*Note* Training schedules are subject to change. The
rearrange the structure of boot camp every so often, to try to
find the most effective schedule for training. But this will give
you a pretty good idea what to expect.
Life as a Recruit…
Many wives and girlfriends wonder what life is like for a
recruit. Most recruiters will do an excellent job of describing
the day to day life during the 13 weeks a Marine spends at
MCRD. However, this does little to prepare someone for
dealing with the ups and downs that happen during this time
apart – especially in the eyes of someone that’s not there.
The First Few Days…
Any Marine will tell you that there is a huge amount of fear
before they arrive on the yellow footprints. They don’t know
what to expect. Before your recruit leaves, give him/her a
wonderful sendoff. Have a party (no drugs, either, they are
tested when they arrive), be with friends and enjoy. The next
few months are going to be the most challenging of his/her
life, so they need to go into it with the least amount
of stress and the most amount of confidence. That’s your job –
support and become you’re recruits lifeline to the real world.
When your recruit leaves, make sure they take only what
they are told to take. While they can take pictures of their
family and friends, make sure they’re tasteful (no
pornography so keep your clothes on, please). Do not take
gum, candy, cigarettes, drugs, or medicine (unless
prescribed by a physician and your recruiter knows you’re
taking them). Essentially, all they need is the clothes on
his/her back and whatever else the recruiter recommends. If
it’s something the recruit values or treasures, don’t bring it. It
may end up in the trashcan.
The first few days at MCRD are spent receiving. Most recruits
arrive in the middle of the night and the movies you’ve seen
where recruits run to the yellow footprints with DIs yelling at
them is no joke. The next 72 hours are going to create a
feeling of complete disorientation. Receiving is designed to
shock the recruit into transition away from civilian life. It’s
filled with sleep deprivation, considerable shuffling from here
to there, hours of waiting and wondering, and pangs of
homesickness. Your recruit will go through mounds of
paperwork, be asked if they were coerced into joining or lied
to their recruiters (called “The Moment of Truth”), take a
urinalysis and have blood drawn, and begin indoctrination into
the Marine Corps.
During these first few days, you may hear from your recruit
only one time – a quick call home to let you know that he/she
arrived safely. Don’t worry, however. The Corps has been
training people for 200+ years and has it down to a fine art.
This will most likely be the last phone call for many months so
breath deep – the fun is just starting.
Boot camp consists of three phases and most Marines will tell
you that Phase I was the longest. During this phase, the
recruit is being broken down. Their civilian ways are being
driven out by strict discipline and order at the hands of well
trained Drill Instructors (DI). Life for a recruit is extremely
regimented. The platoons and companies are formed, and the
platoon moves into their assigned barracks. The barracks are
pretty much the same as in the movies – rows of double beds
(called racks), and a squad bay stuffed with 80+ people. They
have adequate shower facilities but limited (if any), privacy.
Life for the first four weeks is going to be a life of repetition.
The recruits will be getting up at the same time every
morning, going to bed at the same time, doing hours of
physical training (PT), marching back and forth across the
grinder (close order drill), and sitting in classrooms
learning general military education. The idea is to form a
cohesive unit – a platoon that thinks as one and acts as one,
with an understanding of their place as Marines.
Your recruit is going to have plenty of things going through
his/her head. The average recruit is terrified of everything –
being dropped, not doing well, and even getting up tomorrow
morning… This is the phase where one usually wonders “why
in the heck did I do this?” Most platoons see their first drops
during this phase as many decide they just can’t do it.
Communication from your recruit is going to be limited. There
are no phone calls in boot camp unless it’s an emergency so
don’t get angry. While each recruit has a period during the
evening (and on Sundays) to sit and write letters home, many
use their free time to study and prepare for upcoming
activities. The recruit may polish shoes, shine brass, read or
press uniforms. You may not get a letter for the first few
weeks, but don’t be discouraged. This is a time of adjustment
and most recruits are scared of their own shadow. They don’t
want to fail and they feel as though they need to spend every
waking moment preparing to make their drill instructors
happy. The DIs will remind them to write home, but
sometimes, they’re just overwhelmed and don’t.
Should you write? Oh yes – daily if possible. The best time for
any recruit is mail call – especially when their name is called.
In your letters, make sure you tell your recruit how proud
you are of them. Tell them good things – keep the letters
upbeat and don’t complain or whine about your situation. You
can tell them you miss them, but don’t go out of your way to
make them miserable or feel guilty. Trust me – they’re
miserable enough at the hand of the DIs. If you’re tempted to
send things, don’t. No naughty pictures, no food (called pogie
bait), no perfume on the envelope. Don’t send anything in the
mail that will embarrass or cause your recruit shame.
No cutsie flowers or kisses on the envelopes, either. Drill
instructors love that type of stuff and the last thing a recruit
wants to do is bring attention to themselves.
And also, don’t be worried about the letters you do get from
your recruit. Most first phase recruits wish they were
anyplace but at MCRD. They’re going to tell you they hate it,
they are having nightmares, they think their drill instructors
are the biggest idiots in the world and that the platoon is a
disaster. They’ll tell you that they screwed up in their decision
to join and that they want to come home. While the letter
may sound like a disaster, most every recruit writes at least
one “I hate life,” letter. It will get better – promise.
Second phase is more of the fun of first phase, but also filled
with greater amounts of physical activity. The recruit is going
to learn about weapons, spend time out in the in the field and
learn what it means to be “gungy”. It’s an exciting time
because you’re starting to work together as a unit – the
platoon is “coming together,” as the drill instructors like to
The highlight for most recruits is the trip to the rifle range to
shoot an M16A2 rifle. Since the recruit started First Phase,
they’ve carried this weapon around and slept with it at the
foot of their rack. Do you think recruits have time for
romantic liaisons during boot camp? Yeah – but only with their
weapon! During second phase, the recruit actually gets to use
this piece of gear. If at MCRD PI, the platoon will march out
to Weapons Training Battalion. If at MCRD SD, it’s a bus
trip to Camp Pendleton. For the next two weeks, the recruit
will go through grass week (snap in), followed by a week of
This two week time is a period of high stress and attempts at
besting each other. Everyone wants to wear a coveted Expert
Marksmanship badge, and the more a platoon has, the
happier the drill instructors. Happy Drill Instructors mean
happy recruits which means less digging (physical training to
correct bad behavior). The last Friday of the week is Qual
Day and the day all recruits dread. This is the day that a
recruit must qualify with the rifle and a day of stress
beyond anything they've ever felt. Throughout the rest of a
Marine’s career, they will learn to love, hate and respect qual
day as they must go through it every year.
After the time at the range, it’s off to the field. Your recruit
will go without a shower for days, learn to hate/love the gas
chamber, jump off the rappelling tower, fight mock battles, go
through martial arts training and learn tactics and map
orientation. This is usually the most fun recruits will have as
they are starting to see themselves as Marines and are now
fully engaged as a unit. It’s also when they’ll learn to depend
and rely on their fellow recruits for success.
Again, you may not hear from your recruit as often as you’d
like. One thing recruits don’t have is down time or free time.
Every waking moment is filled with something. If just standing
around, most drill instructors will tell their recruits to read up
on their general knowledge. They’re in classes, doing
paperwork, or just trying to be Marines. Don’t forget this.
They haven’t forgotten you, but they’re also trying to do their
best and often that’s done at the expense of a letter to you.
Continue to write – continue to be supportive. Talk about your
plans to attend graduation and what the future will hold after
that. Talk about graduation will make any recruit giddy.
It’s four weeks from graduation. The platoon is getting
excited and the momentum is building to a fever pitch. The
drill instructors are starting the treat the platoon like Marines
and everything is now down to the wire.
During the last phase, the platoon is getting ready for final
inspections and graduation. They will also do chores around
base and have a bit more time away from the drill instructors.
There are final tests including a final PFT (physical fitness
test) and final drill (with honors for the best platoon). The
tailors have finished fitting the uniforms, the first set of orders
is being cut and for the male recruits, they get their first “high
and tight,” haircut.
While this is the most exhilarating time of the 13 weeks, it’s
also a realization that one is about to wear the title “Marine.”
Most recruits will look back at the past 13 weeks and
wonder “what was I so terrified about? It wasn’t that bad!” For
many, it’s the biggest and most gratifying accomplishment of
their life. During third phase, your recruit will probably write
you more often and show considerable levels of confidence.
They're just about there….
Thirteen weeks is over. This is the moment every recruit
dreams of. There's this indescribable feeling of the day you
finally turn in your linens... Wow.
The first opportunity you’ll have to see your recruit is during
Visitors Day right before graduation.
**DON’T BE SHOCKED!!**
You’re going to see an individual who is lean, in top physical
condition, and if a gentleman, has this great haircut called
a “high and tight.” They’ll be in uniform and it’s going to
knock your socks off the first time you see your recruit. Yep –
they’re looking good and standing tall.
Understand your recruit is absolutely thrilled to see you.
His/her heart is beating and they want to jump up and down
with joy. However, they’re still a recruit and they know that
the DIs are watching every move they make – they must
maintain “military bearing” at all times (it's a known
fact that DIs have eyeballs in the back of their heads). If the
recruit is somewhat restrained in his/her greeting, understand
that. Recruits have been warned within inches of their life to
be on their best behavior – no outlandish stunts. As Marines,
we also don’t believe in PDA – public displays of affection. If
you get a sheepish kiss on the cheek, be glad. He or she may
hold your arm, but probably won’t hold your hand (you have
to be ready to salute at any time). And don’t worry – you’ll
get something better later on after graduation when the
uniform is off. PATIENCE!!!
What else is going to be different? So many things... The
person you knew 13 weeks ago has evolved and completely
changed. You’re going to learn a whole new language filled
with acronyms and words like “OORAH” and “Good to Go!”
You’re going to see someone that wants to jump out of the
rack at 0400 and PT before breakfast. This new Marine will be
tidy and always neat in appearance. They’ll even know how to
wash and iron their own uniforms! New Marines have this
aura of responsibility and found direction. It’s a wonder to
behold especially when 13 weeks earlier, so many new
recruits were struggling with monumental life decisions such
as "which game will I buy next?"
However, you’re also going to see an individual who has done
something very rare – earned the title of United States
Marine. Marines think of themselves one step above everyone
else. While some people think it’s egotistical, we, as Marines,
pride ourselves in the fact that not everyone can be a Marine.
We don’t get our title – we EARN our title (hence the catch
phrase “Never Given – Always Earned”). Those past 13 weeks
were hard – the hardest thing most of us have or ever
will, do. We’ve learned about ourselves and what it means to
wear the title. And we are proud of ourselves and those
brothers and sisters who have gone before us. So when it
looks like your Marine is walking with his back straight and a
bit more spring in his step, smile and know that all Marines –
past and present, are sharing in his footsteps. We all act like
this. That is what makes us United States Marines.
Boot camp is a stressful time for the family. As a girlfriend or
wife (or boyfriend/husband), you are going to go through
your own type of boot camp hell. I was a Marine and the wife
of a Marine recruiter who daily dealt with the frustrations and
burdens that come when someone joins the Corps. Twenty
years later, and I’m still learning. Hopefully, this guide
will help make the time a bit easier…