PARRIS ISLAND, S.C., May 14, 2011 — With his retirement nearly at hand, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates is taking time to visit entry-level training facilities for military services all over the country.
Over the past 10 months, Gates has visited recruits and trainers — thanking them for their commitment and service — at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio; Naval Training Station Great Lakes in North Chicago, Ill.; Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego, Calif.; and the U.S. Army Training Center at Fort Jackson in Columbia, S.C. During one of his last such stops yesterday, Gates walked historic grounds near Beaufort, S.C., where most of the signs that welcome visitors to the Marine Corps Recruit Depot here add, “We Make Marines.”
Amid the palms, pines and palmettos here, Page Field was in constant motion. The noise also was constant. Speakers in the trees blasted out the sounds of battle chaos — the relentless beat of helicopter rotors and every possible kind of explosion. Drill instructors led groups of sweating and exhausted recruits, who clutched rifles as they ran, crawled face up and face down, climbed walls, scooted on their backs through barbed wire and ran on logs to cross a creek.
This was day two of what Marines call the Marine Corps Crucible, a 54-hour rite of passage at the end of 11 weeks of training during which recruits become Marines. Only after recruits successfully come through the Crucible do they receive the eagle, globe and anchor. Only then are they called Marines.
“The Crucible is very impressive,” Gates said, “in the way it brings all the skills together in terms of teamwork, teaching about not leaving a Marine behind, teaching the combination of skills and core values, and [giving recruits] the opportunity to integrate everything they’ve learned in the preceding weeks of training.” Over 54 hours the recruits walk 48 miles carrying 45 pounds of gear plus the M‑16 A2 service rifle.
With limited food and sleep, they perform day and night marches, night infiltration movement, combat resupply and casualty evacuation, combat field firing as a team, solving problems and negotiating obstacles as a team, leadership tests and core values training.
Such values include upholding honor, courage and commitment in every situation. Marine Capt. Miguel Whyte is a platoon leader in the Field Training Company. He and another platoon leader are responsible for training recruits on the rappel tower, the gas chamber, basic warrior training and more, and conducting the Crucible.
“The event I like the most is called the leadership reaction course,” he said. “I call that the MacGyver course. It’s a true test of their thinking abilities.” MacGyver was an action-adventure television show in the mid-1980s in which a resourceful agent solved complex problems with everyday materials. During the three-hour course, the teams perform six tasks that test their ability to work together to solve problems. These tasks include using three wooden boards to cross several stumps without touching the ground, using the same concept to cross a water hole, and hauling a large container over a wall using available resources.
“Most of these guys won’t be going into the infantry but it’s important that they have the skills, Whyte said. The Marine Corps makes sure everyone has combat skills, he said. “We have that motto, ‘every Marine is a rifleman,’ and it really comes in handy,” Whyte said. “If you’ve got a guy coming to give you fuel and something happens, if he can’t defend himself, you’re not getting your fuel.”
The day before the secretary’s visit to Parris Island, he spoke with more than 1,000 Marines during a town hall at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune in North Carolina. “America has leaned heavily on the Marine Corps this past decade and will continue to do so going forward because Marines are always ready, no matter what the mission,” Gates said. “In just the past few months,” the secretary added, “Marines from the II Marine Expeditionary Force have responded to Japan’s devastating earthquake and nuclear crisis, evacuated civilians fleeing upheaval in Tunisia and Libya, conducted multiple air strikes against Libyan tanks and armored vehicles advancing on Benghazi, and in Afghanistan have given the Taliban a severe beating and pushed them out of their traditional strongholds in Helmand after some of the heaviest fighting of the war.” He called the Marine Corps “an expeditionary force with a maritime soul” and said its future is bright.
“The Marine Corps has been at the leading edge for over 200 years in adapting and responding to new technologies and new threats,” he said. “Even as our country faces great challenges,” Gates told the Marines, “the adaptability, initiative and improvisation, along with the raw courage that is displayed by the United States Marines every day, gives me confidence that we can and will prevail as this country has in the past.”
U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)