April 25, 2005
Marines and self esteemIn December 2002, I watched with heart-swelling pride as my son was awarded the title of United States Marine after 12 weeks of boot camp. Just three months earlier, the young men who executed flawless precision as they passed the reviewing officer had been ordinary late-sleeping, back-talking, soda-drinking, fast-food junkies who lived for the moment with their stereos turned up and their cars accelerated to just over the legal limit. Now, they marched in unison, uniforms spotless, and each knowing beyond doubt that he was part of the finest fighting force in the world, and that the men in front, in back, and to each side would lay down their lives to protect him. And that he would do the same for them. That is the Corps. Try to find that ethos in the civilian world. Just try. So how did that transformation happen? Cassandra has this to say:
Interestingly, no one would accuse Marines of a lack of self-confidence. Yet from the moment a brand new recruit steps off the bus at Parris Island his sense of self is under full-scale assault. A good DI doesn't waste time building up a recruit's self-esteem. In fact, it's quite the opposite: everything that happens at boot camp convinces a recruit that there's nothing particularly special about him. He may come in there thinking he's pretty hot stuff, but they shave his head, take away his fancy sneakers and stylish jeans and issue him a funny-looking uniform that looks just like everyone else's. If he screws up, no one makes excuses for him. He gets yelled at as though he were a little kid. It can be humiliating at times. It's designed to be that way. But if he persists, if he keeps coming, if he hangs in there and he works with the team, he will eventually earn their respect and perhaps even the coveted approval of the drill instructor. And at the end of the line, there is The Crucible. Not some touchy-feely pajama party, where sensitive New Age metrosexuals sip Chardonnay and wallow in their insecurities as they affirm their dependence on each other, but an all-out, balls-to-the-wall ordeal where if he can hang in there, he just might earn the right to be called 'Marine'.
And that's something no amount psychotherapy can deliver. Self-reliance. You can see it in the way they walk: I can usually spot a Marine (even a retired one) a mile away. The carry themselves differently. There's a self-awareness, a calm, not-quite-cockiness in their bearing. At my son's police graduation I picked out the gentleman next to him in the lineup, for no particular reason, as a Marine. There was that indefinable something in his eyes. It stays with them all their lives, what they learned in Marine training. The discovery that in many ways, life is like an obstacle course. Many of these young men and women come from less than ideal circumstances. But no matter where they came from, they came to the Marine Corps because they were looking for something. And in recruit training, through challenge and adversity, they find the answer to a question, not outside, but deep within themselves. They find hidden reserves of strength and character they never knew they possessed. And they also find the enormous power that comes from voluntarily disciplining yourself, from working as part of a team. From not making excuses, or whining, or complaining, but simply adapting and moving on when life doesn't turn out the way you hoped it would. Many of them find God for the first time. No, no one would describe Marines as lacking in self-esteem. But it wasn't given to them. They earned it themselves. And perhaps that is the essential difference: what they earned for themselves, they know can never be taken away by life, or by other people.
Posted by Deb at April 25, 2005 04:31 PM
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Deb mentions a "pin" she wears...something special or an EGA?
I am a little quiet about my SSGT son because he's under the Marine Corps Education Program and going to school right now. He is "active." What has been doubly upsetting was his younger brother, my middle son decided to do the same thing, but has been at boot camp because of injuries...I worry, but I don't think I have much of a right too.
Posted by: L B at April 29, 2005 05:10 PM
My Son is a New Marine....thank you everyone at Parris Island...he left a confused kid, not sure of what he wanted or even needed out of life, but you sent home a self assured, disciplined man. God Bless all of you and God bless the United States Marine Corps
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