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thedrifter
11-29-04, 01:29 PM
Surviving the shock
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By CHUCK CRUMBO
The State Staff Writer
Nov. 29, 2004

PARRIS ISLAND - Before he shipped out for boot camp, Alex Manns aimed to be an honor graduate. But now, only four days into training at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot, the 18-year-old graduate of Spring Valley High School was on the verge of washing out.

Manns, who signed up with his high school buddy, 19-year-old Gabe Faiivae, had grown weary of the drill instructors' yelling and complaints that he could do nothing right. Also, like all recruits, Manns was cut off from the outside world - no e-mails or phone calls from friends or family.

Full immersion into Marine Corps culture seemed to have shocked Manns, a commander said.

"(Recruit) Manns stated that he could not even make it through the day," Mike Company commander Capt. James Cole wrote in an e-mail to his boss.

But the Marines were not ready to give up on Manns.

Cole learned Manns had a close relationship with his recruiter, Staff Sgt. Jesse Ross.

Manns and Faiivae worked out with Ross in the mornings, running and doing push-ups, crunches and pull-ups to get in shape for boot camp. Ross also visited the recruits' homes, getting to know their families.

Ross is just eight years older than Manns, and Frances Manns said there was no doubt that her grandson looked up to the recruiter. "He was like a father to Alex."

Cole wanted to see if he could save Manns. So he decided to call Ross.

"Please get me off this island," Manns asked Ross.

"That's not an option," Ross answered.

It was Friday, and Ross could not make the 150-mile trip down to Beaufort. But he volunteered to come on Monday if Manns thought he could last two more days.

"Yeah, I think I can do that," Manns said.

Ross showed up Monday, bringing along his file on Manns. In it was a card listing Manns' reasons for joining the Marines and his goals for boot camp.

Manns agreed to stick it out.

"Boot camp takes self-discipline. It's hard," Ross said. "When it comes down to it, it's a matter of them believing in the Marine Corps."

Ross' visit "really turned this young man around," Cole said, in praising the recruiter's dedication.

Another thing that helped influence Manns' decision to stay: the first letters from home arrived.

Manns' reaction to boot camp is common, said series commander Capt. Walt Messick.

"Just about every recruit has their doubts, but once they get through the first or second week, things are looking up," Messick said.

In the third week of boot camp, the recruits make a trip to the Weapons and Field Training classroom and the "gas chamber."

The recruits learn how to strap on a gas mask. The exercise also is used as a confidence builder as recruits learn how their training can save their lives on the battlefield.

The gas used in the chamber, chlorobenzylidene malonitrile, is a nonlethal agent that is used by military and civilian police for riot control.

The tear gas also has some medicinal value to recruits battling head colds, claimed one of the trainers, Cpl. James Willard. When the gas is breathed in, it seeps into the sinus cavities, triggering the mucus glands into overdrive and ridding the head of the cold virus, he said.

"A good dose will knock it right of you," Willard said.

About 40 recruits file into the concrete block chamber as a drill instructor yells, "Let's go! Let's go!"

The recruits first break the seal of their mask, allowing them to breathe in some of the tear gas. Then, as they begin to cough and their eyes begin to tear, they put the mask back on.

They are instructed to break the seal again but, this time, put the mask on top of their head. The recruits' eyes are full of tears and the coughing gets worse. Some of the recruits feel that they have lost control and panic.

But there is no way out until the instructors say so. One of the drill instructors braces himself against the exit door to prevent a recruit from charging out, possibly setting off a stampede.

Upon exiting the gas chamber, the recruits spread their arms and start flapping to help dissipate the gas from their uniforms.

Tears flow, and mucus pours out of the recruits' noses and mouths.

Manns and his buddy, Faiivae, survive the exercise.

"This recruit was a little nervous before entering the chamber," Faiivae said afterward. "This recruit could feel something burning this recruit's skin"

Although he tried to hold his breath, Manns got a good whiff of the gas.

Keeping your head and following orders is key to surviving the chamber, Manns said. "This recruit tried not to get overexcited."

The gas chamber is one of four key tests a recruit must pass. The others are combat water survival, rifle range and physical fitness.

Three drill instructors are assigned to the Columbia recruits' platoon, No. 3096.

The senior drill instructor, Gunnery Sgt. Juan Miles, 34, has been at Parris Island for 2 years.

As the senior D.I., Miles gives most of the commands and orders. He also deals with personnel problems, making the final decision of who gets dropped from boot camp.

Sgt. Charles Latour, 24, is the second-ranking drill instructor or "heavy hat." He is the primary teacher, honing in on those who do not follow instructions for discipline.

The "third hat," Staff Sgt. Michael Hake, 31, recently re-enlisted.

Being the lowest on the D.I. seniority pole, Hake administers the physical discipline, known officially as IPT, or Incentive Physical Training. Unofficially, it is called "quarter-decking."

Incentive training consists of five exercises that take place either in "the pit," a big sandbox outside the barracks, or inside the squad bay.

The exercises - bends and thrusts, leg lifts, side lunges, mountain climbing, running in place, side straddle hops and push-ups - must be done as fast as possible. The discipline can be meted out to an individual, a group of recruits or the entire platoon.

All three drill instructors wear the distinctive brown, wide-brimmed campaign covers popularly known as "Smoky Bear" hats. But Miles is distinguished from the other two drill instructors by the black patent leather belt he wears, pulled tight at the waist. Latour and Hake wear green web belts.

Two of the strictest rules at Parris Island are that drill instructors cannot use profanity and cannot touch a recruit, except for safety reasons.

The rule is part of the fallout of the 1956 Ribbon Creek incident, when six Parris Island recruits drowned on a forced march into the swamp.

Although the drill instructor was court-martialed, the entire Marine Corps was put on trial for its past training practices, which some considered sadistic.

Today, recruits are told to report abuses. Messick's job - essentially to serve as a safety officer - was created in the aftermath of Ribbon Creek, when the Corps decided it needed someone to keep watch on the drill instructors.

Despite involving 80 to 100 hours of work a week, being a drill instructor is a coveted job in the Marine Corps. It can lead to future promotions and better assignments.

It is also one of the toughest jobs to land. Marines ages 22 to 37 with the rank of sergeant through gunnery sergeant are eligible for drill instructor duty. They also must rank in the top 10 percent of enlistees.

Any mistake, especially hitting a recruit, can wreck a drill instructor's career, possibly earning a ticket out of the Corps.

Drill instructors often scream right into the recruit's ear, like a dog barking after a car. After a few days of boot camp, some hoarse drill instructors are sucking on cough drops to soothe their swollen vocal cords.

The D.I.s issue commands and instructions in short sentences that sound like a machine-gun burst.

Most orders are followed by the question to recruits, "Do you understand?" Instead of a question, it sounds more like a command.

The recruits bark back, "Aye, sir."

Recruits double-time every movement as the drill instructors constantly shout, "Hurry up" or "Keep moving." And if the recruits are not moving fast enough, Miles or the other drill instructors will say sarcastically, "Any day now."

The yelling is so prevalent that Faiivae and Manns said they can hear drill instructors shouting orders in their dreams.

Manns once woke up ready to jump out his rack, or bunk. Then, he looked around and realized everyone else was asleep.

By week four, Faiivae and Manns have assumed leadership positions in the platoon.

Faiivae carries the platoon's guidon, or flag, a honor for the recruit whom the drill instructors have tabbed as the best performer.

Despite his rocky start, Manns has risen to squad leader - one of four in the platoon. When they march in formation, Manns is at the front, just behind Faiivae.

On Wednesday of the fourth week of boot camp, Faiivae leads the platoon to the base pool.

Combat water survival is more than swimming the length of the pool. Because they will spend a healthy portion of their Marine careers at sea, the recruits must learn how to abandon ship and survive in the ocean.

About 20 percent of the recruits fail the first time through the course, said Staff Sgt. Dennis Ranahan, the lead instructor.

"We get a lot of kids who have never been to a pool or body of water before," Ranahan said. "So they have never learned or needed to know how to swim."

The recruits are trained wearing the blouse and trousers of their uniforms; later instruction includes full combat gear, including a helmet and backpack.

On the first day, Faiivae and Manns learn they can turn their blouses into flotation devices by blowing air into a pocket fashioned from the material. Then, there is a lesson in how to abandon ship. They jump from a platform and cross their legs.

Getting past the swimming hurdle does not pose a problem for Faiivae and Manns.

With the gas chamber and swimming qualifications behind them, Faiivae and Manns are halfway through meeting the minimum requirements.

More importantly, the next phase promises to be more fun as they head to the firing range.

It also will be the most critical stretch in their training to become a Marine. That's because the Corps' mantra is "every Marine a rifleman."

Marines spend more time on the rifle range than any of the other three services. Insisting all Marines are riflemen also serves as an equalizer among the Corps. It is job of those with higher ranks is to support the rifleman - the Marine at the bottom.

Marines take pride in their ability to teach anyone how to shoot an M-16. Instructors prefer those who have never fired a gun instead of experienced shooters because they do not have to make the students break bad habits.

Although he had a number of BB guns and once fired his grandfather's .410 shotgun, Manns had less experience than Faiivae, who hunted with his father.

Manns, though, impressed his instructors. By the time the course is completed, he qualifies as an "expert," the highest distinction.

Faiivae, the experienced shooter, struggled.

"This recruit found it difficult to get comfortable in some of the positions," Faiivae said.

Faiivae failed to qualify in his first attempt and lost his job carrying the platoon's guidon, Cole said. But before the training is over, Faiivae qualifies as a marksman. More importantly, he continues to train with Platoon 3096 and his buddy Manns.

Had he not qualified, Faiivae would have been held back another two weeks or until he made the mark.

Although they had been training for two months, the toughest challenge for Faiivae and Manns was still ahead - the "Crucible," a 54-hour field exercise that serves as the recruits' final exam.


The Drifter's Wife

Ellie

LivinSoFree
12-02-04, 12:40 PM
MIKE COMPANY, HOORAH!

DI Sgt. Latour was awesome to have in the pits during firing week, for a little bit he treated us like the half-formed product that we were, let us do our jobs and didn't get on our cases... which resulted in some of the best pit service that Island's ever seen... DI SSgt. Hake was 3068's DI, I was 3069... Hake was friggin' locked and cocked, he had a certain... ahem, mannerism about him that was quite distinctive, you could pick him out from a mile away.