To a Marine Corps drill instructor, this creed is more than just words. It’s a creed all drill instructors must live by and use as the standard to which they perform their duties. They are entrusted with the challenging mission of transforming civilians into a reflection of themselves -- tough, combat-ready and professional soldiers of the sea.
“The creed mirrors everything a drill instructor stands for,” said Staff Sgt. Bakhit McBride, squad instructor, Drill Instructor School, Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego. “It was written by drill instructors for drill instructors and it was written for a reason. Drill instructors are a walking, breathing embodiment of everything that is right.”
Drill instructor candidates are carefully screened and must meet certain criteria in order to be eligible. Along with physical and medical requirements, potential drill instructors must be recommended by their command to stand the demanding duty. Once a Marine is determined to be eligible, they report to Drill Instructor School, where they must prove they have the maturity, drive and most importantly, leadership skills required to make Marines.
“The drill instructor is one of the first Marines a recruit meets. He’s the man who’s going to mentor them and challenge them for 13 weeks” said 1st Sgt. Sean P. Farrow, first sergeant, DI School, MCRD San Diego. “Our job (at DI School) is to produce the best example of a Marine a recruit will ever see.”
Throughout 57 training days, DI School squad instructors lead Marines through a physically and mentally demanding curriculum. These squad instructors are seasoned drill instructors who have completed multiple successful cycles on the drill field.
Of all the topics squad instructors cover with the students, leadership is highly emphasized. While DI School students are noncommissioned officers and many are combat-hardened leaders, they must open their minds to a new form of leadership.
“Leading Marines and leading recruits are two different things,” said Master Sgt. Jason E. Jenks, academics chief, DI School, MCRD San Diego. “We can’t forget who these recruits are – they are patriotic volunteers who want to be us. They’re someone’s son and they want to be part of something greater than themselves.”
In order to understand the complexity of creating Marines, students must understand that recruits come from different walks of life, morals and values. They learn about the many challenges they will face and how to overcome difficult situations, and the many tools at their disposal that they must be aware of in order to consistently train recruits with fairness and dignity. Squad instructors share their personal experiences with the students to prepare them for what lies ahead after they graduate the course.
“Whatever experience we have is transformed into a tool they can use to be successful. Our goal is to help them be more successful drill instructors than we were,” said McBride.
DI School fosters an environment which encourages open-discussion among the students and instructors. Many classes involve recruit training scenarios where students are afforded the opportunity to discuss how they would correct a given deficiency, and their course of action is critiqued by the instructor.
Along with many hours of drill, physical training and leadership training, students spend more than 51 hours learning depot regulations and Standard Operating Procedures or SOP. These regulations outline controls and policies set in place to make recruit training as safe and efficient as possible. Every drill instructor must know what they can and can’t do in order to ensure their authority is not being misused.
“Leadership may not be black and white, but our SOP isn’t. There is no deviation from the rules,” said Farrow. “It’s been proven over many years that you can make a great product simply by being demanding, holding recruits accountable and following the SOP. Deviance from the SOP and misconduct of any kind is not tolerated.”
The day-to-day curriculum tests the students’ understanding of these regulations, as well as their judgment and decision-making ability. Squad instructors are highly trained and qualified to evaluate the students’ performance and identify students who wouldn’t make the cut as a drill instructor.
“Students are given every opportunity to correct deficiencies – they are counseled and mentored and hopefully they get back on the right path,” said Jenks. “But if any student shows that they lack the maturity and responsibility expected of a DI, they will not graduate.”
One of the biggest lessons they must learn as leaders is that every action they take must serve a purpose. For example, one of the most basic acts a drill instructor must perform is to create controlled chaos for the recruits to enable them to learn how to operate effectively under stress. They must also learn how to properly apply Incentive Training, where recruits perform exercises to a level of exhaustion. It is used as a tool to correct deficiencies so recruits are less likely to make the same mistake twice.
“The drill instructor creed says ‘I will train them to the best of my ability,” said McBride. “That alone explains what is expected of a drill instructor. Everything we do, we do it for a reason. We can’t sell the recruits short, and that’s what we teach them here since day one.”
McBride emphasized the importance of making the students understand their role as drill instructors.
“Yelling is probably the easiest and most effortless part of being a drill instructor. The hard part is the instructor portion of drill instructor, and that’s what we want them to take away,” said McBride. “You’re a teacher, a coach, a mentor. Take every person that has ever influenced you in your life and roll them into one – that’s what a drill instructor is.”
While drill instructor duty is known for being a demanding job, squad instructors ensure all future drill instructors understand the influence they have on hundreds of recruit they’ll encounter and that he serves a cause much bigger than himself.
“It’s not the duty belt or the campaign cover that make a drill instructor,” said Jenks. “It’s what’s inside of us as Marines
that sets us apart; it’s our core values that we’ll never compromise. The future of our Corps is in their hands and it’s
something that can’t be taken lightly.”