This is Part 4 of a multi-part written series on the firsthand experiences of 1stSgt Crouch at United States Marine Corps Drill Instructor School. For Part 3, Click Here.
1stSgt Crouch served in the United States Marine Corps for 23 years, including four years as a Drill Instructor at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island and two years as a Drill Instructor at Navy Officer Candidate School in Pensacola, Florida.
I started off with the goal of wanting to graduate number one. I had a pretty good chance at it, but around week four we had our first of two speech demonstrations called a TMI (Techniques of Military Instruction). I had tremendous confidence in my ability to do an excellent job, so I short changed myself in preparation time. I had never given the speech aloud when rehearsing. I also did very little practice time on it.
Instead I spent a lot of time working with three of my squad members who were not very good at conduct of close order drill. I was helping them master the art of drill. In doing so, I failed my TMI by speaking too long. I was asked at the end by the instructor what the hell happened, how is it that I could have spoken too long? I told him I spent all my time helping my squad mates practice their close order drill, and during my few TMI practice speeches, I did not speak aloud. I retested the TMI the following day and got a perfect score. However, my grade point average was in the gutter. I would finish the school with about a 94.6 GPA and that was at the lower half of the class standings.
It was also near the very end of week four that I reflected on my fatigue, marital pressure and constant stress from the school that I contemplated quitting and taking the adverse fitness report. However two things happened. One, in conversations I learned two other Marines were having the same thoughts. All this time I thought it was only me who was burnt out. And two, I just could not face the embarrassment of telling my father I could not hack it. He was a Marine for two years. He was my father and still a very proud Marine. That would have been just too difficult to handle: me letting him down. His frequent praise for what I had done in the Marines was too big of a hurdle to get over. So, I got over my self-pity and graduated on December 18th, 1986.
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We had a mess night the evening before graduation. It was a fantastic time. When the kangaroo court was opened for fines, Mr. Vice stood and called my name:
Vice: “Sergeant Crouch”.
Me: “Sergeant Crouch, third squad Mr. Vice”.
Vice: “Sergeant Crouch, the entire class, class 1-87 and all of the Squad Instructors have requested that you be fined for suffering from a condition known as spring butt. It has been told to me that every Friday afternoon at 1600, when students were about to be dismissed for the weekend, you took up valuable time asking stupid questions delaying their departure, some visiting their families in North Carolina. Do you have anything to say for yourself”?
Me: There was no denying this, I did have a spring butt, seems that in every class or opportunity to interact with the staff I would stand and announce Sergeant Crouch, third squad, my question is . . . “Mr. Vice my only fault is having the courage to ask questions that many others had wanted to ask but they lacked the courage to ask”.
Mr. Vice: “I award you a fine of ten coins to the realm”. This meant that I had to give up ten dollars to the cash being collected. It was one of the few times I ever saw the Drill Master, SSGT Brisbin smile.
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1stSgt Crouch was a Marine Corps Drill Instructor at Navy Officer Candidate School and wrote a book entitled “The Pressure Cooker: Forging Naval Officers Through Marine Leadership“. The purpose of the Marine Corps Drill Instructors at Navy OCS was different than at Parris Island or MCRD San Diego. At Navy OCS, the job of the Marines was to make the officer candidates WASH OUT. Attrition was the mission.
The Drill Instructors at OCS were usually Gunnery Sergeants on their 2nd or 3rd tour of duty as a Drill Instructor – already having been seasoned with 2-4 years experience as a DI. Click Here to get the book and read stories about Marine Corps Drill Instructors inflicting endless pain on officer candidates with the goal of making them quit.
During our very last personnel inspection, three days before graduation, two of the Squad Instructors – GYSGT Marshall and SSGT Trudell – told me that I was going to graduate but did not feel I should be a Drill Instructor. They said I had a soft, weak demeanor and was unsuitable for the temperament of training recruits. My reply was “If you are judging my potential to train recruits based upon how I treat my fellow Marines I can understand this. I don’t treat Marines like recruits; they have already earned the title”. During our last two weeks it seemed that the other students could not wait to play the DI role, and were chewing out each other and any other Marine they saw for the slightest reason. I did not get into that mindset.
About six months later, I crossed paths with GYSGT Marshall and he said, “Sergeant Crouch, I was wrong about you. I have heard what a fine Drill Instructor you have become. I heard you are really good”. That compliment meant the world to me.
Of all the schools I had attended, I noticed one commonality: I was still in need of On-The-Job-Training (OJT) upon graduation. However, when I graduated DI school, I felt so confident of myself I actually thought, “Finally I have attended a school which prepared me to do the job I was trained for without the need for OJT”. I would learn in the first week on the job how foolish I was to think that way.
I had expected to learn the secrets of how to get inside the mind of recruits and manipulate them. What I would soon find out is that the psychology of human behavior is learned in the trenches, training recruits by observation of the more experienced Drill Instructors, and through your own discovery of understanding what makes people tick.
(For Part 5, Click Here)