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July 03, 2004

Parris Island Doc

In this week's New England Journal of Medicine, Dr. Pamela Grim discusses her experiences at Naval Hospital, Beaufort, Parris Island, South Carolina. She's a doctor but she's also part of the team that makes new Marines. It's an excellent read.

I realized my first morning here that the culture of the "Island" and the "grunts" is worlds away from my own. My first recruit-patient ? an 18-year-old with pilonoidal abscess ? shouted "Yes, Ma'am!" or "No, Ma'am!" whenever I asked him a question. When I was his age, I was out in the streets protesting against a war. Somehow, almost unnoticed, that war has become a long time ago. What did I know about war? About as much as these kids do, I guess.

Parents send recruits off and both are apprehensive. The parents deliver their children into the hands of the Marines and the recruits often pray during the weeks of boot camp for deliverance. It's a transformation. When my son came back from boot camp, he said that if all high school freshman were required to attend Marine Corps boot camp, the dropout rate would be almost nil.

Dr Grim goes on:

Marine basic training attempts to take a kid and turn him into a responsible, disciplined adult ? in 70 training days. And it works; you can actually see the transformation from the doorway. On day 1, the recruit is lounging on the gurney as if it were a settee; on day 64, he is a taut and toned junior jarhead sitting bolt upright, a cupped hand on each knee. From the very first day, I marveled. How was this possible?

Drill Instructors aren't immune from stress.

The DI is the catalyst that transforms recruits into Marines, and his job may have its own psychological sequelae. Recently, I saw a DI whose chief complaint was "I want to kill the recruits."

"We all want to kill the recruits," I said solicitously.

"No," he said, giving every word equally ponderous weight, "I. Want. To. Kill. The. Recruits." He buried his head in his hands. "Just send me back to Iraq. I didn't have any trouble with Iraq."

In order to earn the right to wear an Eagle, Globe and Anchor, there is a final hurdle. The Crucible tests the mettle of Marine recruits who have completed seventy-eight days of boot camp. Over a timespan of 54 hours, they march 40 miles while carrying 40-pound packs and wearing ammo pouches cartridge belts, and canteens. They overcome a series of obstacles through cooperation and collaboration. They endure increasingly demanding conditions while experiencing sleep deprivation and hunger. In the process, they are transformed into the few, the proud, the Marines. Recruits who are injured during this final test often suck it up and keep going - failure is not an option.

Oddly enough, we don't get too many injuries at this stage; most of the kids are smarter about dodging blows. What we do see are kids who are end-stage sick, with double pneumonia, grapefruit-size abscesses, appendicitis. These guys will do anything now to see this thing through. By this time, a recruit has become invested ? invested in making it with his fellow recruits, invested in proving the Third Hat wrong, invested in just getting the whole damn thing over with. One kid came in with fulminating Guillain?Barré ˇnd dropped out only when he became apneic.

The final stage of the Crucible, a nine-mile hike, is dedicated to the men of Easy Company who in 1944 fought their way to the top of Mount Suribachi on Iwo Jima and planted an American flag.

"Wear the Corps' emblem with pride and honor not only on your uniform but in your heart," these new Marines are told. "Remember once a Marine, always a Marine." Semper fi!

It's a great article and well worth reading.

Posted by Deb at July 3, 2004 09:08 AM


We've got another graduation to watch 21July I believe. How I love to watch those "recruits" on that parade deck become "boots". Graduation is the only thing better than a front row seat on the bridge for nighttime live fire exercises! :-o

I am always amazed at the diversity of the crowd and how pride is not limited to social class or standing. I have more in common with the nice Marine Mom that works the checkout at Wal*Mart than I do my own neighbors that believe my son is wasting his life. Six houses down is another Marine family and we hadn't even known each other before the boys went into the Corps. Funny how that works!

The Pride, the Swagger, the Totally Different young man than the one that left home!

Semper Fidelis!

Posted by: JarheadDad at July 3, 2004 07:01 PM