SSGT NICHOLS - UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
Drill Instructor School
Posted by 1stSgt Crouch

This is a multi-part written series on the firsthand experiences of 1stSgt Crouch at United States Marine Corps Drill Instructor School.

1stSgt Crouch served in the United States Marine Corps for 23 years, including four years as a Drill Instructor at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island and two years as a Drill Instructor at Navy Officer Candidate School in Pensacola, Florida.

My first speculations of becoming a Marine Corps Drill Instructor began when I was about ten years old.  I was a big fan of Gomer Pyle and loved the role of Sergeant Carter played by Frank Sutton.  Then there were the stories my father would tell of his Drill Instructors from 1956 coupled with some great movies I stumbled across in my teens such as The DI, Tribes, and The Boy’s In Company C.

Sowing The Seeds

As a recruit I was in awe of the Drill Instructors, I wanted to be like them.  Later in my career I was selected to be on the drill platoon for an upcoming Commanding General Inspection.  GYSGT Thomas Dawson ran the drill platoon; he was fresh off the drill field and really knew how to motivate Marines.  After those two months of daily interaction with him I was hooked, and I solicited orders for the drill field.

I went and got my hair cut even though I had not received a confirmation of my request for orders to DI school.  I went from carrying a comb to a flat top.  My wife knew nothing of my desire to be a DI and was not impressed with the haircut; she looked at me like I was a stranger.  When I told her I had solicited orders to DI school, support from her was not something I got in return.  Unfortunately HQMC would not grant me my request until I served one more year in my new MOS.  I had attended a school for F/A-18 engine rebuilding the year prior and I was told to wait another year.  I spent the next year preparing for the physical challenges that I knew would be present at DI school.  It seems regardless of the preparation time available, it is never enough.

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Finally I Get My Orders

A year later, I got my wish and I was slated for Drill Instructor Class 1-87, which would start on October 13th, 1986.  The day before school, I was full of apprehensions and thought I would seek out some good advice from my neighbor who lived two houses down across the street.  In fact, on my block there were four Drill Instructors but I had never spoken to any of them.  They were rarely at home, but that day I noticed the one who lived closest to me was in his driveway washing his car.  I began my trek to introduce myself and seek advice.  As I reached the halfway point I felt this strong intuition to turn around and go back to the house, something just did not seem right plus I did not want to feel like an insecure wimp.

My orders instructed me to report to DI school at 0700.  Knowing the Marine Corps doctrine of always be fifteen minutes early I decided to be twenty minutes early.  As I neared the steps, I heard complete chaos from the school instructors.  They were chewing some butt on some of my fellow students who thought they would be super early too.  I halted in my steps and skedaddled to the shadows of a nearby tree until it was about 13 minutes before start time.

There were ten Drill Instructors at the school and students by the droves were marching in.  I was fortunate to get through and into the large classroom without being noticed.  Those who waited until the five-minute mark to show up got reamed real good.  You could hear several Drill Instructors ripping them apart for being so damn lazy, showing up at the last minute.  Then there were those Marines who showed up with hair long enough to require a comb and worse yet were the few who wore a mustache.  Although there were no regulations prohibiting long hair or mustaches, it was common knowledge that Parris Island Drill Instructors had clean shaven faces and sported either a flat top or a high and tight.

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1stSgt Crouch was a Marine Corps Drill Instructor at Navy Officer Candidate School and wrote a book entitled “The Pressure Cooker: Forging Naval Officers Through Marine Leadership“. The purpose of the Marine Corps Drill Instructors at Navy OCS was different than at Parris Island or MCRD San Diego. At Navy OCS, the job of the Marines was to make the officer candidates WASH OUT. Attrition was the mission.

The Drill Instructors at OCS were usually Gunnery Sergeants on their 2nd or 3rd tour of duty as a Drill Instructor – already having been seasoned with 2-4 years experience as a DI. Click Here to get the book and read stories about Marine Corps Drill Instructors inflicting endless pain on officer candidates with the goal of making them quit.

It Starts

In all there would be 120 students of which only a few of us were volunteers. A clipboard was passed around and we were to indicate whether or not we were volunteers.  At that time in the Marine Corps, you had more to lose than gain by going to the drill field.  Incredibly long hours at work, sleeping in the office every 3rd or 4th day, no family life, high divorce rates, and being punished via the UCMJ for small infractions resulting in ruined or stagnated careers.  This seemed common knowledge to all Marines attending.

Marines understood one thing on the first day: life would no longer be the same as a Marine.  Any student who failed a test twice was dropped and sent back to their command with an adverse evaluation affecting retention and promotion.  All events required an 80% to pass.  You could also be dropped from the school for attitude or having lost too many points on personnel inspections at any time throughout the school.  The only safe way to squirm out of the hardship duty was to be found psychologically unfit or to be injured.  Of course to ensure that you did not scam the system, they would not give you the psychological evaluation until a week before graduation.  We were asked questions about our childhood, were we physically abused, our own boot camp experience (we train the way we were trained concept) and our own fist fighting experiences.  Then they would ask you hypothetical scenario-based questions “If a recruit were to cuss you out and spit on you, what would you do?” or “What would you do if a recruit punched you?” and other leading questions as such.  Of course we lied; we wanted the doctor to think we had complete control of our emotions.  Even those who hated the concept of being assigned DI duty involuntarily wanted to graduate at this point after all the hell they had been through.

Realizing How Close I Came To Screwing Up

After the first hour of administrative issues conducted by the S-1 Administration Chief, the school staff was introduced to us.  The Director of Drill Instructor School, First Sergeant, Chief Drill Instructor and the ten Squad Instructors.  Each Marine could have walked off any Marine Recruiting poster.  Their military bearing, fitness and intensity seemed legendary.  Then my heart sank.  The Drill Master was SSGT Eldon Brisbin. I recognized him as living on my block about four houses down, I passed his house every day, although we never spoke to one another.  Then GYSGT Stanley Wiggins was introduced.  He was the Marine who lived across the street from my house and to whom I was going to seek advice.  What a close call.  Seems that the good Lord is always looking out for me, and kept me from making an embarrassing error in judgment.

(For Part 2, Click Here)

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