Making Marines: Before Boot Camp

BY DANIEL CALLAHAN

daniel.callahan@ecm-inc.com

Cold. Wind. Spattering rain.

And then things began to get uncomfortable.

Young people from around Minnesota, eastern North Dakota and western Wisconsin descended on Camp Ripley near Little Falls, May 4 to get a taste of what the future might have in store for them. Some are guests, just interested in learning more, but the majority are potential recruits of the United States Marine Corps.

THE PURPOSE

Prior to the arrival of the "poolees" – those young people who have signed up for service, but have not yet been shipped off to boot camp – the drill instructors, flown in for the occasion received instructions from the event’s organizer, Gunnery Sgt. Matthew Taylor.

"Wake ‘em up. Let them know what they’re in for," he said to the assembled drill instructors. "Just make their lives hell."

Sgt. Maj. Sean Cox said one of the main goals of the mini boot camp is to ensure the recruiters are sending the best-qualified men and women to recruit training in the first place.

"We’re going to lose some" after the weekend, he said. "That’s better for us" than to lose them at boot camp. There are costs involved with preparing and sending a recruit to training and wasting anything is far from acceptable.

But it’s more than just the costs involved with sending a recruit to boot camp. There’s pride at stake as well.

Recruiting Station Twin Cities, which includes all of the substations that sent poolees to the mini-boot camp, has a record to maintain. Few, very few, will quit once they’ve been sent to San Diego or Parris Island.

"First and foremost, (mini boot camp) is to give them an idea of what to expect," said Taylor. "We do this to open their eyes. … This is not a joke."

RAMPING IT UP

Throughout the afternoon of the first day, buses arrive and disgorge running groups of uneasy poolees into the hands of the waiting drill instructors. Potential recruits from recruiting substations in Bloomington, Buffalo, St. Cloud, Burnsville, Coon Rapids, Fargo, Eau Claire, Wis., and elsewhere receive the "shock and awe" treatment as the drill instructors "introduce themselves," said Taylor.

The mental and physical stress is ramped up, said the Marines. It’s impossible to simulate the stresses of recruit training in a weekend, so the program is far more intense in the short term than regular training. Combat fitness training, weapons handling, simulated marksmanship along with a slew of other training helps to flesh out the poolees expectations of boot camp.

"It’s stuff they’re going to see in recruit training," said Taylor.

Three days of intense physical training and even more intense mental exhaustion is aimed at weeding out those who are not committed or perhaps find the Marine Corps is not right for them.

"It’s all about bettering the product," said Taylor, noting 10 poolees quit on the first day of last year’s mini boot camp. By 8 p.m. May 4, only one had decided to change their plans.

The average wait for recruits from RS Twin Cities is 6 months before they are send to boot camp. During the six months, poolees participate in a variety of functions, physical training on weekends and after school, preparing to leave for the first step on their Marine Corps careers.

PRESSING ON

Some will quit. It’s expected. Some will power through the entire weekend of stress – both physical and mental – and decide a life in the Corps isn’t right for them.

But they’re few and far between. And most have their own reasons for sticking through the mini boot camp and preparing themselves for recruit training.

John Tetrault of Scandia grew tired of seeing his directionless classmates at Chisago High School and decided to take a different tack.

"I think I’ll jut be a Marine instead," he said.

Norris Vorasane of Brooklyn Park is shipping out to boot camp in San Diego in October and wanted to be the first in his family to join the military.

Jonathan House of Forest Lake is fulfilling a lifelong goal by joining the Corps.

"I’ve wanted to be a Marine since I was in first grade," he said, noting his decision to join the Marines rather than any other service was based on the Corps’ reputation. "If I’m going to go, I’m going o go and be the best."

"I’m more excited than nervous," Voraane said.

"I’ll be nervous when it comes up," said 17-year-old Anna Albercht, a student at Lakeville South High School.

"It’s kind of exhilarating" to see what’s in store for them, said Austin Curtis of Brooklyn Center.

"I know I’m going to get the crap kicked out of me," said House. "I’m going to get worked over mentally."

But he, like many others, feels he will be prepared.

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