When I signed up for the Marines in ’78, I had no clue what I was getting into. I just wanted to get out of my hometown. After a few minutes at bootcamp, I wanted to go back.
It was too late.
There was only way out now: 13 weeks through a humid, swampy, mosquito-infested chunk of Hell at Parris Island, S.C. – a God-forsaken place where tidal salt marshes breed habitats of pestiferous biting flies. The worst? Blood-sucking sand fleas.
Around 1 a.m., the bus carrying about 60 of us parked beside a platoon of yellow footprints at the recruit depot. We had barely stopped before a drill instructor (DI) stormed the bus. Outside, a squad of DIs prowled the footprints like a pack of pit bulls. We were hungry, sleep-deprived, and now – terrified.
Fear is the recruit’s first welcome to the Corps. Not because of some dumb DI power trip. Fear is serious business. It’s an ever-present reality in the superhuman dangers of war that must be cloned in a controlled environment so recruits learn how to deal with it. War requires you to act quickly, think clearly, and perform high-level physical feats despite the presence of extreme fear, extreme confusion, extreme chaos, and the specter of death.
So DIs would overload us with mental, emotional, and physical challenges to dig into what we were really made of. They had to. We were looking to be the best at Earth’s most brutal profession. Step One was to survive the time-worn crucible that forged some of history’s most lethal fighters. Beneath the DI’s bark was a dead serious mission: to find recruits with the “raw steel” that could be shaped into the kind of mettle that endures the maddening ferocities of war.
All others were weeded out.
For now, we were all “maggots” – vectors of ingrained habits that destroyed the kind of lethality and unit cohesion needed to win wars. DIs had a name for these habits: “civilian trash.” It didn’t matter where we came from, how rich or poor we were, country boy or city – once we stepped off that bus, the trash had to go. We were all the same now. Maggots. And we are all one color. Green.
“You have now entered Marine Corps Recruit Depot, Parris Island, South Carolina,” the drill instructor belted. “From now on, the last word out of your mouth will be sir. Is that understood?!”
We blurted smatterings of haphazard “yes-sirs.”
“I SAID IS THAT UNDERSTOOD?!!”
“YES, SIR!!!” Now in ear-shattering unison.
“GET OFF OF MY BUS!”
This cue unleashed the “pit bulls.” They barked us onto the footprints. They barked us in and out of the barbershop. And they barked us into “recruit receiving” where we dumped our civilian gear, for military gear.
This is about the time when a human stench assaulted your nostrils. DIs had a name for that, too: the smell of fear – a collective body odor secreted by Marine recruits fresh from the cushy culture of civilian life.
From Day One at bootcamp to my retirement 20 years later, the clockwork of the Corps’ fine-tuned machinery orbited around two simple things: Preparing for war (readiness), and winning wars. That’s it. This was the gyroscope that anchored us to the sacred purpose of our national existence.
Today, the highest performance in the brute physical demands of uncivilized combat falls second to the politics of gender equality, LGBT rights, and now, hunting down imaginary white supremacists in the name of race equity. Civilian trash. It’s a shame. It institutes division. Woke politicians know it. They don’t care. But they’ve done it anyway. Sound familiar?
More than anyone, the Obama Administration implemented the most consequential changes in U.S. military history – changes that deviates more towards rights and careerism than combat effectiveness. These are fake problems. We already had that stuff. I witnessed it for 20 years.
But in 2013, Obama’s defense secretary, Leon Panetta, lifted the ban on women serving in combat units. Marine Commandant General Joe Dunford implemented Panetta’s directive by integrating two infantry companies and, through a series of training exercises, matched them against existing all-male infantry units.
The results were predictable.
In 134 combat tasks, all-male units outperformed gender-integrated units in 69 percent of the tasks. Acceptable in peace. Deadly by combat standards. In 2015, Dunford requested that the Corps be exempted from the new policy. Navy Secretary Ray Mabus declined.
That was the same year the Army announced that two females had graduated from Army Ranger School. Journalist Susan Katz Keating, who covered the story for People magazine, discovered that Washington politicians put intense pressure on evaluators to graduate the women. Their performance, by combat standards, was disastrous. But Obama’s appointees didn’t care. They needed the Ranger fiction as proof that women were ready for combat roles. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter opened combat units to females four months later.
Before there was “Defund the Police,” there was “Defang the Military.”
It’s now gone far beyond women in infantry units. As former Army Captain James Hasson points out in his book “Stand Down” (2019), the mission to transform the culture of the military has produced “safe space” stickers on doors at the Naval Academy; officers apologizing for microaggressions against Air Force cadets; the Army being urged to end “hyper-masculinity”; PowerPoints on “male pregnancy”; and monitoring of social media accounts for evidence of white supremacy.
Male and female recruits will soon be required to train together at Parris Island, S.C. and Marine Corps Recruit Depot, San Diego. That’s thanks to the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act, the law that authorized the U.S. Space Force.
Robert H. Barrow Jr., Marine Commandant during my first tour, gave a sober warning to a Senate hearing in 1991 against emphasizing “equal rights” and careerism over combat effectiveness. Barrow commanded troops in large-scale conventional wars like WWII, Korea, and Vietnam – unlike the low-intensity conflicts against backward nations that we’ve grown used to.
“Exposure to combat, is not combat,” Barrow said. “Combat is finding, and closing with, and killing or capturing the enemy … It’s killing! That’s what it is. And it’s done in an environment that is as difficult as you can possibly imagine. Extremes of climate. Brutality. Death. Dying. It’s uncivilized! Women can’t do it.”
If America continues down this road, he said, “it would destroy the Marine Corps. Something no enemy has been able to do in over 200 years.”
They didn’t listen.
Barrow’s remarks should be mandatory listening.