Learning about the Few and the Proud

Because I wanted to learn more about helping young people more effectively determine their future direction, I was one of sixty New England high school and college teachers, coaches, administrators, and counselors who traveled to Parris Island, SC last month for a four-day Marine Corps Educators workshop.

My father was a World War II veteran whose wartime experience left him wary and distrustful of many things military, so naturally I came in with some preconceived notions, both pro and con, about the Marines. The positive assumptions I had turned out to be 100% accurate, and while not all the misgivings I had harbored were allayed, the honesty and respect with which my concerns were addressed helped me see things from a different perspective.

Marine recruits expect to be challenged on Parris Island, and the same is true for those opting to participate in the educator workshop. There was much to be absorbed in three days. One important factor hiding in plain sight: there is no such thing as a “typical marine,” any more than there are “typical teenagers,” “typical nurses,” “typical welders,” or, well, “typical educators.”

Marine recruits aspiring to serve America hail from rural, urban, or suburban areas, and from various socioeconomic backgrounds. A few come from foreign countries, and can expedite the process of obtaining United States citizenship by signing up. Some enlist hoping to escape poverty and/or find direction through military service, but others with more material advantages eagerly volunteer as well. Recruits can enter the Corps after graduating from high school, spending time in the work force, or obtaining a college degree. Some will make the military a career; others do their time, earn an honorable discharge, and go on to further their education and/or obtain public or private sector employment. One high-ranking officer referred to the Corps as “The Ultimate Meritocracy,” implying there are no limits to what motivated individuals can achieve once they become Marines.

No organization tops the Marine Corps when it comes to logistics and attention to detail. The three-day, information-filled workshop was fraught with physical and mental challenges for all those willing to participate. Virtually every marine and civilian employee we encountered on Parris Island was articulate, personable, engaging, and eager to provide assistance.

According to their stated core values of Honor, Courage, and Commitment, Marines are expected to “…. exemplify the ultimate in ethical and moral behavior: to never lie, cheat, or steal; to abide by an uncompromising code of integrity; to respect human dignity; and to have respect and concern for each other.” Corps members who live resolutely by this credo are to be commended; that the general population cannot or will not do so is a shame.

The basic methods the Marines use to lure new recruits are in essence no different from those used by civic organizations or religious groups. Each team’s members are motivated by the certain knowledge their institution and its members are helping make the world a better place. One troubling difference about the Marines, at least for some: the willingness to kill people one doesn’t know (and to be trained to do so effectively and efficiently) isn’t a requirement to join up with the Rotary Club or the Jehovah’s Witnesses.

As so often is the case, educational seminars such as these can teach participants a great deal about not only the subject(s) at hand, but about themselves as well. Some individuals should have misgivings about becoming a Marine. As impressed as I was with everything and everyone I encountered, it was soberingly clear to me that for a variety of reasons I was no more fit for the Corps four decades ago than I would be today.

In retrospect I find myself impressed even more than I had expected to be by the men and women who comprise the Corps. Many of the misgivings I harbored before taking part in the Educator Workshop on Parris Island have been allayed. And even if some individual elements of the training Marine Corps recruits go through give me pause, I cannot argue with the ultimate results of that training. The impressive men and women who become Marines personify just how much potential each of us is capable of realizing.

I have no idea how much it cost the United States government to fly sixty New England educators to and from to South Carolina, put them up in a hotel for three nights in a nice hotel, feed them, and pay the personnel required to keep them safe while enlightening them and shepherding them around Parris Island. But whatever the amount, I can confidently assure any skeptical taxpayer it was money (and time) exceptionally well spent.

Andy Young
May 2, 2017

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