Navy to Open SEALs to Women.

​Nearly two decades after GI Jane, a story about the first Female Navy SEAL operator, the United States Navy is officially opening its most famous, and infamous division to women.

According to the Navy Times:

The Navy is planning to open its elite SEAL teams to women who can pass the grueling training regimen, the service’s top officer said Tuesday in an exclusive interview.

Adm. Jon Greenert said he and the head of Naval Special Warfare Command, Rear Adm. Brian Losey, believe that if women can pass the legendary six-month Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL training, they should be allowed to serve.

“Why shouldn’t anybody who can meet these [standards] be accepted? And the answer is, there is no reason,” Greenert said Tuesday in an exclusive interview with Navy Times and its sister publication Defense News. “So we’re on a track to say, ‘Hey look, anybody who can meet the gender non-specific standards, then you can become a SEAL.'”

This news comes on the heels of the Army Ranger School graduating its first female students and following the first female Marines graduating from the School of Infantry in late 2013.

A key determinate in these arguments, as many are noting, is the line posed that says very clearly, “who can pass the grueling training regimen.” Those who have followed the story of Women in the Military and their acceptance in front-line combat operations over the last three years, as I have, know that even the victories which have been achieved have come at staggeringly high barriers to overcome. For example, the recent graduates of the Army Ranger School were military officers picked from the Academy to try for the school. The academies offer far higher physical fitness than is routinely demanded of most soldiers. Along with this fact, the two who graduated were of a collection of nineteen candidates who began the trials. Ranger training is extremely demanding, failing a full 55% of its male candidates. This is to also include the Marine Corps, first to attempt trials to allow women into the infantry, which only graduated its first female infantry troops in 2013. More noticeably, is the absence of even a single female officer to complete the notoriously physically difficult infantry officer course since the trials began following Secretary of Defense’s decision to rescind the 1994 direct-combat exclusion rule for women in January 2013.

What this means for the SEALs, we cannot know. Their INDOC and BUDS training is famous for being among the most terrifying in the world just to survive for even the most physically fit warfighters alive. What many of the previous trials which have shown for female infantry candidates so far, women are going to have a fight to succeed in the difficult training regimen. Regardless, this week has shown great strides towards making that a reality only envisioned in movies for the last two decades.

The 22

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22 men, carrying 22 kilograms of gear, for 22 kilometers. “22 with 22 for 22.” This is the slogan a group of irreverent veterans have adopted for a series of walks across the United States taking place on none other than the 22nd of each month. An obvious question begins to arise, what’s the significance of “22?”

To answer that, I wanted to mention something odd that happened to me a few days ago that inspired this article. I received a Facebook notification from a friend inviting me to an event, BUDDY CHECK 22. I know this guy and know that he isn’t one of those weirdies who invites me to every Facebook game he has ever played so that he will get 20 free magic crystals. He’s an old Marine buddy who I spent time with Iraq. No, this was different. The name stuck out too. The reason it stuck was that number, 22.

22 is a number that has taken on a very significant and somber meaning for the veteran community over the last few years. It signifies the approximate number of American veterans who commit suicide each day. This revelation came from the VA’s 2012 Suicide Data Report, which analyzed the death certificates of 21 states from 1999 to 2011 to arrive at the grim statistic. A more recent study, which surveyed 1.3 million veterans who were discharged between 2001 and 2007, found that between 2001 and 2009, there were 1650 deployed veterans and 7703 non-deployed veteran deaths. Of those, 351 were suicides among deployed veterans and 1517 were suicides among non-deployed veterans.

Between the two reports, veteran suicide has become a major rallying cry for those in the veteran community, particularly for older vets. The majority of the victims of what is being called an epidemic by some, are veterans from beyond the War on Terror years, those who served prior to 2001. The more recent figures, however, showcases an alarming trend, that the rate of suicide for Post 9/11 vets increased by 44 percent in two years.

Suffering years of government failings to respond and alleviate the growing stigma ailing our prior service community, many veterans are taking the matter into their own hands, as was done by Zach Ziegel. Ziegel is a Marine Veteran and a victim, having recently lost a friend to the reality of living after service. According to his Facebook post,

“So I don’t ask much from anyone, let alone on Facebook, but I’m asking all of you to please read this. I’ll be starting an event, and the best part is, that to attend you don’t have to go anywhere. I’ll call it BUDDY CHECK 22, much like buddy check 25 for breast cancer, and it will happen August 22nd, and hopefully the 22nd of every month from here on out. I want everyone to take a minute out of their day and call a veteran, check up on them, and make sure they’re doing alright. By now we all know the statistic… 22 veterans a day commit suicide, and we as a society owe it to them to do something to change that. So please… Attend my event, invite your friends to attend, and change this god awful statistic with me.”

BUDDY CHECK 22 | Facebook

Other veterans, such as the shirtless silkied wonders pictured above, are doing just as much to bring attention to the silent loss of some of America’s greatest members.

Medically retired Marine Capt. Danny Maher — who more commonly goes by his stage name Capt. Donny O’Malley — is combining some of the things Marines love most in his effort to bring awareness to a serious issue: humor and very short shorts known as silkies.

The former infantry officer-turned-comedian is leading participants on a 22-kilometer road march on Saturday while they each carry 22 kilograms — nearly 50 pounds — of gear. The number of kilometers they’ll walk and the weight that they’ll carry represents the 22 service members who die from suicide each day.

Marines march in silkies to raise suicide awarness

O’Malley made more recent news when he challenged none other than Donald Trump to join the walk taking place in New York only a few days from now.

One might ask what picking up a phone or marching around half naked through a city does, realistically, for vets who are facing mental illness and depression. Honestly, these two great veterans organizations are doing exactly what is needed right now. People like Ziegel and O’Malley are rebuilding the communities which are lost when we go our separate ways. They’re pushing for the one thing that, in my experience as an Iraq vet, heals more of the mental and spiritual wounds we suffer regularly after war or time in service.

It isn’t just me though, experts are agreeing that the single best thing that can be done for the mental health of many of these individuals is community.

This wisdom is backed up by sound logic.  Sharon French, a former professor of Ethics at the United States Naval Academy poses the question in her book, The Code of the Warrior, of whether or not so many post Vietnam era veterans are suffering right now is that they weren’t forced to endure community as part of the long ship rides home after war. The Code of the Warrior discusses the historical motivations behind why different warrior cultures decided to fight and how they were welcomed back into society after it. She notes that virtually every warrior culture until only the last two generations forced troops to endure long trips home as part of a cool down phase. This was the case with those who served in both theaters of World War II and most wars prior, but not after the advent of commercial aviation in Vietnam.

A second musing comes from Lt. Col Dave Grossman one of the world’s most respected thought leaders on the psychology of those who endure combat and the military mindset. After making a career of after-action debriefs and counselings with veterans he one major point of advice, which can be found in his book, On Combat.

Pain shared is pain divided, but joy shared is joy multiplied.

Healing happens when warriors share with other warriors in environments where they feel safe to enjoy one another and feel as if there are others who understand what they are going through. In many cases, psychologists who specialize with those who have military service records, say that it isn’t even best for friends and family to try to be healers for their veterans, and maybe seeking professional help isn’t the first place a veteran should go. They say that it is often more damaging to insist that a veteran may be psychologically broken and in need of professional therapy, when really they may only need to connect with others like them. They also have said that it may be better for families to help their vet find their way to other communities of veterans they can interact with in person, or even better, to reactivate those relationships with their friends they served with years ago.

Bringing veterans together in communities built on camaraderie, compassion, and comedy – restoring brotherhoods, this is the subtle change that has an impact in saving lives and something the rest of us should celebrate and support. If you’re a veteran, pick up the phone this next couple of days to check on one of your friends who has served, no matter how young or old. If you’re not, consider pushing someone you know and love toward joining with other local veterans’ organizations. Whoever you are, help the veteran community remember the 22 of our fellows lost every day to the silent plight of depression, loneliness, and mental health disease. Support these causes and spread the word for vets.

Irreverent Warriors
BUDDY CHECK 22 | Facebook


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How Being Yelled At By Madmen Makes You a Better Warrior

Yelling

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When most people think of Marine Corps boot camp and the terrors within it, the image of a terrifying man screaming like a hellbound banshee is the vision they conjure. I am pretty sure this is what brought on the question of why does boot camp need to be so intense in the first place. It’s easy to understand why they might need to learn to shoot and even more rational to see them doing work outs. It’s harder to explain stress induced humiliation. It’s also far from a myth or exaggeration. Drill Instructors really do yell as much you’ve ever imagined, even more than you would believe. In fact, you never really hear their real voices. In the Marines, boot camp instructors are actually trained on how to manipulate their voices so that they can yell for extremely long periods of time without damaging their vocal cords. This is known as the “Frog Voice”, and while funny to talk about, it is a real thing. I only really became aware of this once I got out and just so happened to run into two of my old Drill Instructors in the fleet. It is a weird experience to see these guys as real people after all that they subjected you to for three straight months. Actually, that’s a pretty awesome story.

The following video actually shows a great deal of things that are important. Listen at the very beginning and you can hear a Marine using a strange voice to speak to the victim/participant. This is Frog Voice. While watching, I ‘d like readers to look through the yelling to hear what the real offense was. A recruit complained about feeling dehydrated during a training evolution. That’s it. Also, as a warning, many of the following videos have a bit of language because, well… Marines.

On a side note, I’m not really sure why this is labeled as a “leaked” video. It’s from a series of videos on boot camp sold by one of the Drill Instructors. I met him once at a conference. He’s a pretty cool guy who runs a chain of grocery stores now. Moving on, when you really boil it down, why yell at that kid so much for being thirsty and feeling weakened by training? Does that sound rational? I’ll get to that, but first, let’s take it up a notch.  The following video shows what is most likely the most terrifying event recruits will ever experience. This is what is universally known throughout the Marines as the “Omnidirectional Ass Chewing” where multiple Drill Instructors will be screaming at you in unison as you attempt to make sense of the chaotic universe around you.

“Why do all these things you ask?” The answer is disturbingly simple and sadly, rational. Yelling at someone, preferably in the most personally offensive manner possible, is the easiest way to get a human being who is unaccustomed to performance under stress to take action while being placed under an extreme and sudden stress environment (combat). It trains them to block out the noise and the fear and the stress and just do what they need to do. Remember that kid who was yelled at for being dehydrated? Was he really being yelled at for being thirsty, or was he being yelled at for trying to skip a training evolution? Was he really being yelled at for trying to feign sickness rather than complete an exercise? Was he really being yelled for being weak, or for allowing himself to use weakness as an excuse? The depot needs competent Marines, and allowing any of these things to pass would not fulfill that mission. That recruit will think twice before complaining about water again and therefore, he will tougher. The truth is, if you are less afraid of the physical stress than you are the psychological stress, you learn to get tough without complaining about it. We can’t actually shoot at the kids, you know, but the Omnidirectional Ass Chewing is one of the most important parts of onboarding that most militaries go through, and the yelling really never stops after that.

After the OAC, there is Incentive Training, or IT. Drill Instructors are allowed to use incentive training to instill discipline and correct mistakes. That’s vague. IT is creating an extreme stress environment mixed with physical strain and exhaustion where recruits are yelled out, normally by one Drill Instructor on the either the Quarter-deck or the sand pits outside and are forced into a series of calisthenics that are extremely exhausting and physically challenging in the manner in which they are done. They do this needing to listen to the random instructions of the Drill Instructor and respond in the appropriate manner, or the exercise continues. Outside, they are limited to five minutes of IT in one of the sand pits located around the recruit depot. Inside, on the “quarter-deck,” there are no limits. While engaged in IT, while doing everything else, you learn to instinctively listen for the DI’s instructions and think really long and hard about never getting caught doing whatever it was that got you put in that situation in the first place.

Everything your drill instructors do to stress you out is designed to simulate the stress of combat and illicit immediate responses to orders in a manner that, despite all unpleasantness, is actually harmless. Yelling won’t get you killed. From someone who has been there, trust me, it works. The fact is that once you enter the military, people are literally screaming at you all the time and, like so many other things, you adapt. Eventually you will be a leader and screaming will be part of your job too, though acting like DIs in the fleet is pretty much looked down upon by most real Marines. What is extremely important to know is that just as quickly as these men started yelling they can turn it off just as easily. More than psychopaths, these men are actors with the role of taking advantage of specific psychological triggers to instill aggression and help military people cope with combat stress without actually experiencing combat. These men aren’t bullies. What you just saw was extremely important training, mental training. No one in the comments section will ever dissuade me from this position that the yelling is one of the most important things a Marine Corps Drill Instructor can do for a young recruit. Of course, that doesn’t mean you should try it out the next time Tammy comes in five minutes late to work. You probably won’t make a Marine out of her and you may just get yourself fired.

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A Marine and Iraq Veteran reviews The Hurt Locker… (This Won’t be Pretty)

I wanted to make it clear that to veterans, The Hurt Locker is one of the worst movies about war ever made. It’s simply a really terrible film. If you combine the over the top spectacle of Inglourious Basterds, the rampant and unjustifiably cruel depiction of military veterans of Brothers, the complete lack of justifiable research into actual battlefield conditions of Inglorious Bastards, you have the Hurt Locker. This movie marvelled in one thing only – it was made to play on the emotions of moviegoers who want to feel like they cared about the military over the past 10 years, but never actually invested any time into understanding the conflicts in which they were involved, i.e. people who actually didn’t know or care anything about the veterans or what they are doing overseas during the years it mattered.

I mean, every movie gets some things wrong when converting from real life to the big screen. Inglorious Bastards didn’t even pretend it tried, though. The Hurt Locker, however, took great pains into bringing in quality researchers and advisors and then just said, “Screw it. We’re doing whatever we want, anyway.” and then telling the world that they did great research. Honestly, it was ludicrous that they marketed this as accurate on any level.

I just want to make one glaring point of contention I have with the movie. I was in a unit that had EOD teams both times I deployed to Iraq. I can tell you that each and every single time that an EOD team rolls out, they do so with a large team of security either in the form of military police or infantry. That means as many as four vehicles, loaded with troops, each and every time. That one fact, that single completely unavoidable reality, completely negates the entire movie. I mean watch the movie and ask yourself at any of the dozens of thrilling plot moments, “Hmm… I wonder how this would be different if there was fifteen people with guns, rocket launchers, and air strikes available?” Remember that scene where he just so happens to also be a sniper? Or the one where he and the other bomb techs just go retarded and start kicking in doors like they are infantry? You’ve got to be kidding me.

Quite frankly, someone wanted to tell a very particular story and when confronted with the facts that it wasn’t possible, they did it anyway and no one knew better to care. I still consider it a crime that so many people are so ill informed of the conflicts of the past decade and a half that they believe this movie depicts any semblance of reality for EOD teams in Iraq. Frankly, if you’ve already seen it, you can’t be helped. If you haven’t and care at all about the military and veterans, or even doing a good job telling an accurate depiction of events that were happening at the very same time the movie was made, never ever do.

I’m sure from a perspective of cinematography, it probably pushed the industry forward somehow, but as far as communicating one of the most important social issues of our time, not to mention an ongoing conflict at the time, it failed so miserably, it set veterans issues back ten years. I want people to look at it this way. We have seen LBGT rights and issues get a lot of press and people are now trying very hard to see things from their perspective. It’s not acceptable anymore to portray them as the wildly stereotypical flamboyant clowns circa the era of Robin William’s “The Bird Cage”. They’re people who deserve respect and to be portrayed in a realistic manner. However, the veteran population is allowed to be portrayed in any manner in which the world pleases to fulfil their narrative, from bloodthirsty murderers like (Battle for Haditha), psychologically scared societal dangers (Brothers), impossible killing machines (American Sniper). Now, why is it that I brought in the LBGT stance into this? Because veterans outnumber the estimated homosexual population in the United States by at least 2:1. Why is it that one group is allowed to be so egregiously stereotyped when the others aren’t?

The Hurt Locker is everything wrong with how veterans are portrayed. It combines all of the negative biases people associate with veterans into one compact two hour blockbuster. They’re ruthless killers, they’re psychologically damaged, they’re unreliable, they’re dangerous to their team members, all they are good for is fighting. Given that we have not seen a military movie come out in the last ten years, that I am aware of, that features war veterans who aren’t any of these things, in fact, that may have benefited from their time in service, is it no surprise to people that they are having such a hard time integrating to the society that sent them to war in the first place?

Basically, the Hurt Locker is nothing more than war pornography. It makes people who want to see an action movie which portrays broken and desperate American soldiers suffering pointlessly not feel bad for enjoying it because the movie pretends to be bringing attention to these issues. Sadly, most of these issues are exaggerated to the point of ad absurdum because of movies like this, but that is the only context most Americans now have. The Hurt locker failed miserably in that they set out to make a modern war movie about real veterans issues, but not doing any quality research, not showing realistic veteran’s perspectives, not showing respect to real people at the time, and not communicating the real nature of a war that was currently still happening.


American-Sniper-2014If you enjoyed the review of Hurt Locker, make sure to check out my review of American Sniper. They did a lot better.

Review of American Sniper from Marine Iraq War Veteran

unnamedJon Davis is a US Marine Corps veteran writer, focusing on the topics of US veterans and international defense. His work has been featured in Newsweek, Forbes, Gizmodo and elsewhere. He is also a writer of military science fiction with his first book, The Next War, due out early this year. You can follow Jon Davis via his personal blog Jon’s Deep Thoughts, and can support his writing via the web donation service, Patreon.

The Arts of War

There is a science of warfare, but there are also the arts of the war. The science of warfare centers on matters of logistics. They focus on issues of the economic scarcity of warriors, the psychology of denizens occupied territories, and the grand movements of the strongest forces to the weakest pressure points of an enemy’s regime. These are the concentration of Generals and world leaders. The arts of warfare, however, are the acts of combat which must be learned, practiced, and mastered by the individual warriors themselves. They are the subtle placement and gentle flexing of the Brachio-radial muscles over the carotid artery, severing blood flow to the brain and knocking out an enemy in seconds. It is the resistance to jerk the trigger and break the sight alignment, gently squeezing it slowly until the rifle fires, seemingly on its own. It is the practice of coordinating attacks between individuals and small units, leveraging fewer warriors to exponentially greater effect through the use of fire and maneuver. It is knowledge to save a wounded friends life when there is literally no one else there to do it better.

Recruits in boot camp are introduced to the basic military arts. Marine recruits go through several different training cycles and will learn skills in Martial Arts, Small Unit Tactics, Hand-to-Hand Combat, Emergency First-Aid, and classes varying from rank structure, to Marine Corps history. They will also receive nutritional training, maintenance of gear, and physical education. After their first month, they will progress to learn rifle marksmanship, survival, and the beauty of the forced march.

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Hand-to-Hand Combat

Among the first lessons recruits receive will be in hand-to-hand combat. Many branches don’t emphasize personal combat, feeling that long after the age automatic machineguns, autonomous drones and atomic weapons, exchanges of the fist and feet are outdated. Some nations and militaries don’t even practice them at all. The Marines, however, see it as a necessity because of the way they fight. They took this belief so far, that they created their own martial-arts fighting style. This is MCMAP, the Marine Corps Martial Arts Program. This specialized form of combat martial arts is built on philosophies other than self-defense, but actual offense and the ability to deliver lethal strikes with not just the fist, but knives, and an empty rifle, or even, as the moto One Mind Any Weapon states, any common object which happens to be lying around. It should also be mentioned that the style has incorporated many non-lethal restraints for crowd control and policing scenarios, useful over the past decade and a half of insurgency warfare. Recruits will spend several days training in pits of pulverized rubber tires, perfect for hard landings, practicing the basics of this fighting style. By the end of boot camp they will receive the first belt in the Marine Corps Martial Arts Program (MCMAP).

Rifle Marksmanship

If the Army is a camping trip, and the Air Force is a club, than the Marines are a cult, one whose most important rituals and religious rites center around their rifles. This tradition began as far back as Marine sharpshooters fighting in the Revolutionary War dangling high in ships’ riggings and nets, picking off enemy officers and troops engaged in naval battles. It continued on when during the World War I Battle at Belleau Wood, Marine sharpshooters sniped enemy German forces from well beyond the German’s ability to reach them, recording numerous kills from well beyond 700 yards. Today, during the second phase of their training, recruits spend more than two full weeks dedicated to the art of delivering deadly fire down range. It is so important that the drill instructors actually lighten-up to allow the recruits to focus.

PT – Physical Training

Physical training takes many forms, but the physical exercises aren’t usually the most difficult part of recruit training. They generally center on building instant obedience to orders over the actual physical stress involved in the exercises. Few obstacles are so difficult that most recruits can’t complete them. Often, they just need to be pushed. Usually, listening and doing what you are told will get recruits through the exercise and get out of the situation before you are yelled at. Some of the obstacles are more mental than physical: a high rope, a pool, a mountain. It’s rare that you will see a training exercise that breaks a recruit. That’s mostly because, for most, physically finishing the exercises isn’t the most difficult part.

As important as these, but without the room to elaborate on them each are the many other skills warriors must master to win and come home safely. I remember visceral reactions to the first aid lessons; graphic, gory and unsettling, but responsible for thousands of lives saved throughout the years. Military law, customs and courtesies, and military history are also necessary. They are crucial to the continuation of a culture literally built to ensure vital mission accomplishment in a competition between nations at war. Sadly, though, I can’t speak to all these skills here. It pulls too far from the point of the series, answering why boot camp needs to be so intense. Why these skills work to answer that question can summed in a single word – “efficacy”. When a person gains knowledge, they gain confidence. To make an eighteen year old run to the sound of terrible things, they must have faith in their skills to survive and win, as well as faith in the skills of those around them. The United States invests more into the training of their military than any other force in the world. This makes them confident and capable when put into harm’s way and helps to ensure that military warfighters suffer less loss of life than any other military so actively engaged across the world in history.

In spite of this, it’s important to note that boot camp is not really about the skills. Mostly, recruits are fed the very basics of the warrior arts there. The real skills come later on dozens of ranges, dojos, and training courses over a period of years. Boot camp is about the process of helping recruits adjust mentally to a life of challenge and one where uncommon stress is a common element to daily life. To state the obvious though, it is the skills they begin to learn in boot camp, and which will be mastered in follow-on training during their military careers, that will help them survive and win battles. Therefore, beyond the psychological aspects of recruit training, the skills of combat are an obvious necessity in the training evolution and survival of any would be warrior.

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Isolation from the Outside

Phase 1 – Transitioning From the Habits of a Civilian

Once Black Friday is behind them, the first month of Marine Corps boot camp is designed to acclimate recruits to the pace of training and becoming integrated in the military. The intended purpose of the first phase, as it is called, and all of boot camp really, is to transition young men into them to ways of a warrior culture free of the habits of civilian life. That isn’t saying that civilians are weak by nature, but there are certain qualities which are valued and respected in the civilian world that don’t mesh with the realities required of the military environment. In the military world, these are weaknesses. The remedy for this can be drastic, by normal standards.

Most people entering boot camp ask what the hardest part is to prepare for. In their minds, they assume the hardest part is running, or hiking, push-ups, or just being yelled at by Drill Instructors. The truth is that the most stressful and impactful change that will occur is the mental conditioning recruits endure. It won’t be easy to transition though. That kind of reconditioning is something that people don’t usually do perfectly with any amount of being ready for it.

During this first phase of recruit training, for the Marines anyway, communication lines are completely severed from friends and family over the three months throughout boot camp. There is no internet, no phone, no distractions. The only thing recruits get in the way of communication from loved ones are hand written letters once a week during the only “me time” they ever receive, during the first four hours on Sunday morning. Does it seem cruel and unnecessary? Well, I had just been married one week before I set foot on the yellow footprints, so I think I am best to answer.

There are no distractions. That must be membered. There can be no distractions.

One has to remember the psychological nature of good boot camp training. We aren’t separated for the join of our brass laden overlords. There is always a reason for it. The training can’t be interrupted by distractions from the outside world. In an age where people live entire lives connected online and engrossed in the lives of others, distractions whither any efforts for many people to achieve anything beyond themselves.

The Marine Corps is different. It seeks to isolate recruits from that, a sort of cold turkey weaning off of the distractions for the time where they have to adapt to military life. The isolation quiets their minds for a time and gives them focus. It helps engross new recruits into a new mentality, but for a few months it completely shuts them out from their friends, families, and the outside world. For a few months, the Marine Corps is your entire world. Recruits turn their focus instead to military routines. Drill instructors will set the pace, literally, by counting down every basic task “by the numbers” and recruits won’t even be able to refer to yourself by name. Marine Recruits refer to themselves in the third person. You will say, “This recruit” to refer to yourself rather than “I”, “These recruits” rather than “we” or “us”. This is done for the same reason that all recruits wear the same haircut and why the Marines don’t use unit patches or anything that distinguishes them from any other Marine besides name tapes. This plays into the erosion of individuality I’ve written about before. It is an engineered behavior with the intended purpose to build unit cohesion by repressing the civilian mentalities of individualism, egocentricity, and what might be unnerving to some, self-preservation. Such forms of psychological reconditioning are considered necessary to produce strong warriors capable of functioning as a team in the deadliest and most terrifying situations possible.

To elaborate on this point, let me give a personal testimony:

One thing that happens for everyone is that immediately upon arriving at boot camp you get to call home. It isn’t a real call. You have a short script where you basically say that you’re there and you’re alive. That is all. A few weeks in, though, our Senior Drill Instructor found out that we didn’t get ours. No one in the entire company did, for some reason. Someone in admin probably screwed something up. About a month in he made sure that we got ours. As a platoon we got to go down to the phone center and speak with our families.

I’ll never forget the day. It was July 7th, which just happened to be my 19th birthday. I called my wife’s phone. After a month of boot camp it was refreshing to hear her voice again. I told her that I would have to leave soon. The phone line would just cut off and that would be it, so we had to make the most of the few minutes we had. I think I got about ten minutes to speak. It was really a blessing. I have no idea what we talked about, but I remember the peaceful calm of hearing her voice. Jennie was like rain after walking in the desert.

As I knew it would, our time ran out. The line went dead. I was prepared for it, but still for a moment your heart breaks again just like it did the day you left. Regardless, I was happy. It isn’t often that a platoon gets to just have ten minutes to speak back home. There were a few tears that rolled down my face as I returned to the platoon. I know a few of the other recruits noticed. I was the only married recruit in the platoon, at that time almost all of us were just fresh high school graduates. I think they all knew how hard it was for me. No one ever said a thing to me about the tears, though. I was happy. It was my best birthday present ever.

It was a great present because of how very distant Jennie seemed to me at that time. As much as it hurt at times, I think it may have been the best thing for a while. I had a month with absolutely no communication with her, thirty-three days to be exact. The next two would see even less. She was on my mind often, but not as a constant. She was far enough away, and I was busy enough that I was focused on what was in front of me. I had to listen to the Drill Instructor’s guidance, focus on my rifle sights, on the marching, studying first aid, or on my weapon’s maintenance. I honestly don’t know if I could have fully been gained the full breadth of what I had to learn if I went back to her every night and had to show up to formation in the mornings. I don’t even know if I would have been able to do it if I got to call home whenever I wanted, knowing all the gossip of a town and people that were barely relevant to me anymore. After boot camp, I could call and say “Hi,” through all of my job training school, but not at boot.

Granted, it does seem cruel to keep people away from their families when technology has made it so easy to put them within arm’s reach. The truth, however, is that it doesn’t make for good warriors. We don’t get to have our families when we go on deployment or to some war, so it is probably good to get used to that. Same for the families. There is a very hard reality, that part of boot camp is intense because recruits must deal with the isolation from the civilian world they knew. In its place they have to adapt to a new group of people that aren’t their family, but which will be surrounding them every minute, of every day, through the hardest tribulations and crucibles, as well as the victories and triumphs. Though the recruits may be isolated, they will never be alone. They will learn to act and think as a unit, one of their first real lessons in the arts of warfare.121226-M-VH750-061

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Black Friday

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As I am sure you have guessed, for Marines, the term Black Friday has nothing to do with holiday bargain shopping. Black Friday, for us, is a day you remember for the rest of your life. This is when Marine Corps basic training begins. Black Friday is the day you meet your real Drill Instructors. Up to this point, the instructors who have been over you were Receiving Drill Instructors. Their job ends on Training Day 1. On T-Day 1, Black Friday, recruits will meet the men who will be over them and with them for every step of the next three months.

Like all other major milestones of boot camp, there is ceremony involved in this. The meeting of the Drill Instructors begins with introductions by your Series Commander late in the morning. This involves a speech where he will outline some of the expectations that will be placed on recruits, as well as formally introduce the platoon to their Drill Instructors. It’s actually a very well rehearsed ceremony that has been, like so many others, exactly the same since time immemorial. During this speech, the Series Commander will lead the Drill Instructors in the Drill Instructor’s Creed. It’s a powerful event from the perspective of new recruits sitting there watching it from the floor. Following the creed, the Series Commander will exit, leaving the Senior Drill Instructor in charge of the platoon. His speech is one that few recruits will forget. It’s important to really understand how much aggression goes into being a Drill Instructor. They are masters of intimidation and you will feel that in every word of the Senior Drill Instructor’s Black Friday speech. Words alone don’t do justice to understanding the moment, so I’ll share this instead:

Up to this point, the recruits have basically been told what is expected of them and what is expected of their Drill Instructors. Note that in no way was it alluded to that anyone would be nice to recruits. You really don’t understand that during the Drill Instructor’s Creed or the Senior’s “welcome aboard” speech. You feel nervous and intimidated, but you really have no clue what you are in for.

Then there is a moment after the first introductions that the Senior Drill Instructor will finish off his speech with a fateful series of words.

“Drill Instructors, take charge and carry out the plan of the day.”

Which they will respond, “Aye, Aye Senior Drill Instructor.” and he will walk back into his office, slamming the door behind him. In your mind you’re thinking, “Maybe there is going to be another speech. Maybe this is all we are going to be doing today. That would be nice.” This would be wrong. The speeches are over. The sitting is over. From this point on, those remaining Drill Instructors will introduce you into the full fury of the decision you have just made.

What follows the Senior Drill Instructor’s welcome is nothing less than a torrent of hate and terror recruits could probably never imagine. Recruits are ordered across the squad bay as the Drill Instructors scream and shout with the pent up fires of a thousand angry suns. There is noise and movement everywhere. It’s true chaos. Recruits will carry their sea bags loaded with gear around with them all over the squad bay, running back and forth, for painful hours on end. Drill Instructors will flip recruit’s footlockers, spewing all the belongings they owned out into massive mounds on the floor of the squad bay. They’ll toss the recruits bunks across the room. Bottles of soap, toothpaste and shaving gel will break and shatter, leaving the piles of personal belongings and issued gear trashed all over the floor. Then the recruits will be marched around and around, back and forth, following every command of the Drill Instructors, though never fast enough, never loud enough, and never with enough of the ever loving intensity demanded of them. All the while the parade of pandemonium continues, recruits will be kicking each other’s gear around in haphazard piles across the squad bay.

During this time, recruits are introduced to the concept of Incentive Training, or IT at this point. Drill Instructors are allowed to use incentive training to instill discipline and correct mistakes. I’ll get to that later. It’s rough and every one of them will go through it. They’ll do more jumping jacks, pushups, mountain climbers, and other exercises than anyone ever imagined. After this, sometimes Drill Instructors will insist on “tours of the base.”  Recruits will be filed as fast as their collective feet will carry them to a pit of sand outside the barracks. The entire platoon will be ordered to push up, flutter-kick, side-straddle-hop, and run in place until they will be completely exhausted and given-out, basking in the precious moments when their sweat covered faces rested against the sand. Then the will visit another sand pit somewhere else. Then they will visit another somewhere else, far, far away, somewhere on the other side of the base.

Finally, covered in sand and sweat, the recruits will file back to the barracks and pull out their canteens. They will drink, and drink, and drink, drinking until they had proved they had finished every last drop, then they would refill their canteens, and drink some more. This, as you might expect, is to keep them from dying of dehydration and exhaustion. This cycle of what seemed to be mindless torment won’t end until many hours later. They still have to return their home back to some semblance of normalcy after it had been reduced to what, metaphorically, could be described as a war zone. The following two videos are much more clear about what Day 1 will be like than the, “kind and gentle” speech the Series Commander might leave one believing.

The truth was, as the recruits parade around the room, being screamed at by terrifying men, they will each be wondering what they got themselves into. Regardless of what they may be thinking, they are still a long way from the end of T-Day 1. At least by that point they’ll understood why T-Day 1 is known throughout the Corps as Black Friday. Motivated Devil, a youtuber who creates FPS video footage while telling stories about life in the Marines spells it out well. In his words:

It’s pretty much the hardest day, it really is. It’s going to test you. You’re going to be thinking, did I make the right move? Am I supposed to be here? Even myself, I’m not going to to lie, I was like what the Hell did I get myself into? Am I going to make it out of this? Am I going to become a Marine? It’s the hardest day just because it’s the  mentally hardest day, because it’s your first day of meeting your Drill Instructors and they want nothing to do, but to f*** you up. They just want to f*** you up all day…

But the whole day, their main goal is to just break you down and make you think, did I do this for the right reason? Am I supposed to be here?

And therein lies the reasoning for Black Friday’s existence. On Black Friday, meeting your Drill Instructors is an experience no one forgets. Recruits see how relentless they can get. They are also sort of made aware what DIs won’t do. Recruits see that no human being has ever terrified them that much, but they never actually touch them. DIs might adjust your stance in a manner you don’t consider delicate, but you’re not going to get a Full Metal Jacket punch to gut any time soon. You realize you won’t be beaten up, punched or kicked, or thrown into anything. The only real things they do to you is tell you to do mundane stuff in the most horrible way imaginable. You will survive that. It’s important to realize that, no matter what happens from here, you’re going to survive. This is mostly because, from the point a recruit is “picked-up” into their boot camp platoon, there really is no going back. From Black Friday on, it is easier to finish boot camp than to get yourself kicked out or separated from recruit training.

Surviving Day-1 of training is important because it sets the pace for everything else to come afterward. You clearly gain an appreciation of the Drill Instructor’s and accept that the easiest thing for you to do to get through boot camp is just to do whatever they say and to do it fast. It simply isn’t worth the inconvenience you know they are capable of, to do anything less. It’s odd how that sort of mentality builds stamina and motivation. Recruits will need these to carry them through to the end of training. They aren’t going to have time to not listen or to move slowly at any point over the next three months of Recruit Training. There is just too much to learn.

Reaper

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