MARINE BARRACKS WASHINGTON -- Decked out in their dress uniforms, there are a select few who march in-step with a snap-and-pop precision that can be heard across a football field. They perform their duties in rain, sleet or snow without question and have a ceremonial bearing that rivals any staring-contest champion.
Within one year of graduating from the School of Infantry, these Marines have been shaped and molded to act as the face of the Marine Corps; a task which has taken hundreds of hours of preparation, hands-on instruction and practical application. In short, they represent the epitome of Marine Corps drill.
For more than seventy years, Marine Barracks Washington’s Silent Drill Platoon has dazzled crowds and dignitaries with their acrobatic drill-movements. However, hundreds of tourists still visit the Marine Corps War Memorial each Tuesday during parade season to see why numerous individuals regard the Silent Drill Platoon as one of the premiere military drilling organizations around the globe.
Between commitments around the National Capital Region, the Silent Drill Platoon spends around 140 days on the road each year showcasing their skills for all to see.
“Everyone gets a little nervous during their first performance, but the amount of training we receive eliminates most of it,” said Lance Cpl. Ryan Wiley, assistant drill master and a 20-year-old Forrest Grove, Md. “You just go out and do the best you can. I’m more nervous performing for my platoon leaders than in front of a full football stadium.”
Each performance has hundreds of movements, so in a show where continuity is key, one mistake can cause catastrophe. Not every performance is perfect, but don’t expect to see a break in their concentration when something unexpected happens.
“I broke the handle grip during one show, so I had to hold it at my side,” said Sgt. Tim Maurer, former drill master and 23-year-old Fairhope, Ala., native. “I’m sure someone noticed, but since I didn’t lose my ceremonial composure, for all they knew it was part of the show.”
With all of the responsibility they are charged with, some people might be surprised to find out each member is on their first enlistment and most of the organization runs on the non-commissioned officer level.
“Sometimes I feel that all of my duties have been taken care of for me,” said Staff Sgt. Bryan Duprey, platoon sergeant and former member of the Silent Drill Platoon. “I pass word and give them the opportunity to take care of it themselves. I don’t have to force anything, because they’re the type of Marines who are driven to do their best in all things.”
Before there is an increase in re-enlistments or volunteers for drill-duty, know that there are more prerequisites to enter the ranks of the Marching 24. Members of the Silent Drill Platoon must have an infantry-based military occupation and meet certain height and weight standards.
If Marines pass those requirements and complete the rest of the screening process, they’re sent to Marine Barracks Washington for a two-year ceremonial tour as a marcher. Then, if the Marines feel they have what it takes, they can request to become part of the drill team.
The current drill master for the Silent Drill Platoon caught one of their performances while he was going through the School of Infantry and hasn’t looked back since.
“When I saw their discipline and precision I told myself I wanted to be a part of that,” said Sgt. Jeff Kopp, a 22-year-old Clinton, Iowa native. “It’s pretty awe-inspiring to step on the same field and continue this tradition.”
Dozens of Marines are taught the necessary movements to make the Corps’ elite drill team each year, but only a handful have what it takes to enter the 24-man platoon. This is a fact seen firsthand by instructors at Silent Drill School in Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, Ariz., where they select only one out of every three drill hopefuls.
“It was pretty intense,” said Lance Cpl. Daniel Anderson, a 19-year-old Dwight Ill., native. “Ten to 12 hours of drill each day definitely takes a toll on the body.”
After Marines graduate from the four-month drill school, they’re sent back to Marine Barracks Washington where they continue to hone their marching movements before stepping on any parade deck and performing in front of a live audience. Specific techniques were taught to help Marines perform each movement, but the methods for remembering their school instruction differ per individual.
“Everyone has their own tricks of the trade,” said Maurer. “It comes down to consistent repetition. Once you have everything memorized, you relax and focus on the movements.”
Though their rifles are unloaded and bayonets unsharpened, members of the Silent Drill Platoon do face certain dangers while practicing or performing.
“Every now and then someone busts their head on a butt stock or gets sliced open by a bayonet,” said Cpl. Chad Olerud, a 22-year-old Huron, S.D., native. “I have a few staples in my head from a spinning incident during inspection team practice.”
It’s these spin movements that cause the most trouble for new members, according to several Marines with the Silent Drill Platoon.
“There’s an initial fear that you’re going to hit yourself,” said Anderson. “But after you do hit yourself a few times, you say screw it and just letting the weapon go where it needs to.”
Once they attain drill-perfection, the Silent Drill Platoon performs on parade fields all over the world. But it’s not just about hitting the movements without making any mistakes; it’s also about looking and acting the part as well. The Silent Drill Platoon spends hundreds of dollars of their own money on cleaning gear, dry cleaning and refurbishing their medals and buttons throughout each parade season.
“We go through gloves constantly,” said Copp. “You usually need a new pair after five or six shows because they become unserviceable.”
Between rifle-spins and battle formations, the Silent Drill Platoon polishes up on their infantry skills at the Marine Corps Combat Development Command in Quantico, Va.
“One of our primary missions is to prepare our Marines for the operating forces, so we try to get them in the field whenever we can to hone their warfighting skills,” said Col. Terry Lockard, commanding officer of Marine Barracks Washington and a 51-year-old Ashville, Ohio native. “We’re not just about looking pretty”
Performing for VIPs, instructing newly assigned Marines, visiting countries across the pond; whatever the item on their agenda, it can usually be thrown into three categories.
“If we’re not drilling or traveling, we’re training,” said Maurer.
But don’t think that these Marines have the best of both worlds by spending most of their time out of an office. Traveling for a third of the year can take its toll on anyone. Then there is the matter of having orders to a non-deployable unit. However, all negative items included, there isn’t one member of the Silent Drill Platoon who regrets their drill-decision.
“You’re only a first-termer once, so the opportunity to be here is very rare,” said Kopp. “It gets tiring living out of a garment bag on the road, and there are times when I wish I was out in Iraq or Afghanistan with the guys I went to school with, but right now I’m happy with where I’m at.”
For more parade or historical information on the Silent Drill Platoon, visit www.mbw.usmc.mil.