When they see their sons and daughters upon their graduation, parents say that they are changed and better people, instilled with values and discipline that they didn't pick up in 18 years, but have now learned in 13 weeks. One officer tells recruits convinced that their instructor hates them, "If that's so, how come you see him more than his children see him?" Perhaps the only closer bond recruits will make other than with their instructor is with their rifle -- "every Marine is a rifleman" is Marine Corps writ.
Those rifles are often wielded in close urban combat, as in Iraq. The recruits who will eventually go there are heartbreakingly young. Drill instructors talk of working the "baby fat" off them. It gives a terrible reality to the lists of dead in the newspapers, many of them 21 years old or younger. Every day here, the flag is lowered just before sunset to the doleful sound of "Taps," an occasion to remember the sacrifice of so many throughout the years and the sacrifice that will be made by some of the recruits here now.
Without this training, few would be willing to risk making that sacrifice, or know how to avoid making it by killing the enemy first. One recruit gets pulled aside to talk to a reporter late in his training. His face is smeared with camouflage paint, and he stands straight with his heels together, never cracking a smile. He is from New Jersey and explains, "Sept. 11 made this recruit angry." Twelve weeks ago, he was an ordinary kid, hanging around friends leading aimless lives. Not anymore: "This recruit will be proud to serve his country. This recruit will die for his country."