MARINE CORPS RECRUIT DEPOT PARRIS ISLAND, S.C. -- For one day at least, 54 civilian leaders became members of one of the nation's most elite corps of military men and women - the United States Marine Corps.
From the moment members of the DoD-sponsored Joint Civilian Orientation Conference - JCOC 69 - arrived here early April 27, they were treated like every other raw recruit. Standing in the famous "yellow footprints" that mark the beginning of the induction process, they came face to face with a drill instructor who taught them in quick order how to articulate "Yes, Sir," "No, Sir," and "Aye, Sir," at the top of their lungs.
The group then proceeded through receiving and processing. The first stop was the barbershop, where three JCOC participants volunteered for a buzz cut and didn't even flinch when a solo inductee - not part of the group - watched his shoulder-length locks hit the barbershop floor.
Then it was time to get suited up. Each male and female participant was marched - double time - through the sizing-up process, handed a set of Marine fatigues, boots, socks, T-shirt, belt, buckle, cap and bag and turned out for a day of basic training.
After viewing a short video and getting camouflage face paint and enough bug repellant to ward off the famed Parris Island mosquitoes and sand fleas, the group set out to learn what basic training is all about.
Parris Island is the birthplace of trained Marines. Recruits at this main depot are from the eastern half of the United States. Recruits learn the core Marine values of honor, courage and commitment and undergo 12 weeks of intensive training. About 19,000 recruits are trained here each year.
Basic training culminates in the Crucible, 54 hours that form the final, extreme test in the rite of passage from recruit to Marine. Parris Island commander, Brig. Gen. Richard Tyron, called it "a defining moment." "The transformation is incredible; the change, forever," he said of The Crucible.
The JCOC group observed two of the four events that comprise the Crucible. They also could actively participate in training activities. They quickly entered into both the spirit and the reality of events.
The first event was a 47-foot tower where recruits were conducting rappelling. Over half of the 54 JCOC participants - men and women - elected to rappel down the tower under the watchful eyes of instructors.
Toni Fillip, a St. Louis police captain, was among those who dared to step backward off the tower. "I'm 56 years old," she said, "and I wanted to see what I could do. I've always loved a challenge, I'm always looking for new ones, and so I did it."
Asked to describe how she felt after accomplishing the feat she replied, "wonderful and exhilarated. It was an adrenaline rush."
The JCOC group watched as recruits in day two of the Crucible tested their skills in a combat assault environment, moving through dangerous areas, climbing over walls and under concertina wire, amid simulated mortar and machine-gun "enemy" fire.
They watched as Crucible recruits charged and pounded each other with pugil sticks -- thick wooden poles with padded ends -- in a ring filled with mulch and surrounded by rubber tires. Four JCOC participants tested their own prowess with the sticks.
As the day went on, the JCOC group was served a lunch of MREs - meals ready to eat -- and were oriented on both the M-16A2 service rifle and the M-9, 9mm pistol. The firearms training took place in an indoor facility that can simulate almost any outdoor condition, including wind and rain, and even a jammed weapon. Later, participants went to an outdoor range where they had the opportunity to step into a bunker and fire at targets up to 500 feet away with live ammunition.
As they finished up their day in the life of Marine boot camp, Tryon told them, "You have now been to Parris Island. You have touched the fabric of the Marine Corps. This is where it starts, where we transform recruits into Marines."
"They know when they get through this," Tryon said of newly minted Marines, "that graduation is not a destination but a milestone in a journey. Whether that journey lasts four years or 40 years, it will make them better Marines and better citizens."
"On your journey across this country," the recruit depot commander told the JCOC participants, "you will see a broad array of military service, each an arrow in the quiver of our national defense. Take it back to your communities. Tell everyone you meet what you've seen and what you have experienced."
"You can now speak with authority," he added.
Paul Foster, president and chief executive officer of Western Refining Co. of El Paso, Texas, described his Parris Island day as "awesome."
"You always hear about kids going through boot camp. Now I realize how significant it is. It was impressive," he said. "A life-changing experience."
JCOC is a weeklong, multi-service orientation program for civilian public-opinion leaders. Participants attend Pentagon briefings by senior leaders and travel to military installations throughout DoD to observe exercises and participate in military training.