June 25, 2009

Parris Island: Part 3

The Marines I have seen around the world have the cleanest bodies, the filthiest minds, the highest morale, and the lowest morals of any group of animals I have ever seen. 
Thank God for the United States Marine Corps!
First Lady of the United States Eleanor Roosevelt, 1945 

Two of the first hurdles all recruits immediately face is the position of Attention and close order drill (COD). But it is probably fair to say that every Marine begins at the position of Attention. It becomes instinctive, as central to every Marine as the Marine Corps Hymn, his rifle or Iwo Jima. Before all things there is Attention and one of the very first commands every recruit hears is to assume the position. First attempts are always sloppy, sad affairs but eventually every Marine can snap to Attention perfectly at a moment’s notice.

The position of Attention is to stand with heels together and touching and on the same line with feet spread at the all-important 45° angle. Chin up, eyes straight forward, knees not locked, chest out, no slouching, shoulders square, arms hanging straight without stiffness, hands at you sides thumb forward, fingers naturally curled and lightly pinching the seam in your trousers. And you do not move. Do not look to the side, do not move your eyes to the side, do not shift your focus from the point on which you have locked your eyes, do not scratch an itch, do not cough, burp, laugh, cry or pass out, all of which are considered breaking the position of attention. The hard part is when you have drill instructors screaming into both ears giving you conflicting orders and a third glaring straight in your face, punching his finger very deliberately into your chest and wondering at the top of his voice why you are queer for his gear? Try that without flinching or even looking to the side.

Proper Attention is important whether alone or as a platoon. And you are always with your platoon because recruits go everywhere as a platoon. Recruits are rarely alone (except maybe in the dentist’s chair) because recruits do every thing together. Privacy and modesty are impossibilities. Always together, always suffering /learning. It is the beginning of the process of many becoming one. While you may become an individual Marine it is only because of the Corps that you exist. The goal is to learn to count on your fellow Marines and ultimately if necessary to die for them. This shared Hell, this experience few people will even attempt much less complete has a powerful bonding strength. And one of the first place it starts is close order drill.

Close order drill is an ancient military tradition designed to instill discipline and order into the ranks. In the Marine Corps it is honed to a fine art as anyone who has ever seen the Silent Drill Team can attest. Initially drill practice is done on a huge asphalt drill field. Watching the new platoons you always see the practice interrupted periodically by one or all the still learning recruits stopping to do push up or mountain climbers (running in place while in the push up position) to the DIs satisfaction. It becomes a matter of great pride to be able to execute the maneuvers perfectly, partly to make your DIs happy (and eventually even proud) and because it feels very good to work so closely together as a team, to move as one organism, to have each heel hit the pavement together, to turn at the exact same instant, to stop exactly together. After learning basic drill, the rifle is introduced into the mix which is another set of routines done while marching and standing.

A good DI can take a large platoon anywhere and place them exactly where he wants. It gets to the point where your DI can have a seventy man platoon march from a distance away then, without stopping, take the platoon half-stepping through the double doors into a crowded, busy chow hall and have the platoon stop precisely together at precisely the same place right where the chow trays stand stacked. It is minute precision executed expertly. Trust me, it is impressive, especially to the new recruits.

While marching you listen to and follow the DIs cadence. It can be very cool to hear and every DI sings differently. Many times they don’t even really pronounce the words but you know what they mean. It is through his cadence and correct issuing of orders that the platoon moves where he wants it to go. While marching the platoon is walking at 120 steps per minute and every step has to be in sync. This drill training follows every recruit into Marine Corps where it is utilized every day.

But enough about close order drill. One of my frustrations in writing about this experience is having to leave so much out. Pardon me if I drag on. But I would ask you to remember how young these men are when they undergo this trial. I was barely 17 yet I was ready to go fight and die. No matter what you may think of our military remember all these young men today are volunteering to put themselves in harms way for us. Semper Fi.

Watch how the guy with the camera flinches when the platoon comes marching straight at him. Even after all these years I can still understand the DI say, “By the left flank, march” which is the command that sends the platoon to their left and at the cameraman. Later you can also hear him say “By the left oblique, march” which straightens the platoon up before going through the archway. 


elizabeth said...

no need to apologize for a good explanation! I look forward to part 4.

Michael from Texas said...

Again, good stuff...I always heard that the DI's at MCRD San Diego are more elaborate in their cadence calls than at PI, but I'm biased.

s-p said...

It is an amazing testimony to what can be accomplished if people are of one mind, or at least have the will to BE of one mind. Fascinating exposition.

Fr. James Early said...

I finally got a chance to watch the videos. In the first one, I couldn't understand a thing the DI's were saying, but I sure felt sorry for the guy getting chewed out.

In the second one, a question occurred to me: are all the DI's cadences that musical? I don't know how they can keep it up so long!