which recruits get little sleep as they are put through simulated attacks day and night. Recruits learn they need to scream to be heard over the simulated gunfire, and that any illumination can give away their positions.
For recruits, the grueling ordeal is the last hurdle to overcome before they are officially Marines. The final week of boot camp is called “Marine Week,” during which the new Marines are no longer treated as recruits.
When recruits arrive at Parris Island and San Diego in November, they will face the Crucible during the 10th week of boot camp so that they will have two weeks to adjust to being Marines before leaving the recruit depots, officials said. Instead of being called “Marine Week,” the time after boot camp will be called “Phase 4” of recruit training.
“It doesn’t change any of the graduation requirements,” Neller said. “The standards are the standards. Nothing has changed. We’re just trying to facilitate the maturity of these young men and women in a more rapid process.”
Drill instructors will still be charge of training during Phase 4, but Marines will have more responsibility and they will be able to ask instructors questions, he said.
The change is a long time coming. Over the past couple of years, Corps officials have talked to drill instructors and recruit training depot commanders as part of a review of boot camp, Neller said.
“The consensus was: As part of the transformation from a civilian to a Marine, we were not giving newly made Marines enough time to get used to being a Marine before we sent them off on their way to begin the rest of the transformation, when they went to Marine Combat Training and on to the MOS School,” Neller said.
Drill instructors felt that having more time with the new Marines would provide a “huge opportunity” to better prepare them for success, Neller said. The training environment changes completely when Marines complete the Crucible and drill instructors can talk to them as fellow Marines, not recruits.
During Phase 4 of boot camp, drill instructors will have more time to convey to the new Marines that they have made the first step, but defending the nation is a serious business and now they will have to assume the responsibilities that come with being a Marine, he said.
“Now you’ve got somebody who’s been a drill instructor, who’s been intimately involved in this transformation, and now they have another few days to talk to their new Marines as a fellow Marine about what it’s going to be like as they get ready to go out and begin the rest of their journey as a Marine,” Neller said.
Initially, the Marine Corps had concerns that moving the Crucible earlier in recruit training could make boot camp less physically strenuous, Neller said. However, Marines will continue to train physically during the last two weeks of boot camp. The difference will be that the Marines will PT because they know it’s their responsibility, not because they are being told to by drill instructors.
“Any time you change something, people are going to say, ‘Well, what’s wrong with the way we did it?’” Neller said. “There’s nothing wrong with the way we did it. We’re trying to keep the very, very best of what we do now and add something to make it even better. They’re going to PT every day.”
Still, Neller acknowledges that any change to boot camp is bound to draw criticism, but he noted that boot camp has transformed over time, such as when then-Commandant Gen. Charles Krulak added the Crucible to recruit training in the 1990s.
“This is a normal evolution of the recruit training experience,” Neller said. “Of course, everybody thinks, proudly, ‘Hey, it was never as hard as when I went through.’ OK. I got that. The proof will be in the performance of these soon-to-be recruits.”