This is the final segment of a multi-part written series on the firsthand experiences of 1stSgt Crouch at United States Marine Corps Drill Instructor School. For Part 5, 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 can only speak of DI School Class 1-87 (October 13th, 1986 – December 18th, 1986). Although I attended DI School two more times for each subsequent tour, I was a course challenger, not a student. Therefore, as a course challenger, I spent two weeks total taking all the tests – physical, performance and academic.
We had 13 squad instructors, one of whom was a female. Parris Island always had a female squad instructor because they needed to be a role model for the future female DIs.
Each squad instructor was a GYSGT, however, the female position was allowed to be a SSGT. Female squad instructors would be assigned male students as well. We did have one male SSGT squad instructor with broken time. He was allowed to be at DI school, which turned out to be a wise choice. SSGT Brisbane was the most professional Marine I have ever witnessed to this day.
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The role of the squad instructors was to be the subject matter expert on an aspect of being a Drill Instructor. This subjects included drill master, SOP, physical fitness, inspections, and others. In addition to teaching classes, they also conducted a weekly counseling evaluation of your performance each Friday, and should have behaved like a good mentor to help you succeed. My own squad instructor was worthless, but a few of the others were absolutely awesome, GYSGT Wiggins, GYSGT Marshall and SSGT Brisbane were of tremendous help.
DI School was 8 weeks of hell when I went through. By 1990 the course changed to 12 weeks.
Attrition was high. You could quit, but then you would have an adverse performance evaluation. Any chance of future promotion or retention was ripped from your hands. You would also be sent back to your old unit – another layer of shame!
If you failed any test, academic, physical or performance, you would be retested in 24 hours. Fail it again and you are kicked out of school, bad fitness report (performance evaluation) and back to your old unit with likely your terminal rank or lagging a few years in promotion from that point on.
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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.
Most attrition was from failure to memorize the drill manual. Each week, you would have to memorize 5-7 new drill movements. They started out at about 3/4 of a page in length. By the end of the school, the movements were each about two pages in length. You never knew which drill movement card you would pull from the instructor’s hand. When you pulled your card and looked at it, chances are it was not the movement you were hoping to get. The first Marine would be given 5 minutes to prepare (study his notes). Then as he or she was about to march out 25 yards to be tested, the 2nd Marine would pull their card from the hands of the squad instructor and have until the 1st Marine was finished to be prepared.
You were graded on your ability to memorize verbatim, in proper sequence, each word and sentence. Your military bearing, command voice (hence why the 25 yards away) and overall effectiveness was evaluated. Every error, regardless of how minor, was a lost point. Lose 21 points (on a 100 maximum score) and you fail. The verbatim sequencing caused the most errors.
The second most failures came from personnel inspections. You would receive 20 graded inspections. Only some were known, others were random. You had to be ready for inspection twice a day with a fresh shave each time, 1st class after PT and 1st class after lunch. No arm fold wrinkles in the sleeves, no sit down creases in the trousers, fresh edge dressing, perfect brass – these were all expectations.
Sleep deprivation was the rule. I maintained about 3.5 – 4.5 hours of sleep daily. The rest of the time was 100% focused on passing school. Weekends were ours to do with as we please. For me the pace really didn’t change.