Through the Early Years at the Depot
by Lance Cpl. Jess N. Levens
Marine Corps News
May 12, 2003

MARINE CORPS RECRUIT DEPOT SAN DIEGO, Calif. -- The Marine Corps Recruit Depot, San Diego, has undergone many changes since it came in existence in the early 1900's. Many units have come and gone, buildings have been erected and torn down and built again. Even a few famous faces have marched across the parade deck here.

In 1924, what is now known as the Depot was named Marine Corps Base, Naval Operating Base, San Diego. It was called this because naval ships used to dock here. This title stood until 1927, when the base was re-designated Recruit Depot, San Diego.

The number of recruits remained constant until the late 1930's, according to Ellen Guillemete, Command Museum archivist, MCRD, San Diego.

"World War II got started and training really increased," said Guillemete. "The number of new recruits increased and the Depot had to accommodate them."

From 1939-1945, new barracks, 27 warehouses, an exchange, and new dining and medical facilities were constructed. Hundreds of 16-man Quonset huts were built to accommodate the thousands of new recruits, according to Guillemete. Also, First Sergeants' School and Drill Instructor School were added.

On Jan. 1, 1948, Recruit Depot, San Diego, was once again re-designated. This time, it was named Marine Corps Recruit Depot, San Diego. This step had been taken 13 months earlier when Marine Barracks, Parris Island was re-designated Marine Corps Recruit Depot, Parris Island, according to Guillemete. The rifle range detachment, where recruits were taught to fire the rifle, was re-designated as Weapons Training Battalion, located at Camp Matthews, La Jolla, Calif.

"Usually if Parris Island made a change, the Depot would make the same change just after," said Guillemete.

When the Korean War began, once again, recruits began to pour in. The Recruit Training Command grew from three to eight battalions and over 700 Quonset huts were constructed to house the additional recruits.

President John F. Kennedy visited the Depot in 1963 to inspect the Sea School Honor Guard. He stood on the yellow footprints outside Recruit Training Regiment Support Battalion and the set he stood on was later plated in gold. A person can see them shine from a mile away, according to Guillemete. Kennedy was assassinated later that year in Dallas.

The firing ranges were moved from Camp Matthews to Edson Range, Marine Corps Base, Camp Pendleton, Calif., in 1964, because the residents of the area wanted to use the land for other purposes. The land that Camp Matthews occupied is now the University of California, San Diego.

The Vietnam War began in 1965 and more expansion took place at the Depot. Between 1965 and 1979, a 100-tent encampment was set up to handle the overflow of recruits. Five new recruit barracks were built, which remain today, along with Mess Hall 569, a bowling alley, and the medical and dental clinics.

Again, the Depot was re-designated in 1976. This time, it was named MCRD, San Diego and Western Recruiting Region, according to Guillemete.

On Nov. 10, 1987, the Command Museum opened its doors to the public. One month later, Sea School was disbanded because the ship duties for Marines had mostly been taken over by sailors, according to Guillemete.

In 1991, Weapons Training Battalion was re-designated Weapons and Field Training Battalion.

The Coast Guard Pacific Area Law Enforcement Team made the Depot their new home in 1993 because of its location on the shoreline.

"The Depot was a good place to practice law enforcement scenarios, especially cases involving narcotics," said Guillemete.

Soon after changes followed for would-be drill instructors. Drill Instructor School on the Depot was only used to train males until 1994, according to Guillemete. Gunnery Sgt. Brenda Powell became the first female to enter Drill Instructor School here. Before her, all female drill instructors were trained at Parris Island.

In 1995, the Depot did not follow suit when MCRD Parris Island put automatic washing machines and dryers in the recruit barracks.

"The Depot is now the only American military installation that still hand-washes clothes," said Guillemete.

A 54-hour training exercise called the "Crucible" was added to training in 1996, according to Guillemete. It consists of eight major events and implements food and sleep deprivation. The first crucible was completed Dec. 14, 1996.

One service-unique change took place when the Marine Corps stopped teaching the line training hand-to-hand combat techniques to recruits in 2001. The new Marine Corps Martial Arts Program was implemented in recruit training and is now being taught to Marines of all ranks.

The next year, under Gen. James L. Jones, former Commandant of the Marine Corps, recruits were issued the digital Marine pattern desert and woodland combat utility uniforms. Only Marines and sailors attached to Marine units are authorized to wear these uniforms.

Later in 2002, the first female recruit to train aboard the Depot graduated with Company G. PFC Molly, the Depot mascot, became the only "female" to graduate recruit training here.

The Depot has changed faces many times over the last 79 years from a base facing many deployments in support of operations around the globe to recruit training. One face that has remained constant is the business of making Marines.

The Drifter