Don Miller was a Marine Corps Drill Instructor on Parris Island before becoming Community Director of Sandboxx.
So before people go nuts and think that this is me saying anything negative about my beloved Corps, it is no such thing. My title describes the period of time where Marine “poolees” arrive on Parris Island (and although I did not serve on San Diego, I can only guess its the same) and allow the Mystical and world famous Yellow Footprints to suck every bit of common sense that they had out of there brain. Now I am no different, I was the very civilian that I will talk about. I was just as lost as everyone else when I got to Boot Camp to, but when your on the other side of it and see the complete loss of the most underrated skill a human has, it can be frustrating.
I have decided to give you a little bit of context into what I am talking about before we get into explaining what the “Epidemic” is. I can’t remember the exact date, but it had to have been late summer. I was a Senior Drill Instructor at Receiving, which I want all to know is the same name that the all Recruits will come to think of as Mommy or Daddy after they pick up with a training platoon, but are also two entirely different positions. A Senior Drill Instructor at Receiving is more of a Supervisor of Recruits, and mentor to new Processing Drill Instructors that have just been put on Quota( not going to explain that as it would take to long and could spin off in so many directions, so just accept the fact that its different then actually training Recruits on a daily basis.) The Senior Drill Instructor that all Recruits come to idolize is much more of Role Model and overall savior of the well being of a Recruits soul.
Sorry about the detour, but I had to explain that. So here we are in what seems like the hottest place on earth trying to teach a civilian how to become a Recruit. All while making sure they pass all the necessary requirements to even become a Recruit in the first place. The platoons are always bigger ( mostly averaging 80 and 90 strong) this time of year because of what is referred to as JJAS ( figure it out), so focusing on making sure every single civilian is competently learning the process is almost impossible at this point.
So you focus on teaching the very basics on what and how a Recruit is supposed to act like. Things like saying ” This Recruit, That Recruit, Those Recruits”, ” Good Afternoon Ladies, Good Afternoon Gentlemen.”, walking in a military manner, standing and sitting up straight, not making eye contact with a Drill Instructor, or talking unless being spoken to or asked a question by a Drill Instructor. That is just some of the few of a ridiculously long list of what you would think are simple tasks to teach. If you think those are easier than how I am describing them I suggest you sign the dotted line, become a Sergeant, and go to DI School to see for your self, otherwise I guess you’re going to have to take my word for it.
So it was probably the second or third day that these civilians had been on the Depot when then SSgt Smith and I walked upstairs where the civilians were making a head call ( if you don’t know what that is, its another one of those seemingly simple tasks you have to teach a civilian to do in an orderly and timely manner.) before their next appointment they had to be at. We had just made it through the Squadbay door when we heard the most painful sound a Drill Instructor that wears a Green Belt can hear. The sound of laughter in the head.
So what do we do, as we were taught early in your training to become a good Drill Instructor, you investigate with your voice and demeanor. We take a look into the sink area of the head and see two civilians seemingly losing all touch of reality and actually visibly laughing. SSgt Smith began to very gently and with the upmost sincerity open his mouth to simply correct the civilians ( I wish there was a way to make words on paper show the extreme sarcasm when writing ) on their obvious slip of the mind in thinking that they could enjoy any time in Boot Camp. So what were the words that SSgt Smith spoke with a great presence, well it was simple.
“Uh, hey there RRREECCRRUIITTTT are we supposed to be laughing in the head?” Now this feeds into the whole idea of this article, and you will see why. That question from SSgt Smith seems like a pretty easy question to answer, does is not? Well, for this particular Recruit it might have well as been the ancient language of the Mayans, because he just stood there in complete and utter bewilderment. SSgt Smith being a pretty experienced Drill Instructor at that time realized that the civilian had no idea what to say or do, so SSgt Smith took it upon himself to help that civilian out without having him even answer. ” Let me see those teeth, ONE more time, and you WILL regret it!!” Pretty common expression I would say, wouldn’t you? I mean, SSgt Smith obviously meant don’t do it again…. Right? So what does the civilian say back…. nothing. What he does next will last in my memory for the rest of my life. The civilian with every ounce of fear in his body showing in the 43 muscles in his face begins to and I kid you not….. Open his mouth to show his teeth to the Drill Instructor in a manner that I still have no idea how he even was able to do it. Picture the most awkward yet fearful smile of a pimple faced 18 year old kid thinking that for what ever reason a Drill Instructor just told him to show his teeth and by God he was gonna do just that.
I immediately left the area. If you are/were a keeper of traditions carrying the tremendous weight that comes with the responsibilities of wearing the cover, then you know that losing bearing in front of a Recruit is not going to happen… at least not willingly. So covering my face with my Cover while leaving was my only option. That is just one of the many stories that helped me discover that this “Epidemic” was indeed real.
So how do we stop the “Epidemic”, or keep it from spreading. Well, the first step in any problem we face is to clearly identify the problem. This is probably the most over looked step in the process. It sounds easy right? It can actually lead you in all the wrong directions if you do not clearly state what is happening. For this instance I will use an old idea I once heard. It came from my Father. ” Boy, you look like you’re trying to put a square peg in a round hole.” I think I was trying to fix something around the house when the first of many of my father’s loving quips came out, but if you think about this thought of trying to fit a square peg in a round hole, it fits perfect ( pun intended) into what happens in boot camp.
If you imagine that every single Poolee that ships to bootcamp is the “Square Peg” and the eventual goal of becoming an elite warfighter as the other side of the “Round Hole”, you can see how at first when you are Square Peg you can not fit through the round hole. After the 13 weeks of extreme widdling, molding, heating, and polishing process of Boot Camp the square peg that once existed as that Poolee has now become the seemingly perfect fitting cylinder that when pushed through the round hole glides perfectly through to the other side forging what you all see today as a U.S. Marine.
The first step that I talked about that allows the eventual goal of making the cylinder is widdling. When you widdle you are taking a knife to a piece of wood to shape it into whatever you see fit. In this case the knife is the Processing Drill Instructor and the block of wood is the Civilian getting ready to become a Recruit. The most common misconception about when a young man or woman ships to Boot Camp is that as soon as they get there they automatically become a Recruit. That is very much incorrect. That happens on Black Friday or Pick up Saturday depending on which Depot you are on. The whole first week that a new civilian is on the Depot is meant to further screen and test them to make sure that they are indeed fit to begin the world’s most respected entry level military program called Marine Corps Boot Camp. Now back to widdling. The first chance a Drill Instructor gets to widdle is during one of the most memorable moments of Recruit Training. After you get off of the Drill Instructor’s bus, you immediately start the indoctrination into our beloved Corps by receiving the spine chilling Yellow Footprints speech.
There is a running joke that Drill Instructors use. The joke is that there is a highly advanced machine directly under the yellow footprints that when activated by the voice of the Drill Instructor will suck every bit of common sense that a civilian has out. I have no doubt that their parents spent approximately 18 years trying to teach their children the life skills needed to survive, and being a parent myself I understand that the parents of these civilians might take offense to that fact. It is not easy for anyone to think that they might not have prepared their offspring enough to be able to take on the world, but that is not what I am saying. At that point in civilian’s life on the Depot all the teaching and parenting in the world that parents give would not change the inevitable outcome of the Yellow Footprints Epidemic.
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All due respect, it’s “whittling” not “widdling”