Marine recruits

PARRIS ISLAND FACTS

Marine training ground encompasses 8,100 acres on South Carolina coast.
    It costs $116 million a year to run and is staffed by 2,000 Marines, 500 of them officers.
      Each year, 20,000 recruits arrive there; 10 percent are women.
        Of the recruits, 10.3 percent of the men don’t make it, 18.4 percent of women.
          The Marines’ Eagle, Globe and Anchor emblem dates back to 1868.
            The emblem’s globe and crested eagle signify service in any part of the world. The anchor symbolizes amphibious duties.

'It's a big attitude check'

Even with a war in Iraq, a steady stream of young people from our area continues go to South Carolina to learn how to be Marines

By Alice C. Elwell
ENTERPRISE CORRESPONDENT


PARRIS ISLAND, S.C. — The bus stops at yellow foot prints painted on the asphalt.
The recruits inside have arrived under the cover of darkness, after midnight. Earlier, an officer had greeted them at the main gate to the island, ordering them to put their heads down for the rest of the ride, 2 to 3 miles, to the intake building.

Now, outside the intake building on a warm and humid night, they are ordered to line up on the yellow foot prints and march in formation. For the first time, but not the last, the recruits become a team as they march through a gleaming portal, two silver doors that are called hatches."The only way into the Marine Corps is through those doors," Sgt. Demetric Miles tells the raw recruits. "Once you enter, everything changes."
These young men and women — fresh from hometowns like Brockton and Abington, Taunton and Pembroke — have arrived at Parris Island. They are about to become warriors.
Parris Island, along the South Carolina coast, is one of two Marine boot camps in the country. Every male recruit east of the Mississippi and all female recruits train on Parris Island. Generally, recruits who have completed their training are deployed in seven months, some to Iraq.
The recruits spend three months in boot camp. They learn how to drill, practice marksmanship, engage in combat and they live the Marine Corps' customs, courtesies and core values.
When they arrive at the intake building, the recruits — who had been told to bring $20 and the clothes on their back — are stripped of their identification, and cut off from family and friends after one 15-second phone call.
They will be isolated from the rest of the world for 13 weeks of extreme training designed to break them down, then build them up.

"You can't just want to be a Marine, the Marines have to want you," Miles barks at the raw recruits as they march through the receiving hatch.
Their civilian gear is stowed for the next 13 weeks. The recruits won't sleep until the next night, when paperwork is passed out and they are given hair cuts, issued uniforms and gear, and go through a medical screening.

The recruits are warned not to show disrespect. "You will do what you're told, when you're told," Miles growls.
Nicholas McMahon, 19, of Middleboro, struggled to stay awake on his first night on Parris Island. "What the hell did I do?" he thought to himself as the drill instructor bellowed orders.
The recruits line up for haircuts, for which they are charged $3. It comes out of their $700 paycheck at the end of the month. As their long hair falls away, so does slang and street talk. None of that is tolerated.
Women are warned to keep their hair in tight buns or cut it. "It's a big attitude check for a lot of females," said 19-year-old Veronica Goncalves of Brockton.
"Receiving was hell," said 19-year-old Kevin Gomes of Taunton, who joined in September.
But the raw recruits will soon stand a little taller. They will push out their chests, stand with shoulders up and eyes straight ahead as they're told they're joining the finest fighting force in the world.
Marine boot camp, as McMahon put it, is "a complete culture shock" that changes every recruit.
And not all will make it.
About 20,000 recruits pass through the gates to Parris Island annually, 10 percent of them women. Failure rate at the Marine boot camp is about 10 percent for men, 18 percent for women.
"They break every nasty habit within 30 days," McMahon said.
Gomes, for example, smoked a pack of cigarettes a day when he arrived on Parris Island. While there, he quit smoking and lost 15 pounds.
The abrupt change can be as hard on the parents as on the recruits.

"It was horrible," Vicki LaCroix said about the 15-second phone call from her son, Corey Morrill, 19, of East Bridgewater. "I was glad he was safe, but being a mom, I wanted to give him some last words of wisdom."
The recruits watch a movie that details life on the island and its history. They're told of strong currents, quicksand, spiders, leeches. They watch in rapt attention as they hear about the hammer head sharks that prowl the waters and the pit viper snakes that inhabit the terrain.
After 24 hours in receiving, the recruits are assigned to a platoon, their gear is stowed at the foot of their bunk, and the training begins. They get up at 5 a.m. and are in bed by 10 p.m..
"Sometimes there's not enough sleep. The first month was the toughest," said Matthew McCulloch, 19, of Marshfield.
The routine is hard at first. Everything has a countdown. They count while they brush their teeth, wash their face, go to the bathroom. They have 10 minutes for their morning hygiene. "My nerves were shot for two weeks. When you first get down there, you don't even think about going to the bathroom," said McMahon, of Middleboro.
But recruit Kyle Taylor, 18, of Abington, understood why they were given time limits. "In a combat situation, if you don't make the deadline, something can go very wrong," he said.

Every morning, after a head count, the recruits are divided into port and starboard: while the port side shaves, the starboard side makes their beds, then they switch.
They line up again and make sure their M16A2, a semi-automatic rifle, is in working order.
Then it's chow hall, and after that, lessons. During Phase One, they learn how to use pugil sticks and fight with a bayonet. They study the history of terrorism. Phase Two starts with the dreaded swim qualification, and includes marksmanship. In Phase Three, they're taught rappelling and start preparing for the Crucible, the 54-hour climax of boot camp.
The weather is sultry and the island is a buzz of activity. There's always a platoon marching on one of the many parade grounds, or down the main road. Shouts from drill instructors can be heard in every direction. "Oo-rah, Oo-rah," rings out as recruits march by.
The island is pristine. Not one piece of litter sullies the ground. Recruits scrub the sidewalks as officers keep a close eye on it all — even down to a stray thread loose on a uniform, which is immediately corrected when noticed by an officer.
When recruits eat, there's no talking. A banana comes with every meal. "They're full of potassium and help stop muscle cramping," McMahon explained.

There's no down time. Whenever they're waiting for anything, the DI drills them on rifle manual, Marine Corps history, academics or manners and respect.
Traditions are rife on the island.
Recruits in Phase One can't cuff their pants, because it's a privilege they have to earn. Only when they've reached the end are they allowed to roll up the bottoms and tuck them in their boots.
They talk like they're on a ship: the floor is a deck and doors are hatches, because the Navy takes Marines to the battlefield.
Swimming is very important because of the Marines' strong tie to the Navy. The pool on Parris Island is the second largest in the world, and a Waterloo for many. Recruits have to swim 25 meters (82 feet) fully dressed, carrying packs that weigh 140 to 150 pounds.

After swim qualification comes weapons training. Recruits ride in cattle cars to the rifle range, armed with bug spray to ward off sand fleas. The range faces a bay that is closed to fishermen when in use.

Lying sprawled in the dirt, Goncalves, of Brockton, aims her M16 at a target. She keeps track of her scores in a note book at her side. Boxes of spent shells pile up, as white herons fly in the humid field.
A drill instructor walks back and forth as the women in that platoon fire at targets, every one with long hair tied back in a tight bun, none wearing makeup, perfume or jewelry.
Goncalves came here to test her limits. College wasn't challenging enough, says her mother, Carmen Goncalves. She left after finishing her first year. But now, Veronica says, boot camp has given her more discipline, more confidence and prospects for a better future.
"It was a big challenge on the rifle range. I never handled a gun," she said. "Now I'm comfortable handling an M16."
Goncalves' platoon has firepower to shoot 700 rounds in less than a minute. They learn to shoot an 84 millimeter rocket used for a catastrophic kill. Butterflies flutter on the range as missiles hit targets of simulated tanks.
Goncalves is confident as she shoulders her M16, takes aim and fires. "The DI told us there could be Iraqi women and children with guns," she said.
The rifle range also gives Courtney McCarthy, 17, of Plymouth, new self-confidence.
"I'm feeling so much better about myself. I'm not just sitting there watching TV," she said. "It's a whole new world."
But before basic training is over, they must complete the endurance test known as the Crucible.
Then, if they are successful, the recruits will graduate and receive more training, after which a number of the new warriors will be deployed to Iraq.
"You've got to admire them. We train these recruits, and make sure they learn what they need to know," said Marine Cpl. Brian Kester.