We went inside the US Marine Corps' 13-week boot camp where recruits endure extreme physical and psychological tests

Business Insider 1 month ago
  • We got an inside look at the United States Marine Corps' intense 13-week basic training program
  • Senior video correspondent Graham Flanagan spent five days at the Marine Corps Recruit Training Depot in Parris Island, South Carolina, where he observed different companies at various stages of training.
  • The Marine Corps is the only US military branch that separates male and female recruits during basic training.
  • In a statement to Business Insider, a spokesperson from the Marine Corps Recruit Training Depot at Parris Island said, "The same gender platoon model allows for appropriate acclimation to the training environment, development of key relationships with drill instructors, and optimal focus during the beginning of their transformation."
  • After weeks of extreme physical and psychological challenges, training culminates with "The Crucible," a 54-hour event where recruits endure exhausting combat scenarios while running on minimal food and sleep.   
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

Following is a transcript of the video.

Drill instructor: Louder, louder! You're not screaming at me! I can't hear you, [unintelligible].

Recruit: Aye, aye, sir! Aye, aye, sir! Aye, aye, sir! Aye, aye, sir!

Narrator: This is Marine Corps boot camp in Parris Island, South Carolina. Before they become United States Marines, all recruits have to graduate from the Marine Corps' 13-week basic training program, which tests them physically and psychologically.

Drill instructor: No one feels sorry for you!

Ty Kopke: It's a pressure cooker for 12 weeks under the pressure of an intimidating drill instructor, someone that's putting you under the scrutiny of attention to detail every single day. And, to a certain degree, everything you do is never gonna be good enough.

Recruit: Everything at boot camp sucks. It's gonna hurt. It's gonna be painful, but it's only gonna hurt more if you look at it that way.

Drill instructor: Around, around, around!

Kopke: It's boot camp, and it's supposed to prepare you for the challenges that lie beyond.

Narrator: We spent five days at Parris Island, where we saw different companies at various stages of training.

Drill instructor: You will not run. You will walk. Get on the yellow footprints right now.

Recruits: Aye, sir.

Drill instructor: You will do what you're told to do, when you're told to do it, and without question. Do you understand?

Recruits: Yes, sir.

Narrator: On day one of boot camp, new recruits arrive at the receiving barracks, where they take their first steps toward becoming Marines by walking through these silver hatches, symbolizing the threshold between the outside world and Parris Island.

Drill instructor: You will walk through these silver hatches once and never again. Do you understand?

Recruits: Aye, sir!

Narrator: Once inside, recruits are processed and assigned to their platoons.

Drill instructor: Put it up! Recruit: Yes, ma'am.

Drill instructor: I know you were told not to come with your hair down. Put it up in a bun. In a bun, bun, bun, bun, move faster.

Recruit: Aye, ma'am. Aye, ma'am.

Narrator: After graduation, Marines commit to a minimum of four years of service. Upon entering the Corps, an entry-level private will earn around $20,000 a year.

Drill instructor: Sit down.

Recruit: Yes, sir.

Narrator: Recruits are required to make a phone call to a family member or their recruiter to let them know they've arrived.

Recruit: This is recruit Hatcher. I have arrived safely at Parris Island. Please do not send any food or bulky items to me in the mail.

Narrator: They're only allowed to read the script printed for them inside the phone bank.

Recruit: I will contact you in seven to nine days by letter with my new address. Thank you for your support. Goodbye for now.

Drill instructor: Get in the classroom.

Recruits: Aye, sir.

Narrator: Recruits are given three chances to get someone on the line.

Recruit: Sir, my recruiter's not answering, sir.

Drill instructor: Call him again.

Narrator: Not every recruit is able to make a connection.

Drill instructor: If there is no answer, hang it up and close it.

Recruit: Aye, sir.

Narrator: But they won't have long to dwell on it. The Marine Corps Recruit Depot in Parris Island sits on 8,000 acres of the South Carolina Lowcountry. It's one of two enlisted recruit depots in the United States. The other is in San Diego, where only male recruits are trained. Around 20,000 recruits graduate from Parris Island every year before joining the more than 180,000 Marines actively serving today.

Kopke: We take young men and women from all walks of life, all cultures, maybe they were rich, maybe they were poor, they've got different religious backgrounds, they are the melting pot of America. And they come here with one common goal, and that's to be a United States Marine.

Clip: Parris Island, South Carolina. Here, everyday Americans become Marines, the toughest fighting men in the world.

Narrator: Male recruits have been trained at Parris Island since 1915. Female recruits began to train there in 1949. Today, females comprise under 25% of recruits at Parris Island and approximately 8% of the United States Marine Corps, the lowest percentage of any United States military branch. A recruit's day begins before the sun comes up. Their typical wake-up call is 0400, or 4 a.m. Recruits endure an intense series of physical challenges.

Drill instructor: Four, three, am I hearing that right? Four, three?

Recruit: Yes, sir.

Drill instructor: Fail!

Narrator: Some recruits arrive in better shape than others.

Kopke: Some never did anything more than sit on a couch, you know, as a couch potato. And some may have been collegiate athletes. So there's a vast spread of what their athletic fitness and ability is.

Recruit: Aye, sir.

Narrator: Much of their training happens here, in Leatherneck Square, where a series of intimidating obstacles comprise the confidence course.

Drill instructor: No, I'm tired of watching you freaking fail. You failed this event. Nope, just grab your canteens and go, you failed this event.

Recruit: May this recruit have one more try, sir?

Drill instructor: What did I just say?

Recruit: Aye, sir.

Drill instructor: What'd I just say?

Recruit: Aye, sir!

Drill instructor: Go!

Recruit: Aye, sir.

Kopke: The training program is progressive in nature. It starts out in a crawl, walk, run approach, throughout training. 99.9% of those that get here can complete all those requirements at the end of training, regardless of how they started.

Recruit: I'm slipping, please, please help. I don't want to do this.

Drill instructor: You're fine.

Recruit: No, I'm not, please.

Drill instructor: Good lord, son.

Narrator: Any recruit with a fear of heights gets the chance to conquer that fear, courtesy of this 47-foot-tall tower. Recruits must rappel down using two different methods.

Recruit: For me, the rappel tower was hard 'cause I sort of had a fear of heights.

Drill instructor: Grab hold of my right hand with your right hand.

Recruit: You have to trust a rope, so there's nothing to be worried about. You'll be safe all the time.

Recruit: Can you please help me?

Drill instructor: I'm trying to help you, son.

Recruit: I don't wanna go down.

Narrator: Recruits with a phobia of heights have little choice but to face their fear. One of the most dreaded parts of training is the gas chamber.

Drill instructor: Crush, crush, crush, crush.

Narrator: Where recruits are exposed to CS gas, more commonly known as tear gas. Once the recruits enter the chamber, they break the seals of their gas masks.

Recruit: You go in. You feel it instantly hit your skin. You just feel burning.

Drill instructor: Say something to me, now.

Recruit: Feels like those few minutes felt like an hour.

Narrator: After around five minutes, the recruits are free. But the pain endures.

Recruit: Definitely, you thank God for fresh air. It's really nice to be able to breathe in and not feel an instant burning sensation.

Antonio Garay: Gas chamber's important because it builds confidence. Confidence in the gear, confidence in the drill instructors, and then confidence in themselves.

Narrator: Recruits are trained in different styles of hand-to-hand combat.

Drill instructor: First thing we wanna see is that straight thrust, you understand?

Recruits: Yes, sir.

Drill instructor: Or that butt stroke. Scream aye, sir.

Recruits: Aye, sir.

Narrator: A key aspect of their martial arts training is fighting with pugil sticks.

Drill instructor: You kill that opponent, you understand? Recruits: Aye, aye, sir!

Narrator: The pugil stick techniques are intended to mirror those used in combat while using a bayonet.

Darrin Hill: Here in the Marine Corps we have kind of a little ditty that means red is dead. So, that red side, it's supposed to emulate the actual knife portion of the actual bayonet mounted on the weapon. So anything that you strike with that red tip, nine times out of 10, are either gonna be incapacitated or laid to rest. Honestly, it gives them an opportunity to blow off a little steam. They have a lot of pent-up aggression, especially towards, maybe, their drill instructors. They're out there, they're actually doing what they feel like they signed up to do, which is learn how to combat the enemy.

Narrator: Recruits also practice with actual bayonets.

Recruit: Marine Corps, Marine Corps, Marine Corps, Marine Corps.

Drill instructor: Fight back, you!

Narrator: And engage in other types of hand-to-hand combat.

Drill instructor: Grab the muzzle.

Recruits: Freeze, get back, get back.

Narrator: Although male and female recruits do intersect during training, platoons are separated by gender. And although the Recruit Depot has experimented with integration before, the Marine Corps is the only military branch that separates male and female recruits during basic training.

According to the Corps, every Marine is first and foremost a rifleman. Recruits spend the bulk of two weeks devoted to marksmanship... the first of which sees few shots actually fired.

Jonathan Gilbert: First off is the fundamentals. They have to understand how to aim. They have to understand exactly how to breathe when they're taking that shot. They have to understand exactly how to squeeze the trigger and how to have follow-through and recovery with the rifle.

Kopke: Combat operations is the foundation for every single Marine, regardless of what your occupation is. What it is to sit behind a rifle, look down that barrel, and be able to put lead on target.

Recruits: Aye, sir.

Drill instructor: You are going to swim until you pass that ladder.

Recruits: Aye, sir.

Narrator: The Marine Corps is defined as an amphibious warfare force. Therefore, swimming plays a key role in training. During swim week, recruits go through numerous exercises in the pool while wearing their camouflage uniforms. But training at Parris Island isn't all physical. Recruits also spend long hours in the classroom. But what may seem like downtime...

Drill instructor: Push, push, push. Can end at any moment when a drill instructor decides to order an impromptu cardio session. At Parris Island, it's what known as getting slayed.

Recruit: It's an experience. You realize the thing you done to get in the sandpit, and then you realize, OK, that hurt, so let's not do that again.

Recruit: Physically, it hurts, but me, personally, I never worried about the pain I was feeling in my body; it was more thinking about the mistake I made and how I need to correct it the next time.

Kopke: So, there's gonna be some chaos. Because, when they come here, we wanna tear them down a little bit. And then we wanna bring them back up into the mold of what it is to be a United States Marine.

Narrator: Recruit training culminates in an event known as the Crucible. Over the course of 54 hours, with minimal sleep and food, recruits must endure realistic combat scenarios. The sounds of gunfire and shelling are played over loudspeakers mounted in the training area. Recruits are forced to work together to overcome obstacles and achieve objectives that require problem-solving and strategy.

Drill instructor: You gotta start all over.

Recruits: Aye, sir.

Narrator: This is what we saw on the second day. The recruits had become exhausted and irritable.

Recruit: Catchers ready?

Recruits: Ready!

Recruit: Jumping.

Recruits: Jump away.

Recruit: Just jump. Jump.

Drill instructor: You're not even jumping.

Recruit: Aye, sir.

Drill instructor: You're just falling down.

Recruit: Aye, sir.

Recruit: You know, you go through a really rough time. You just start thinking, man, like, it's hot, I'm thirsty, my arms haven't felt this bad in my whole life.

Recruit: We're halfway there, come on.

Recruit: You just keep looking at the person to the left and right of you, like, well, he's doing it. I gotta keep going. Like, I'm not gonna let him do it on his own. So there's no reason not to push.

Narrator: Once the Crucible is complete, these recruits officially become Marines. The day before graduation, friends and family see their new Marines for the first time in more than three months.

Kopke: Families that come down for graduation day that haven't seen their son or daughter in about three months immediately notice not only a physical but an intangible difference. When they walk across that parade deck on training day 70 and they graduate, they're no longer recruits; they're Marines.

Narrator: Meanwhile, in the barracks of Lima Company:

Drill instructor: I'm talking to you.

Recruit: Aye, sir.

Drill instructor: All those wrinkles right here, get all that trash out.

Recruit: Aye, sir.

Narrator: Brand new recruits diligently square away their racks before being warmly welcomed by their senior drill instructor.

James Espinoza: Sit up straight and look at me. Our mission is to train each one of you to become a United States Marine. Discipline and spirit are the hallmarks of a Marine. We will give every effort to train you, even after some of you have given up on yourself. Starting now, you will treat me and all other Marines with the highest respect. Physical or verbal abuse by any Marine or recruit will not be tolerated. My drill instructors and I will be with you every day. Everywhere you go, you must give 100% of yourself at all times. Above all else, never quit or give up. We offer you the challenge of recruit training and the opportunity to earn the title United States Marine.

Recruits: Yes, sir.


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