Making the Corps : 61 Men Came to Paris Island to Become Marines, Not All of Them Made It
The United States Marine Corps, with its proud tradition of excellence in combat, its hallowed rituals, and its unbending code of honor, is part of the fabric of American myth. Making the Corps visits the front lines of boot camp in Parris Island, South Carolina. Here, old values are stripped away and new Marine Corps values are forged. Bestselling author Thomas E. Ricks follows these men from their hometowns, through boot camp and into their first year as Marines. As three fierce drill instructors fight a battle for the hearts and minds of this unforgettable group of young men, a larger picture emerges, brilliantly painted, of the growing gulf that divides the military from the rest of America. Included in this edition is an all-new afterword from the author that examines the war in Iraq through the lens of the Marines from Platoon 3086, giving readers an on-the-ground view of the conflict from those who know it best
Journalist Ricks first became fascinated by the Marines in 1992, when he lived among them during an assignment to cover U.S. troops in Somalia. Noting that he himself was ill-prepared for life in that distant equatorial land, Ricks was deeply impressed by the Marines' remarkable deportment. At one point, Ricks, Pentagon correspondent for the Wall Street Journal, was safely led through a night combat zone by a 22-year-old corporal. "In my office back in Washington," Ricks writes, "we wouldn't let a twenty-two-year-old run the copying machine without adult supervision." Intrigued by the differences between Marines and civilians, Ricks later attached himself to a single Marine training platoon and followed its members from boot camp through their first year of life in the Corps. The result is more than just a carefully drawn portrait of how this legendary service shapes men into troops. Ricks finds a powerful morality within Marine culture, and juxtaposes it against the relative chaos of civilian society as seen through the eyes of recruits like the young pacifist who nearly fails training only to blossom just before graduation. Qualities that the Marines value highly�loyalty and discipline�are shown to be the building blocks of the social structure underpinning the formidable fighting force. This is a work that puts contemporary American culture�with all its "skaters, skins, punks, and junkies"�on trial and finds that "discipline" should no longer be a dirty word, even among nonleathernecks. (Nov.) -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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October 01, 1998
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Excerpt from Making the Corps by Thomas E. Ricks
From Chapter 3, Training
The end of Week Three brings the actual tests.
Physical testing, held on a dewy field near the Third Battalion on the morning of March 22nd, is predictable. Gary Moore Jr. looks unhappy. At the other end of the platoon, Andrew Lee, in his usual Terminator mode, burns through ninety-nine sit-ups in two minutes and then does thirty pull-ups. "Every time we did PT, I wanted to be Lee," Jumal Flow will later say. "He went through the obstacle course with a smile. He was just hard."
Sergeant Carey runs three miles in eighteen minutes, forty seconds, ahead of all but three members of the platoon. Standing at the finish line to exhort those who follow, Sergeant Carey congratulates a recruit who stumbles across the line, staggers to the grass, drops to his knees and vomits. "That's the effort we're looking for," he says. "But don't eat so much breakfast." He stands in the middle of the ring of recruits walking to cool off and instructs with his personal mantra. "You got to test yourself everyday. If you don't test yourself, that day is wasted." By the time they graduate, they will be able to recite those sentences word for word, no matter if they are so bushed they can't remember how to count off. They also will grow accustomed to another of his admonitions, one they hear as he gives them extra PT on the quarterdeck, as if bestowing a present rather than punishment: "Pain is just weakness leaving the body."
The minimum performance in today's physical test is three pull-ups, forty sit-ups, and three miles in twenty-eight minutes. The platoon averages ten pull-ups, sixty-six sit-ups, and a run time of 23.30. That totals to an average PT score of 188, out of a possible 300. "That's pretty good," says Staff Sergeant Rowland, nodding at Sergeant Carey as if to remind him that not everyone is Force Recon. But there are two failures. One is a recent pickup named Stephen Torchia, who did only two pull-ups and also failed the run by half a minute. The drill instructors distrust his attitude and have been waiting for an opportunity to move him on. And Shawn Bone, a cautious black college student from Birmingham, Alabama, came in dead last in the run, at 28.39. A "WNOD" -- that is, "Written Notice of Deficiency" -- is placed in his file, but he isn't dropped.
Sergeant Carey marches the platoon back to the barracks for a shower. "Nice and easy," he yells in cadence with the march. The platoon shouts back: "Nice and slow!"
But after he takes them to the mess hall for noon chow, the heavy hat paces uneasily. The inspection of uniforms, rifles, and appearance looms, and he is more troubled by the prospect than are his unwary recruits. He knows something they don't: they will be inspected by Sergeant Humphrey, a DI from 3085 who became Sergeant Carey's friend at drill instructors school. The two men are intensely competitive with each other. "It's a good thing they didn't put the two of us with the same platoon, 'cause we'd burn it out," says Sergeant Carey. "Me and Humphrey, we're action guys." That is a euphemism for being a hard-charging in-your-face, Type Triple-A Marine NCO. This is not good news for Platoon 3086.
Conscious of their impending doom, Sergeant Carey works after chow to clean up his recruits. "I want you to get those stinkin' gas masks out of the footlocker NOW. Ten, nine, eight, seven,..." After a weak "Aye, sir," he cracks the verbal whip: "I don't like that little monotone belligerent attitude," he says. "I'll take you to the freaking pits." Those are the giant sand boxes just outside the barracks windows in which recruits suspected of recalcitrance are made to run -- a taxing effort in the deep, squishy sand -- and then do push-ups, offering their faces and forearms to the eager jaws of the thousands of sand fleas that thrive in the boxes.
Charging up and down the line through the barracks, Sergeant Carey pulls a hanging thread -- what the Marines call an "Irish pennant" -- from the starched camouflage uniform of Tony Wells, a twenty-five-year-old recruit who came here from a Du Pont chemical factory near Rocky Mount, North Carolina. "You accept substandard performance," shouts the agitated DI. "That's why America will fall one day, just like the Roman Empire. But not me, understand? BUT NOT ME!"
At 2:19, Doom himself appears at the end of the barracks: Sergeant Humphrey, a black fireplug of a man from Columbia, South Carolina, with arms so muscled they appear difficult to bend. He conducts the inspection with the heated language of an evangelist running a revival. But he dismisses the failures with the cold heart of a soldier machine-gunning a charging enemy. He begins with Recruit Shelton, who appears almost cocky. "You're lazy," he hisses in a voice that sounds like it carries a poisonous sting. "Did you clean that rifle?