This is Part 3 of a multi-part written series on the firsthand experiences of 1stSgt Crouch at United States Marine Corps Drill Instructor School. For Part 2, Click Here.
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.
We were told prior to the first PT session that we were to always keep one of our ID tags safely pinned to our PT shorts. This allowed Squad Instructors to demand the tags from us whenever they identified any discrepancy in cover, alignment, instep, or volume of cadence singing. The Squad Instructors ran beside the platoon, often backwards, and were looking for any screw-up on our part. They would shout “GIVE ME YOUR PT TAG MARINE”.
At the end of the 2 ½ hour PT session, all students who had surrendered a PT tag had to earn it back by doing wind sprints and other exercises, which would add another 20 minutes of misery to our day. I only had to surrender my tag once. I was singing cadence in formation on a run when I inhaled a bug. In the brief couple steps it took to clear my throat, I had failed to sing loudly and therefore was accused of lacking motivation and endurance. Trying to explain yourself was only seen as belligerence or being argumentative and would serve no purpose other than to highlight yourself to the Squad Instructors.
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DI school during this era was eight weeks long. A couple years later it would be extended to 12 weeks. We were told there would be 20 personnel inspections of which 8 inspections would be scheduled and the remainder would be unscheduled. Inspections would be conducted at either the beginning of the first class in the morning or at the first class after lunch. For those 12 unscheduled inspections, which days and which part of the day was the big secret.
The standards were high. You had to have several uniforms ready at all times because you never knew what the uniform of the day was going to be. Frequently, the uniform of the day on the schedule was marked TBD (To Be Determined). Using the dry cleaners was not good enough. You had to press out the uniform to the standard set by the Squad Instructors.
School started daily at 0430 with roll call by our Squad Leaders and PT kicking off at 0515. School ended daily at 1800. Then it was several hours of uniform preparations and memorization of the drill manual and many other manuals that were being tested that week. Most students hit the rack around midnight or 0100. Since I lived in the local area I was not allowed to sleep in the open squad bay barracks directly across the street from DI school. Brown baggers, as we were called, were told we had to sleep at our house but we did have a wall locker in the recreation room that we had to use for storage of our uniforms. This was an added burden as it took 15 minutes to drive home and once at home there were the constant distractions of raising a family and being a spouse.
In later years the student barracks would be changed to real nice three-man room barracks about ¾ of a mile away. All students were required to sleep in the barracks regardless of whether they lived locally. During my eight weeks, I lived on about 2.5 – 4.5 hours of sleep daily. Sometimes I would still be up until 0200. Saturday and Sunday were our only days of rest and I would spend virtually all of it preparing for the next week.
Bonus points were given to those Marines who wore polished brass and spit-shined shoes. Being a nostalgic Marine and wanting to set the example, I opted for the bonus points. After all, I had been wearing polished brass and leather shoes for seven years. However, for each inspection I was getting dinged for my shoes and no bonus points for the polished brass. Not once did they ever ask if the brass was polished. I felt it was likely they had never seen such excellent brass and assumed it was gold anodized. I volunteered the information at the next inspection and I was chewed out for lack of military bearing and lost points for bearing and brass.
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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.
Then I was told that a special board would be convened to see if I had any potential to finish the school, as my poor performance on personnel inspections indicated I would likely fail the course before the end of the eight weeks.
I felt it was unfair. Very few of us Marines had the courage to try wearing polished brass, and by the fifth inspection only I and maybe two other Marines were still attempting the lofty goal of wearing polished leather and brass.
Having given up on my worthless Squad Instructor who was never available, I went to GYSGT Wiggins and asked for advice. His first reply was why I was not taking this up with my Squad Instructor and I told him GYSGT Kelly is never here. He looked at my brass and shoes and did not believe the brass was polished and had me remove my belt for closer inspection. He thought for certain it was gold anodized and as much said so. He was very impressed with the brass but said my shoes could use some work. He told me to take my shoes off and both he and GYSGT Marshall began polishing them.
GYSGT Wiggins: “You just stand there and watch, there are several methods to get a quality spit shine, you have to find out what works for you, we will show you our own techniques”.
What an important lesson I learned that day, be firm but fair. The same Marines who harassed me in the beginning were helping me. It was a lesson I never forgot: firm but fair. From that point forward, I never lost points for brass and leather and graduated DI school. I have this feeling GYSGT Wiggins said something to the other squad instructors regarding Crouch and inspections.
(For Part 4, Click Here)