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Marine Corps Drill Instructors: Legacy, Tradition, Passion
by U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Melissa Karnath - November 14, 2015

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MARINE CORPS RECRUIT DEPOT PARRIS ISLAND, S.C. -- Drill instructor – every Marine remembers theirs – these words resurrect memories of a Marine's recruit training experience no matter how long ago they served in the Marine Corps. Drill instructors leave eternal memories in each Marine's mind.

Regimental drillmasters, experts on the Marine Corps drill and ceremonies manual, critique recruits of Golf Company, 2nd Recruit Training Battalion, during an initial drill evaluation Sept. 29, 2014, at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, S.C. The recruits practiced daily for four weeks in anticipation of the evaluation. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Caitlin Brink)
Regimental drillmasters, experts on the Marine Corps drill and ceremonies manual, critique recruits of Golf Company, 2nd Recruit Training Battalion, during an initial drill evaluation Sept. 29, 2014, at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, S.C. The recruits practiced daily for four weeks in anticipation of the evaluation. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Caitlin Brink)

“There are a lot of life lessons and mentorship I learned from my senior drill instructor as a recruit that I still carry on to this day,” said Drill Instructor Staff Sgt. Juan Padin, Charlie Company, 1st Recruit Training Battalion. “Doing the right thing when no one is looking and always putting forth 100 percent effort are things I still do that I learned from my senior drill instructor.”

Drill instructors train recruits to become basic Marines on Parris Island and Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego. Marines who seek to become drill instructors desire to influence and make a difference in the lives of young men and women.

“I hope to impact Marines and spread the impact out to many,” said Padin.

Drill instructors are often viewed as the model of a Marine. 

A Marine student attending drill instructor school listens to correction from his instructor while practicing drill at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, S.C., Oct. 15, 2015. Marines who attend drill instructor school are specially selected and the school is three months long. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Melissa Karnath)
A Marine student attending drill instructor school listens to correction from his instructor while practicing drill at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, S.C., Oct. 15, 2015. Marines who attend drill instructor school are specially selected and the school is three months long. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Melissa Karnath)

“Growing up, my father and mother had a great influence on me for my character,” said 1st Sgt. Christopher Griffith, the first sergeant at Parris Island's Drill Instructor School. “In my three months of recruit training, those four drill instructors developed me and made me into a better man and, ultimately, the Marine I am today.”

Before earning the coveted “smokey bear” campaign cover, would-be drill instructors are specially selected and must complete the three month Drill Instructor School. The school develops leadership, command presence, instructional ability, knowledge and the physical condition of selected Marines to successfully perform the duties of a drill instructor.”

“It was a humbling experience to train at DI school,” said Griffith. “In the fleet, Marines were telling me ‘you're great!' Then you come to DI school, and you're not great anymore. Your peer group is all great, and you have to compete with them.”

The United States Marine Corps Drill Instructor Creed reads, “These recruits are entrusted to my care. I will train them to the best of my ability. I will develop them into smartly disciplined, physically fit, basically trained marines, thoroughly indoctrinated in love of the Corps and country. I will demand of them and demonstrate by my own example, the highest standards of personal conduct, morality and professional skill.” The students at DI school train to master these skills.

“Marines have a transformation into the land of drill instructor, just like a civilian transformation from recruit to Marine,” said Sgt. Maj. Donna Dunbar, sergeant major of 4th Recruit Training Battalion. “To see Marines develop through DI school and see them do amazing things to influence the Corps is a special process.” 

Marines spend three years as a drill instructor and then return to their previous job in the fleet or continue their passion for teaching Marines by instructing new students at DI school.

Sgt. Yonique R. Cousins, Platoon 4026, Oscar Company, 4th Recruit Training Battalion, encourages a recruit to move faster during martial arts training June 16, 2015, at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, S.C. The Marine Corps Martial Arts Program is designed to increase the warfighting capabilities of individual Marines and units, enhance Marines’ self-confidence and esprit de corps and foster the warrior ethos in all Marines. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Jennifer Schubert)
Sgt. Yonique R. Cousins, Platoon 4026, Oscar Company, 4th Recruit Training Battalion, encourages a recruit to move faster during martial arts training June 16, 2015, at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, S.C. The Marine Corps Martial Arts Program is designed to increase the warfighting capabilities of individual Marines and units, enhance Marines' self-confidence and esprit de corps and foster the warrior ethos in all Marines. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Jennifer Schubert)

 “Part of the special process [of making Marines] is the taking, molding, making, shaping and transforming a particular life, the individual [drill instructor] in charge of that process will never be forgotten,” said Dunbar, who served as a drill instructor and an instructor at DI school. “Your drill instructors are emblazed upon your heart. I knew I wanted to be part of that process.”

Marines who serve as drill instructors can be easily observed at recruit depots wearing their campaign cover. Upon seeing that cover and a stern face looking back at you, memories from your own recruit training experience recoil from your past.

“We have to be strong in our passion to maintain our legacy, so the future of the Marine Corps will survive,” said Griffith. 

By U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Melissa Karnath
Marine Corps Recruit Depot, Parris Island
Marine Corps News
Copyright 2015

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