Top 10 things I learned at boot camp

Published 9:12 am Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Photos courtesy of St. K. J. Maynard, U.S. Marines Niles Daily Star Community Editor Craig Haupert takes a breather before crossing a rope bridge during a practice run on the bayonet assault course at Marine Corps Training Depot in San Diego, Calif., April 15.

Photos courtesy of Sgt. K. J. Maynard, U.S. Marines
Niles Daily Star Community Editor Craig Haupert takes a breather before crossing a rope bridge during a practice run on the bayonet assault course at Marine Corps Training Depot in San Diego, Calif., April 15.

Last week I had the pleasure of spending five days with some of the country’s finest servicemen and women during the U.S. Marines Educators Workshop in San Diego, Calif.

The purpose of the workshop is to allow educators the opportunity to see what it means to be a Marine by attending seminars, participating in drills and talking to Marines and recruits. I was one of two Michigan reporters to attend the workshop. The rest of the group was comprised of 18 Michigan educators and 20 educators from the Kansas City, Mo., area.

Because it would be very difficult to convey everything I learned while spending time at the Marines Corps Recruit Depot, Air Station Miramar and Camp Pendleton, I’ve come up with a list of my 10 big takeaways from the entire week.

Not all of them concern the Marines, but most do. They are in no particular order.

1. Marines are in better shape than you

If you want to feel bad about your level of physical fitness, spend a couple days with a Marine. These men and women are all in awesome shape, and for good reason — they are the nation’s first line of defense.

Their physical fitness actually factors into career advancement. The amount of pull-ups they can do and the speed at which they run three miles can be the difference between moving up a rank or being released from duty at the end of a contract.

Imagine if that took place at your job. We’d all be in better shape, that’s for sure.

2. Marines are people too

By trade, Marines have to be tough. The majority of the ones I met both looked and acted the part with chiseled arms, shaved heads, crisp uniforms and loud voices.

However, under their rough exterior, the Marines we met were all good people with unique personalities. Most, if not all, were polite, accommodating, articulate and charming.

It was nice to see that side of them.

3. It’s not just for men

Women make up about six percent of the Marines’ total fighting force. While enlisted female Marines serve alongside their male counterparts, they go through basic training separately at Parris Island in South Carolina. They are held to the same high standards as men, although their physical fitness marks are adjusted accordingly.

The female Marines we heard from said they have the same opportunities as male Marines, although the females are generally pushed toward certain career paths, including, but not limited to, communications, fiber optics or intelligence.

4. San Diego is great

Everything you’ve heard about San Diego having the perfect weather is true. We had not a drop of rain all week. The weather was literally perfect, which makes coming back to Michigan and seeing snow in April very sad.

5. Lots of jobs

Being a Marine doesn’t mean being an infantryman. People can specialize in more than 700 military occupations in 40 fields, including administration, communications, aircraft maintenance and meteorology. We even met a few members of the Marines’ extraordinary band. These men and women are being paid to play music. Pretty cool.

6. It’s not for everyone

Becoming a Marine is difficult. Basic training lasts 12 1/2 weeks and is filled with one physical and mental test after another. Nearly every Marine I talked to said it was one of the most intense experiences they’ve ever had. Most said their favorite part came during graduation, when the drill instructor gave the order of dismissal. All took great pride in finishing though, saying the experience changed their lives for the better.

7. Recruiting isn’t easy

Nearly every Marine we talked to said being a recruiter is one of the most difficult assignments a Marine can get. It’s also one of the most important because they are finding the next line of Marines who will protect our country in the future. They have to endure angry parents, indecisive students and the pressure of reaching a quota on a daily basis.

8. The Marines have a dog

Her name is Belleau and she holds the rank of corporal. You can tell by the stripes on her uniform. That’s right. She has a Marines uniform. She also had a Marine escorting her around the recruit depot during graduation.

9. Shooting is fun

There’s something exciting about looking down the scope of an M16 assault rifle, pulling the trigger and feeling the butt of the gun kick back against your shoulder as the round hits a paper target 100 yards off in the distance. Having never shot anything larger than an air rifle before, I can now see the appeal.

All Marines are trained to be proficient from 500 yards out. They spend more than 100 hours learning how to shoot. That’s impressive.

10. Think before you ink

The Marines have a fairly strict policy on tattoos. If you have tattoo sleeves or tattoos on your neck or face, you likely won’t get into the Marines. It’s a fairly new policy and one that isn’t very popular with many of the Marines we talked to. They said it’s an attempt to clean up the image of a Marine.