View Full Version : The few, the proud, the smart, the moral

08-22-02, 02:58 PM
At least that's what the Marine Corps is looking for. Its solution: Toughen boot camp
"This could get ugly," says Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Todd Harlow, eyeing an unruly gang that he can't identify as hostile or friendly. He and a fellow marine survey the terrain, determine the best approach and then move in on the target: a group of five kids huddled around a video game in a mall in suburban Baltimore. Harlow and his colleague are recruiters wondering how it will go when they ask whether any of the kids is interested in joining the Marines. The appearance of the slouching teenagers, outfitted in full baggy regalia, does not augur a meeting of the minds on the virtues of good order and discipline.

As the marines approach, three of the kids quickly disappear without saying much. But two of them linger--seemingly pleased by the attention. "What have you been doing with yourself?" asks Cpl. John Fields, poised and muscular. "Just trying to hang in there," comes a mumbled reply. The other kid asks Sergeant Harlow if his GED degree is good enough to join the Marines. Probably not, says Harlow. "It shows you've already quit at something." The encounter ends with an unspoken understanding: Neither of the kids is fit to be a marine.

Brain and brawn. Two decades ago, the Marine Corps accepted nearly all comers, figuring boot camp would whip anybody into shape. But Marine strategy and planning have been undergoing a sweeping transformation since the end of the cold war. Instead of focusing mainly on scenarios calling for brute-force battalions storming a beach, the Marines are preparing for more delicate operations requiring discretion and careful orchestration. From the top down, the Marine Corps now emphasizes what Commandant Charles Krulak calls, in deliberately muscular phraseology, "intellectual agility."

Planners foresee battles in which individual marines, communicating with each other by computer, may be so spread out they can't even see each other, and will have to make rapid decisions on their own. Ambiguous situations like peacekeeping operations in which friends and foes often look alike will require a savvy unneeded in the past. The Marines' experience in Somalia provided real-world lessons: In one incident, an unidentified tank was sighted as it was taking aim at a Marine compound. The young commander at the scene could have ordered the vehicle destroyed, but he held off. Eventually, a group of kids climbed out. The tank had been abandoned outside the compound, and the kids had climbed inside to play.

But while the Marine Corps's planners may be moving quickly to cope with a fuzzy world, American society isn't. The same long-term trends that worry educators and employers--rising crime, growing numbers of single-parent families, falling test scores and fading values--are making the few and the proud much harder to come by. Those trends may already be leaching from society into the corps. Some field commanders have been pressured recently to reduce the number of marines washing out before their term of enlistment is up.

Faced with a reduction of qualified applicants, many institutions would relax their standards. The Marine Corps is raising its. This week, recruits at the San Diego and Parris Island, S.C., training centers who have already survived 10 weeks of boot camp will begin Crucible Week, a kind of attempt at instruction by exhaustion. Instructors will rouse recruits from bed on four hours of sleep and run them through field exercises on just one good meal a day. The trainees will have to carry a "wounded" buddy through a mile-long obstacle course and navigate swampy terrain in the dark.

Each exercise is designed to reinforce lessons the recruits may not have learned at home: the values of teamwork, sacrifice, commitment and the ability to solve problems not covered in the manual.

Damaged goods. The Marine Corps has long cultivated an ethos of pride and toughness that sets it apart from society at large. Yet most of its enlistees are heavily affected by the very trends the Marines are battling. Most recruits are "empty vessels" or "damaged goods," says Maj. Matt Cicchinelli, commander of the Baltimore recruiting station. Most lack the money or the inclination to go to college. Their expectations following high school tend to be grandiose. "A lot of the kids are going to be rap stars," Cicchinelli dryly observes. Before long, however, enlisted pay of $895 a month sounds pretty good.

The biggest hurdle is passing an SAT-style aptitude test, a minimum requirement for joining. During two days in November at a recruiting center in Towson, Md., eight kids who took a sample test averaged a score of 25. Passing is 31, and scores of 50 or higher are preferred. One 19-year-old who squeaked by with a 35 couldn't sound out the word "copier" when a recruiter asked him to read a passage from a Marine manual. That applicant may have been plenty qualified to charge a hill 20 years ago, but Master Sgt. Mark Holman sent the 19-year-old back to the discount store where he's working.

Recruiters say they're equally frustrated by the lack of values they encounter. A recent Marine paper on cultural indicators outlined some of the concerns: Seventy-six percent of teenagers admit to cheating on tests and homework; only 44 percent think older people should be respected. The Marines worry mainly that the self-interest and dismissive attitude reflected in such trends will undermine the cohesion required to fight effectively.

Marine recruiters now spend up to a year drilling new enlistees on the importance of values before they're shipped off to basic training. One recruit who hopes to attend boot camp after finishing his senior year next May passed all his screening tests before he remembered to mention a little problem: a charge for possession of marijuana, awaiting arbitration. It was a good example of the "values" problem at work; not only the recruit but his parents complained that the Marines overreacted to the incident and to his long delay in fessing up. "They say it's no big deal. Well, it is a big deal," says a frustrated Holman. "You wonder if the kid is just a product of poor training, where no one taught him right from wrong, or if he's a stone-cold liar." The recruit was ultimately cleared of the charges. But some of his friends weren't, and the Marines continued to question him about hanging out with bad company.

With the future of warfare still foggy, it could be several years before it's clear if the new approach works. Many of the new indoctrination tactics, however, were derived from proven training programs for elite units like Navy SEALs. And the Marines have long demonstrated a unique ability to blend a macho ethic with a sensitivity toward character, says Charles Moskos, a sociologist at Northwestern University who studies the military. "Ultimately, the military reflects the society it protects," he says. "But it has to keep up some safeguards."




09-15-02, 09:56 AM
Wow that was very interesting reading...:idea: