Summary – The EGA and What it Takes to Make a Warrior

Earning the Title

As a regular person, you might not know why the Marine pictured above is crying. You’d probably guess he is going to a funeral or about to leave home for the first time to go off to war. You’d be wrong. The young recruits pictured above are about to take part in a culminating event of recruit training, the Eagle, Globe, and Anchor Ceremony.

The EGA, the Eagle Globe and Anchor, is a small trinket of metal coated in a thin strip of black paint. It fits in the palm of the hand and can be bought for around $2 from any military apparel provider. Realistically speaking, that is all it is… it is a trinket. To the Marines, however, it is a symbol. The EGA is the emblem of the United States Marine Corps and only Marines are entitled to wear it. For the last three months, this recruit has endured all the trials of Marine Corps Boot Camp, but he was not a Marine. He, like all the other recruits with him, weren’t considered Marines until after they completed training. They were called “recruit” and suffered the hardships, tests, suffering, and indignities which come with the moniker. Once they finished Boot Camp, more properly, once they receive their EGA, only then will they have “earned the title” of United States Marine.

It’s a somewhat religious moment for our odd little cult of warriors. For many, receiving the EGA, and by extension the honor of being Marine, is the proudest moment of their lives. It is the moment, for so many of them, which truly gave their lives meaning. As melodramatic as that may sound, many of my friends who joined the Marines had no direction, no purpose, and no dreams for the future. They didn’t have a sense of agency, the belief that their decisions mattered. They were just riding the waves of life, drifting wherever the currents delivered them. They were far more likely to end up in prison as they were to be looked upon with honor and respect by their community. The Marine Corps, for many of my friends, gave them that sense of being part of something that mattered. If I were to attempt a guess, I’d say that the young man pictured above is crying because, for the first time, he is part of a community of people who matter, one which is honorable, and respected because of what they mean to the world and the citizens which they are drawn from.

Thank you for following this series of articles on the logic behind the need for a truly intense and transformative boot camp experience in today’s military. The logic is there. It is terrifyingly present in every subtle action of the Drill Instructors. As I said before, everything they do is for a reason. Boot camp, and particularly that of the Marines, is made to psychologically change a child into someone capable of performing under combat conditions. In most cases, it is intended to take from them the aspects of their civilian lives that will make life harder for them in the military, those that sometimes would have killed them and others, and makes those weakness no longer part of the calculation. The yelling, the sleep deprivation and being cut off from friends and family are part of the process of becoming a warrior. It is also part of becoming a cult.

And that is what they are. The Marines have formed a culture with the singular obsession of destroying those who endanger the United States’, her allies, and her interests. While they’re humanitarian efforts across the world, though rarely remembered, can never be denied, it is their ferocity in combat that makes them respected around the world. It is their ability to overcome and overwhelm enemies that reminds the world there are no better friends, and no worse enemies. This process of personal transformation takes place throughout a lifetime, but the seeds of it are sewn in boot camp. The foundation of a culture are laid in the welcoming of every generation’s newest members. This is why boot camp does things which aren’t normal through the eyes or our broader culture in which the Marines serve. To normal people, this is crazy.

This is why normal people can’t do the things warriors are asked to do. They can’t imagine combat or the terror of an enemy upon them and they shouldn’t be forced to. The goal of a good government and a strong military, is to create a world where their normal people never have to imagine pain, suffering, hate, or danger. But for these people to exist and prosper, there are those who do, and those who are willing to endure, and those who can fight. They don’t exist to serve and die for their country, but to fight smartly, leverage their risks with their skills, and make the other guy die for his. When others among them fall, they must see that their nation appreciates how special these people are for what they have elected to do. They have given up their innocence as civilians, free to pursue pleasure and prosperity for a time for something more, something each of them defines for themselves, but something which nonetheless, benefits all of us who prosper in the shadow of their actions. For these people, there must be a transition from “civilian” to “warrior”. Boot camp is the means of that evolution and every part of it is necessary. For those who complete the training, their lives will never be the same, they will never be the same; they will be Marines. That title can’t be passed down to you, you can’t buy it, and it is not given – it is earned when you become one of “The Few and The Proud” for life.


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Why Boot Camp Won’t “Brainwash” Recruits

Today, on social media, I was again told that the military only do what they do simply because they are all brainwashed. Don’t we love social media, the place where anyone, no matter what their place on the intellectual food chain, can observe the right to spew forth their ignorance upon the rest of us? This one was elicited because in a conversation about the high-and-tight haircut. Really world? Still, the idea is a one which is a part of veterans’ issues and the public’s perception of us, as well as the active duty troops in the field. “The military are just mindless drones brainwashed into doing whatever they are told.”

Even those who don’t outright dislike the military function under this negative stereotype about us. I received this email once from a follower in response to an article on Marine Corps boot camp training.

I read the boot camp answer (among the first I’ve read on Quora), once again one of the finest you’ve written. You mention how it is a place where you train young people to become warriors and you had written about the procedure. You had written about how everything the instructor do is done with a very specific purpose. Through it all, what is being done is, in a sense, brainwashing these people into running to the sound of gunfire and to kill for their country. Aren’t such people dangerous?

Even a person who at least has a positive curiosity about the US military, has a negative bias that because of our training, we are real threats to society. You ever wonder why so many veterans can’t find work? I don’t really know where ideas like this come from; the idea that someone can blow a whistle or snap their fingers and we will be propelled to fix bayonets and charge to our deaths, or presumably to slaughter some village in the name of the good ole’ US of A. Perhaps it is from movies, such as the 1960’s Manchurian Candidate, themed around a group of soldiers captured by Chinese Communists and North Koreans and psychologically reprogrammed to become mindless assassins at the command of the Reds. The image of a dead-eyed soldier blankly pulling the trigger to brutally murder a fellow comrade, who himself was programmed not even to care about it, to the onlooking Chinese, Russian, and North Korean panel behind, is a scene that will leave a person affected.

I’ve wondered, if it gave people other ideas about the US military, as well. Perhaps it is others, such as the numerous films which depict wave after wave of soldiers allowing themselves to be mowed down senselessly at the commands of inept leaders. Perhaps it is just that most people can’t fathom putting themselves in any sort of risk, so the only rationale they can produce is to assume that the military, people they don’t associate with and of whom none of them understand, could only put themselves in that position because they are having their strings pulled. Of course, maybe it is just people attempting to get back at the guys their girlfriends are really thinking about at night through the use psychologically vague insults to make incontrovertible attacks on the intelligence of others, desperate grabs at regaining their own sense of self-worth.

Who knows, but anyone who has been there, and knows how hard it is to field a band of Lance Corporals eager to avoid the working party to sweep out the motor pool parking lot, knows that Marines are not brainwashed into mindless service. On a more serious note, if you’ve been in the field, you also know that the American military isn’t one to just blindly charge into the killing fields knowing their orders were wrong (that’s a Charge of the Light Brigade reference for those fans of military literature.) Frankly, the longer you serve, your odds of telling some new officer that he has no clue what he is doing grow exponentially… until finally, on that day during Land Nav…

The point is, we in the military aren’t brainwashed into mental servitude to some master class of aristocratic officers or the evil government. Think about it for a moment. Even considering the fact that we have been in conflict for fourteen years, we a much smaller force than you think. Budgetary cutbacks and efficiency requirements have made us a much leaner force of warriors. Yeah, there are still inefficiencies, but given the prevalence of troops engaged in conflicts across the world and the reduced strength of forces, the warriors of today are forced to carry more of a burden, on few shoulders than ever before. What this means is that troops need to be thinking machines. They need to have more leadership and decision making power pushed lower and lower down on the totem pole. This isn’t a new thing, but a continuing process since the evolution of modern warfare began in World War II. Since that point, we’ve seen the power of the battalion shift to the power of the platoon in Vietnam, down to independent squads in Iraq and Afghanistan and continuing to transition to the “teams” of Special Forces operators. Eventually, given the interconnected battlefield that has been one of the focuses of DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the force of today’s Marine Corps squad could be pushed down to the level of a single Marine in the field.

A future like that will require troops who are intelligent and independent. They are going to need to be capable of leading themselves and to react on their own motivation and insights with thousands of split second decisions and no time to relay to a higher command. You simply can’t program a human to be able to react with the diversity of action that will be required in tomorrow’s conflicts. Brainwashing doesn’t work, today or at any other time in history.

I’m writing this prompted by a previous article on indoctrination and conditioning that takes place in Marine Corps boot camp. I described the methods of mental conditioning which are used for recruits and why this isn’t brainwashing, as well as why the military actually can’t afford to have brainwashed individuals running around making our combat decisions for us. The Marine Corps has branded itself as being masters of the art of breaking down the civilian, individualistic nature of an 18 year old kid, rebuilding it and refining him into a warrior capable of engaging men in battle. To do this, there are thousands of imperceptible practices that happen in boot camp that are engineered to change how recruits perceive the world in high stress environments, and how they act on that new information. When a lot of people read that, they translate it as a series of euphemisms that are just clever ways of saying, “brainwashed.” Far too many people relate boot camp to brainwashing. That’s a very inappropriate word to describe what is going on to recruits. Remember that Drill Instructors are not scientists in lab coats performing experiments on children to turn them into killers. Nor are they Islamic State recruiters, wooing potential recruits online then turning to threats of murder and their families annihilation to force their new soldiers’ compliance. They were all once recruits, too.

Brainwashing is the forced removal of will. Clinically, it is defined as a theoretical indoctrination process which results in

“an impairment of autonomy, an inability to think independently, and a disruption of beliefs and affiliations. In this context, brainwashing refers to the involuntary reeducation of basic beliefs and values”.[1]

In an interview for Vox, Steven Hassan—a former member of the Moonies and author of Combating Cult Mind Control discusses the subject of Brainwashing.

Brainwashing was coined in the 1950s about communist indoctrination.  Patty Hearst, for example, was kidnapped out of her apartment, put in a closet, raped, and tortured. She became a member of the Symbionese Liberation Army. She was what I’d call brainwashed, in the sense that, initially, she would have never gone with these people—she was taken by force and quite brutally assaulted.

Brainwashing is a form of conditioning that takes away a person’s ability to perceive and act according to their logical processes. It doesn’t build on those logical processes; it limits them. It is a form of mind control, is always done to reform someone’s thoughts and actions, and are always done against their will.

The conditioning of the Marines, and other similar military training, doesn’t do that. They don’t brainwash as part of their training and conditioning programs. The military doesn’t want to produce robots in places where it needs thinking,  rational minds that can problem solve their way through obstacles, challenges, and against an enemy who is actively trying to kill them, one which is also fully aware. It needs Modern military training doesn’t remove logical thinking processes they have. Instead, it removes barriers to thinking that minds who have not had the training lack, along with the understanding of how it differs from their perception of what brainwashing is. It eliminates the sort of fear that causes humans to collapse in the face of stress. They do this through educating future troops on the risks and dangers, as well as the means available to them to minimize these risks and dangers… like killing them. It, however, preserves the sense of fear to provide rational caution to real threats. Brainwashing could produce fearless warriors, but fear in the correct dosage is a good thing. Maintaining a rational warrior will win far more battles than sending in a human drone. Modern training, rather than programming a human to not sense fear, inoculated them to it, by giving them confidence in their own skills as well as experience in experiencing fear in controlled environments. People become used to stress, so stress doesn’t affect them like it does for other people. This allows them to perform at the best of their ability, using their full cognitive capabilities, and their full reason under dangerous situations.

That isn’t to say that military conditioning doesn’t compare to mind-control. The truth is that many people make the causal connection between mind control and military conditioning because there is a great deal of psychological sophistication involved in the training military members endure. Lt. Col Dave Grossman, a former West Point psychology professor, Professor of Military Science, and US Army Ranger, speaks at length in his book On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society: on the subject of various psychological processes that take place in various military training programs, some with aims of preserving their warriors sense of self and capabilities, others wishing only to produce a force of psychopaths.

The training methods militaries use are brutalization, classical conditioning, operant conditioning, and role modeling.

Brutalization and desensitization are what happen at boot camp. From the moment you step off the bus you are physically and verbally abused: countless pushups, endless hours at attention or running with heavy loads, while carefully trained professionals take turns screaming at you. Your head is shaved, you are herded together naked and dressed alike, losing all individuality. This brutalization is designed to break down your existing mores and norms, and to accept a new set of values that embrace destruction, violence, and death as a way of life. In the end, you are desensitized to violence and accept it as a normal and essential survival skill in your brutal new world.

Classical conditioning is like the famous case of Pavlov’s dogs you learned about in Psychology 101: The dogs learned to associate the ringing of the bell with food, and, once conditioned, the dogs could not hear the bell without salivating.

The Japanese were masters at using classical conditioning with their soldiers. Early in World War II, Chinese prisoners were placed in a ditch on their knees with their hands bound behind them. And one by one, a select few Japanese soldiers would go into the ditch and bayonet “their” prisoner to death. This is a horrific way to kill another human being. Up on the bank, countless other young soldiers would cheer them on in their violence. Comparatively few soldiers actually killed in these situations, but by making the others watch and cheer, the Japanese were able to use these kinds of atrocities to classically condition a very large audience to associate pleasure with human death and suffering. Immediately afterwards, the soldiers who had been spectators were treated to sake, the best meal they had had in months, and so-called comfort girls. The result? They learned to associate committing violent acts with pleasure.

The Japanese found these kinds of techniques to be extraordinarily effective at quickly enabling very large numbers of soldiers to commit atrocities in the years to come. Operant conditioning (which we will look at shortly) teaches you to kill, but classical conditioning is a subtle but powerful mechanism that teaches you to like it.

The third method the military uses is operant conditioning, a very powerful procedure of stimulus-response, stimulus-response. A benign example is the use of flight simulators to train pilots. An airline pilot in training sits in front of a flight simulator for endless hours; when a particular warning light goes on, he is taught to react in a certain way. When another warning light goes on, a different reaction is required. Stimulus-response, stimulus-response, stimulus-response. One day the pilot is actually flying a jumbo jet; the plane is going down, and 300 people are screaming behind him. He is wetting his seat cushion, and he is scared out of his wits; but he does the right thing. Why? Because he has been conditioned to respond reflexively to this particular crisis.

When people are frightened or angry, they will do what they have been conditioned to do. In fire drills, children learn to file out of the school in orderly fashion. One day there is a real fire, and they are frightened out of their wits; but they do exactly what they have been conditioned to do, and it saves their lives.

The military and law enforcement community have made killing a conditioned response. This has substantially raised the firing rate on the modern battlefield. Whereas infantry training in World War II used bull’s-eye targets, now soldiers learn to fire at realistic, man-shaped silhouettes that pop into their field of view. That is the stimulus. The trainees have only a split second to engage the target. The conditioned response is to shoot the target, and then it drops. Stimulus-response, stimulus-response, stimulus-response: soldiers or police officers experience hundreds of repetitions. Later, when soldiers are on the battlefield or a police officer is walking a beat and somebody pops up with a gun, they will shoot reflexively and shoot to kill. We know that 75 to 80 percent of the shooting on the modern battlefield is the result of this kind of stimulus-response training.

These methods of conditioning do seek to rewrite the way that a prospective warrior handles himself on the battlefield, but if you’ll notice, one of these isn’t used in the United States military. That being classical conditioning. There are no programs that I am aware of that seek to utilize classical conditioning to rewrite an American warrior’s basic sensation around a desire for violence. If there was a true thing called “brainwashing” it would be classical conditioning, as displayed by Pavlov’s dog and in media such as the Clockwork Orange or the Manchurian Candidate. As Grossman stated “Operant conditioning teaches you to kill, but classical conditioning is a subtle but powerful mechanism that teaches you to like it.”

I’ll also make this point, when many people see terms like “brutalization” they imagine recruits fresh out of high school tied in chairs being beaten by drill instructors with brass knuckles and bamboo shoots while watching old war movies or images of terrorists. This is wrong thinking as well. Boot camp is, as it should be, a place where young men and women are, for like the first times in their lives, introduced to ideas about the brutality that takes place in war as if it were a science. There the history of conflict is depicted to be studied analytically and the arts of war practiced as matter of course. The recruits themselves aren’t physically brutalized, but they are made aware of the brutality of war and are prepared for that.

That’s why I say that the training isn’t brainwashing. Brainwashing removes a part of ourselves and changes fundamentally what we value on deep psychological levels. It can even be used to transition a reasonable human to one who loves violence and killing by associating it with pleasures such as drink and sex. It is the pervasive and deceptive way of rewriting a human into something else. Boot camp isn’t this. It doesn’t removing anything. It helps a person deal with fear, but it doesn’t remove a person’s ability to deal with other situations reasonably. It doesn’t make you look at your wife differently and it doesn’t make you decide who to vote for. It does give you an increased reaction time to threats, sometimes and instinctive reaction time, but it doesn’t make you want to kill people.

This also explains why military recruits aren’t dangerous or broken human beings for life. There has actually been a lot of studies, once again, at least for America, that have show that average military veterans are much less likely to be the culprit of a violent actions and to become successful members of a community after they leave the service. That is, if they are given the chance. They haven’t lost their reasonable capabilities; they’ve gained the ability to deal with problems that others can’t.


Continue to Summary – The EGA and What it Takes to Make a Warrior

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The Crucible – On Endurance Training

Among the many training elements that recruits must endure, the greatest obstacle they all must face is one of immense endurance, pushing their physical and mental stamina well beyond anything most of them could have endured before the Marine Corps. This is the “The Crucible”. Everything they have suffered up to this point is needed to push themselves through this final training exercise. By enduring long hikes like this, recruits are trained to overcome pain and fatigue, and to learn how to endure the long haul missions requiring stamina, endurance, and fortitude, rather than the short burst of energy, bravado, and couragousness that are the stuff of movies.

The Crucible, the last of these training evolutions in boot camp, consisting of a three day march totaling around 60 miles. Recruits sleep around four hours per night (if they don’t also have the unfortunate task of fire watch, which most will at some point).  They have been functioning on perhaps two meals over the last three days, not to mention numerous stops to do obstacle course workouts, mock battle simulations, and carrying a huge amount of extra gear and equipment. The entire ordeal is also made all the worse by carrying massive packs with all the recruit’s gear and supplies. This isn’t to mention body armor. In total the recruit will be carrying around 70 extra pounds with him on this journey. The Crucible ends with a climactic day-long final march up a mountain named “The Reaper”, and 10 miles downhill before returning to their barracks, completing the grueling exercise.

The hike sets out before dawn. You’ve been awake for hours and with the first hint of sunlight, you are off on this final exercise. By this time the recruits have been in training for the last few months and are all physically in shape enough for the Crucible’s challenges. Even well rested, it would still be difficult. They, however, are exhausted beyond belief by the beginning of that third day.  Given the ordeal of the last few days, the Crucible is an event that goes beyond physical strength. Mental toughness is what is being pushed here. All the mental trials and training, the pushing, and discipline of Drill Instructors were leading up to a point to test whether the recruit is ready to lead himself. It takes fortitude and a desire to not give up and to not lose face in front of the other recruits, as well as to lose what little respect you have from the Drill Instructors.

There are moments throughout the climb, and even worse on the descent, where you wonder if you will be able to keep going. I for one learned that, even under these conditions, you can still run carrying all this equipment for more than a few hundred yards even while you’re sporting the worst cramp in your leg you’ve ever had. The pain doesn’t actually stop your body from working, you just keep moving and somehow the pain will go away just as fast as if you stopped and cried about it. This mental training is necessary as it will give them the strength to survive much harder and longer training once they reach the fleet, and missions that will test them physically and mentally.

In the end, you’ll be making that hike alone. You might be surrounded, but when it comes to putting one foot in front of the other, you are utterly alone and dependent only on yourself to do it. It will really just be you battling against the constant desire to quit, to give up, or to find a way to escape. This makes you think. You think back on the workouts, the endless IT sessions, the sleepless nights, and all the things you have already overcome. Remembering what it was like with your face was in a sand pit, the last time you did one of these hikes, or the numerous times you’ve conquered the O-course, you’re reminded of your own capacity. Each of these were a reminder of the capabilities you have and are each a piece of providing efficacy towards your belief in your ability to complete today’s long march.

Secondly, when you look around you, all the other recruits are still engaged in the task. It’s much harder to fail when others around you are still going, especially being that these are your friends and peers who you have grown close to and respect. What you don’t know, is that at the same time you are looking to them to keep going, many of them are struggling just as much, looking at you to stay strong, as well. Each of you has the same stone faced determination, which says to all the others, “I got this.” That man is no different than you. If he can do it, I can do it. I find it amazing that when two people who would likely fail a venture on their own, set out together, there is a mutual spirit that carries them to the end of the goal.

Lastly, you learn to celebrate the little victories. You’ll say things like, “Just over that hill” and visually calculate the halfway point, picking some random rock in the middle, and then perhaps some other random rock between that. You focus on just that rock, getting closer and closer until you pass it. A little victory. The little victories add up and push you onward, until you see the barracks in the distance. Now you are counting down until you reach the place you’ve learned to think of as home, and now you have a big victory, one that you will drive you for the rest of your life. Some psychologists would call this compartmentalization, breaking large problems down into more manageable chunks, lessening the burden of fear and creating challenges, which one can be easily overcome on the way to actually impressive feats.

These three skills, ones no one explicitly taught, which can’t honestly be taught, are part of the mental toughness which all Marines require to survive boot camp and the trials they will face later on in their military career – Looking back at obstacles already conquered as a reflection of your strength, looking to your peers for motivation, and compartmentalizing problems to be better able to handle them. These skills one learns through the osmosis of Boot Camp. They are skills Marines will use for the rest of their lives, but which can’t truly be ingrained in a person until they’ve experienced the process by which mental toughness is forged. It will not be easy, but when they reach the top of the mountain, they will have completed the most important major obstacle and last right of passage to becoming a Marine.

Continue to Why Boot Camp Won’t “Brainwash” Recruits

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They are Called “Drill” Instructors for a Reason.

Act and Think as a Unit

Drill, or the endless marching about that is synonymous with military life, is part of the ancient traditions of martial culture that, in all honesty, have very little with getting people from place to place. Recruits drill endlessly. It seems like one of the greatest wastes of time ever conceived in an era of satellite guided munitions and 747 delivering us to Kuwait the same day we left California. For that reason, drill is one of the most overlooked elements of the Boot Camp process to nonveterans. Drill was a tool first recorded being utilized by the Greeks to maneuver large armies in necessarily tight formations to fight in close quarters. It was necessary as far back as our Civil War when formation fighting in pitched battles allowed the greatest use of the technology of the era. With the implementation of rifling and field artillery, the marching of formations of troops no longer made sense. With the advent of automated weapons, it’s practice was ended completely on battlefields. Drill, however, still lives on more so as a valuable learning aide for military practitioners, more so even than for being a time honored tradition.

Getting people where they are going isn’t really why we drill. It’s about conditioning a mind to think as a part of a team; to align to it. Drill is refined groupthink where an entire unit of eighty men or women are eventually trained to act in perfect unison. The movements are always performed the same way and at the same speed. The vocal commands of the Drill Instructor initiate, by that point, instinctive reactions in recruits. That is what “Drill” is about. It is the reason for the terms “Drill Sergeant” and “Drill Instructor”.

Secondly, drill still has relevance today by training Marines to focus on the instructions of their leader and to gain unison in their actions. This practice is instant obedience to orders, following instructions immediately without thought, persuasion, or other action. It also teaches the importance of individual action in teamwork. Individual recruits have to master their movements individually, and once coalesced, they achieve something much more powerful as a group. Drill is a sort of metaphor for many things the military hold important: unity of the group, following strong and experienced leaders, precision and excellence, and experiencing the feeling of shared success not achievable by individuals. It’s such an important metaphor that hundreds of hours are literally dedicated to little else, but learning how to walk – as a team.

That still doesn’t make it clear why all these things are rationally necessary today, so I’ll be clearer. When the overarching goal of boot camp is to train recruits to one day be able to function in extreme stress environments, overriding the fear response is the most important things you can do. There are two ways, realistically, to do this; you can train to the point of muscle memory, or you can train obedience. Muscle memory and learning to rely on your skills are good; that’s what gives efficacy in your abilities when you will need them, but even faith in yourself sometimes isn’t enough when you are truly afraid. Fighting gets to be much easier when you see leaders taking action. It’s also much easier to do your job when you’re given direction to do so. It’s basic psychology that the young crave direction when they aren’t sure of themselves. It’s much less known that there are proven experiments showing how simply giving a person an instruction from someone they perceive as being a leader, can be enough to help someone overcome fear and do what, alone, would be impossible for them.

Battle is an extreme example of this. Young combatants look to experienced leaders. More so than this, but battle doesn’t afford the normal democratic processes of debate and rigorous analysis to test out and vet if an idea is good or not. Quite honestly, there is no time, so often when dealing with situations on the ground, the only practical means of resolving a situation is to bank on the person who has the most experience and to do whatever he says immediately.

This is why the military invests so much into ensuring that your brain is hardwired to do just that, listen to the sound of experience and instruction as a default in moments of stress. It is an instinct that saves lives. As time goes on this instinct fades, but as it does, the individual’s experience grows. In time, they are the one with experience and able to lead the new recruits. It’s one of the cycles that works, but one which the civilian world has no comparison for. Why should they? It makes more sense to rationalize things out with charts and review panels when time is a luxury . In almost all military endeavors, this too is true. The military in many ways functions like a huge bureaucratic company.  Sometimes though the necessity to have a culture of people who can simply do what they are told immediately, is the difference between your people surviving or mission failure. For this reason alone, the entire culture of the Marines still devotes countless hours to the art of drill, when most reasoned arguments would argue against it.

Below are three videos I wanted to showcase various phases of recruit training evidenced by their precision in drill movement as a unit. This is a platoon of female recruits a few weeks from the end of their training. They are learning, but still have some time before they are perfected.

Below is a platoon preparing for what is called Final Drill. This is a performance review of their abilities to carry out drill as a platoon. It is one of the most important training events as a platoon and culminates the highest point to test unit cooperation and teamwork. Once again, these are 18 year old men fresh out of high school. There are 80 of them and they have learned to carry out actions involving several steps and intricate footwork… in perfect unison.

Finally, Final Drill.

Continue on to The Crucible – On Endurance Training

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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


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 Mad Men Makes You a Better Warrior



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.

Continue on to Learn to Act and Think as a Unit

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