Parris Island Instructors Mold Recruits Into Marines

8 Nov 2004 | Mr. Gerry J. Gilmore

Marine recruits headed for Parris know they won't be seeing the Eiffel Tower or experience
romantic strolls along the Seine River.

Instead, those young men and women will challenge themselves as never before during 12 weeks of grueling, gut-check Marine training at Parris Island.

Tucked away near the Atlantic coast in southeastern South Carolina, Parris Island is just that: an island surrounded by waterways and marshland. A recruit training facility since 1915, the base used a ferry system to transport troops and supplies until 1929, when a bridge was built to connect it to the mainland.

That history is part of the mystique of the Corps, which celebrates its 229th birthday on Nov. 10. And Marine Corps history and traditions motivate Staff Sgt. Matthew M. James, who at age 30 is one of the 500 or so drill instructors who introduce about 18,000 recruits a year to their new lives at Parris Island. Recruits from west of the Mississippi River go to San Diego for boot camp; those who enlist east of the Mississippi go to Parris Island.

James, a Riverside, Calif., native, joined the Marines at age 17, he said, "to get a new way of life." James quickly learned of the Marines' tradition of teamwork when he first spoke with a recruiter.

James recalled that he'd asked the recruiter what the Marine Corps could do for him. The recruiter, he said, was taken aback, and then asked James what he could do for the Marine Corps.

At that moment, James said, he realized the Marine Corps offered something special. The Marine Corps, he said, "made me realize to be responsible for my actions."

Now, after 13 years in the Corps, James is, in his words, "a maker of Marines" at Parris Island's 2nd Recruit Training Battalion. After having served a year and a half as a drill instructor, he observed that many recruits seem to "need somebody to mentor them, somebody they can look up to as a positive role model."

Becoming a successful Marine, James explained, requires "a deep sense of pride in what you're doing" and "in just being a Marine."

James said drill instructors work up to 120 hours a week teaching recruits marching drills, rifle marksmanship, hand-to-hand combat moves, and myriad other military skills during the 12 weeks of training. The job of teaching recruits, he noted, takes patience and professionalism.

The most difficult challenges of his job occur during the first few weeks of boot camp, James said, when he strives "to get recruits to grab the concept of teamwork" and to convince them "to accept responsibility for their actions."

The payoff for his labors, James pointed out, occurs on graduation day, when he sees his recruits become Marines.

James believes his former charges greatly benefit from their Marine training, even if they just spend a few years in the Corps.

"You're going to come out better," James asserted, "because of the discipline and because of the title of 'Marine' itself."

The Marines are the only armed service that still trains its female recruits separately from the men. At Parris Island, the women are trained at the 4th Recruit Training Battalion.

Sgt. Walquiria Tamm, 26, said she joined the Marines eight and a half years ago "to do something different" with her life. The Paterson, N.J., native said she volunteered for drill instructor duty to have a hand in molding new Marines.

Women are prohibited from serving as infantry, but, Tamm noted, "there are many other ways that females can serve and help the mission of the Marine Corps."

Tamm said some recruits arrive at Parris Island with a positive attitude. Others, she noted, require more work to instill a "passion and love for the Marine Corps."

Injuries are the major cause for recruits not to graduate with their group, Tamm said, noting most injured recruits will recover and graduate later on.

Successful recruits, she observed, exhibit self-discipline and are "committed" to complete the training.

However, not everyone is cut out to become a Marine, Tamm pointed out. Most female recruits who don't complete training because of reasons other than injury "lack maturity" and "aren't ready for the big change" in becoming a Marine.

Tamm said she strives to show recruits "that being a Marine is not only about wearing a uniform, it's about beliefs (and) a way of life."

Simply put, "there's a difference," she asserted, "in being a Marine and being a civilian."

Headquarters Marine Corps