On this section of the series explaining the rationale behind why boot camp is so intensive we will be talking about Receiving and the first few days of boot and why they are so crucial to the training that will follow. Receiving is a period before training begins. You arrive at boot camp, but for the first few days or so, you don’t actually train. Officially, boot camp hasn’t actually started. Functionally, receiving phase is necessary for little more than getting your paperwork taken care of. You just do paperwork getting into the federal documentation system. You will receive all your gear and start your initial process into “getting ready” for bootcamp. Of course, it’s the way you do all of this that is important. The fact that boot camp hasn’t actually started shouldn’t imply that recruits are relaxed, just waiting around, or playing Madden on the couch by any means. The entire time recruits are still hounded, hassled, yelled at, screamed at, hurried, stressed out, and berated for at least part of every inch of every step they take by inexplicably angry men standing around every corner. There’s more, though.
Later in that first night, a recruit will go through the numerous immediate rites of passage that are part of the boot camp, and more broadly, the Marine Corps and military experience all together. That first night provides recruits with the rather impactful physical transformation and uniformity that will be necessary later on to build unit integrity. The first of which, is when they get the haircuts.
Why is the haircut so important? To be completely honest, it is part of the erosion of individuality. What? Yes, the erosion of individuality. Sure, the official response is that the military haircut is to ensure that military member’s gas masks secure properly (which is true), but in the indoctrination phase, it is necessary for that other psychological reason, repression of individuality and the building of unit cohesion.
Why should a warrior lose his individuality? Individuality is what makes him special and unique, right? It is what makes him valuable, right? It’s what the modern American culture is based on! While this is true, in theory, it can also be a problem if you are trying to make an individual into a team oriented warrior.
Individuality makes recruits feel special and unique. It makes them feel different and as if they might be above someone or something else, say, like being dragged through mud or forced to march fifty miles in the span of three days with no food or rest. They are better than the orders they might receive. Individuality makes people feel that, in some indescribable way, they are better than other members of the platoon. They are too good for the treatment that is part of the boot camp experience and transformation. You wash that away with uniformly matching haircuts and attire, and that sense of individuality erodes away. From day one, everyone is the same. In fact, during my time, being called “an individual” was an insult as it meant that you were a person who couldn’t put the needs of the others before your own. Yes, individuality is repressed as they will spend the next three months dressed the same, act the same, and look the same. It’s an important part of the transition. Eventually, individuality is encouraged again, later on after boot camp, such as the School of Infantry or their Military Occupational Speciality Training. As NCO’s it will be a major part of their Corporal’s Courses and Sergeant’s Courses, with senior members eventually moving on staff colleges, where the importance of individual leadership is central to their training. The military doesn’t want robots, but for those first few months, and beginning in receiving, it’s important to put the unit first in the mind of recruits. The best way to do that is make them all look as close to identical as is possible.
Now we move on to something else very important and why I say that it is “psychological” retraining. You go through the next few days running from place to place, doing this, that, this, that and you won’t even realize… you haven’t really slept in three days. Yeah, you will go through about three days without sleep upon arrival. The whole time you are completely exhausted while running on adrenaline or fear, and hearing over and over, that you are inferior. That is, inferior to real Marines, which you aren’t yet. You haven’t earned the title, after all. You aren’t thinking about it, but those little jabs at your personal self-image are sinking in. You are completely tired and these things build up. Without realizing it, you start to believe that these things which are being told to you are true, that there is a weakness in you and that you are less than the perfect person you could be. In your current state, eventually, your mental defenses will be weakened to the point you embrace them and that you must change to live up to the obligation you have taken up.
I want to say something that should be important to you as the reader: The whole idea of getting people tired enough to accept subtle, but constant attacks on their psyche reads very much like brainwashing. Actually the clinical term would be classical and operant conditioning, but don’t worry about the fancy psychology jargon. The idea of it, brainwashing, conditioning, repression of individuality, mind games, or whatever you want to call it, scares a lot of people. They think about military, and especially the Marines, using all these tricks to kill the humans inside and turn our children into some sort of mindless killbots. That isn’t true, I’ll be doing a piece later on why boot camp training isn’t brainwashing, but for now, I will agree that the techniques are severe. They’re much more severe than the stress from test day at a university and much more so than day-to-day stress at a job. We have to remember the fundamental mission of boot camp.
You have to train 18 year olds to run to the sound of gunfire and perform under fire and the threat of death.
When you are constantly being told that you aren’t good enough to be in the Marines, and constantly being reminded that you aren’t ready war… it is true. No eighteen year old kid fresh out of high school is. There are many habits that kids and civilians have that need to be unlearned for success in a life where matters of life and death are literal. Like we said, they have to run into battle, and that sense of self-preservation is damaging to the mission, the other members of their team, and in a way that doesn’t lend itself very easily to reason, themselves. When any individual isn’t fully involved in the mission at hand, they create an environment that decreases the chance of any of them getting back home. College will never provide a normal person with that dilemma and why “mind games” aren’t necessary for the creation of a normal office going, suite and tie wearing individual.
At this point we are still less than one week into bootcamp. Once they’ve accepted, whether cognitively or not, that they aren’t ready to be in war… that’s when they are ready to begin training. The recruits are about to experience Training Day 1, known as Black Friday. After Receiving and over the next three months, the recruits will face exercising in endurance, training in the arts of war, and learn to act and think as a unit. These are some of the more important things that are trained, but they can only happen once a recruit fully embraces the fact that they aren’t yet a warrior.