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Want to Join the US Marines? Here Is What You Should Expect

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Pfc. Emilio Barradas, 1st Recruit Training Battalion, sounds off during a motivational run at Marine Corps Recruit Depot, San Diego. Following graduation, the new Marines will head to Camp Pendleton, Calif., to begin their next phase of training. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Brooke C. Woods)

Arriving at Recruit Training is an aspiring Marine’s first step toward earning the coveted Eagle, Globe, and Anchor–an emblem bestowed upon those who earn the right to call themselves a Marine, but the challenges ahead aren’t insignificant. Each recruit must endure a 13-week program aimed at challenging their mental and physical toughness, as well as problem solving and interpersonal skills. These skills are not only necessary to be successful as a United States Marine, they’re essential to accomplishing the missions America entrusts to the Corps.

Whether you’re a poolee preparing to ship off to MCRD San Diego or Parris Island, or you’re just thinking about enlisting into Uncle Sam’s favorite gun club, here’s a breakdown of what you can expect if and when you arrive at Recruit Training.

Marine Corps Recruit Training Phase 1

Receiving Week

While not technically a part of the 12-week training regimen, Receiving Week is when recruits are introduced to the rigid structure and seemingly alien culture of Recruit Training. During this week, Recruits undergo administrative in-processing, receive hair cuts and medical examinations, and are issued their clothing and gear. Recruits will also have to complete an Initial Strength Test during Receiving Week, to assess their ability to meet the Corps’ rigourous physical standards. At the end of Receiving Week, recruits are introduced to their Drill Instructors.

Weeks 1-3: The Fundamentals

During the first three weeks of training, recruits receive a crash course in Marine Corps fundamentals. A large emphasis is placed on learning Marine Corps history, customs and courtesies, their uniforms, and core values–and you can expect to learn these through screaming repetition. Other skills are also addressed to establish a foundation for further training, like addressing basic first aid and the Marine Corps Martial Arts Program.

One of the larger facets of Weeks 1-3, and Recruit Training as a whole, is close order drill. Recruits will begin learning basic commands and will become adept at marching in formation around the Recruit Depot.

Week 4: Swim Week

After learning the fundamentals in Weeks 1-3, Recruits face their first big challenge in Week 4: Swim Week. During swim week, recruits will spend a great deal of time in the pool, first working on the basics like treading water, and eventually learning survival techniques to stay afloat in deep water with all their gear on. At the end of Swim Week, recruits must pass Swim Qualifications (commonly referred to as “Swim Qual”) in order to proceed in their training. While there are instructors there to assist weak swimmers early on, failing to meet the basic requirements for Swim Qual can halt a recruit’s progression through Recruit Training until they are more capable in the pool.

Marine Corps Recruit Training Phase 2

Week 5: Team Week

To a certain extent, Team Week can be seen as a break from the intense training recruits have been undergoing. During Team Week, recruits are split into teams (hence the name) and sent around the installation to assist in day to day operations. Recruits can expect to do laundry, organize boxes, clean buildings, and even landscaping. During Team Week, recruits often operate with less supervision than they do in other weeks of training, which gives them their first opportunity to live up to the Corps’s core values of Honor, Courage, and Commitment by doing the right thing, even when no one is looking.

Week 6: Grass Week

Grass week is when recruits start learning the fundamentals of rifle marksmanship. It begins with a long march out to the Rifle Range, but don’t get too excited, there won’t be any shooting in Week 6. Instead, recruits are taught proper firing positions, how to achieve proper sight picture with their weapons, and the basics of firearm maintenance. Most importantly, recruits will spend an extended about of time sitting, standing, and laying in grass fields as they “snap in” on targets to practice the proper techniques.

Week 7: Firing Week

This is where the real fun starts. During Firing Week, recruits will learn to leverage the skills they developed in Grass Week to make them effective marksmen with live rounds. Recruits will fire from different distances and in different positions throughout the week as they prepare for Rifle Qualification. At the end of the week, recruits will qualify with their M-16A4 service rifles and earn one of three marksmanship badges: Marksman, Sharpshooter, or Expert. Failing to pass Rifle Qualification, however, can freeze a recruit’s progress through Recruit Training.

Phase 3

Week 8: Basic Warrior Training

Now that recruits have become proficient marksmen, they can begin training in more complex combat tactics. During Basic Warrior Training, recruits can expect to learn the basic skills required to not only survive in combat, but to dominate the battle space. Basic Warrior Training includes combat marksmanship training, learning land navigation, and how to maneuver under enemy fire. Basic Warrior Training is grueling both mentally and physically, but the biggest challenge is yet to come.

Weeks 9-10: Testing Week and The Crucible

Recruits will begin testing week by completing a number of academic and physical exams, meant to assess their fitness, knowledge of Marine Corps fundamentals, and basic skills. At the end of Week 10, recruits face their most significant challenge: The Crucible.

The Crucible is a 54-hour long field event designed to push recruits to their limit. Throughout The Crucible, recruits will be expected to leverage every lesson and skill they’ve developed throughout their time at Marine Corps Recruit Training. Those who complete The Crucible are awarded their Eagle, Globe, and Anchor, and the title of U.S. Marine.

Phase 4

Weeks 11-12: New Marines

Earning the title of Marine doesn’t mean the training is over, and Weeks 11-12 are all about preparing for life in the Fleet Marine Force. New Marines will complete administrative tasks aimed at preparing them for their follow on training, which will either be Marine Combat Training or the School of Infantry, depending on each Marine’s occupational specialty. The new Marines will also undergo an inspection from the Battalion Commander. At the end of Week 12, a graduation ceremony marks the completion of Recruit Training, and Marines are given ten days of leave before they’re expected to report in to their next place of duty.

Alex Hollings is a writer, dad, and Marine veteran who specializes in foreign policy and defense technology analysis. He holds a master’s degree in Communications from Southern New Hampshire University, as well as a bachelor’s degree in Corporate and Organizational Communications from Framingham State University. This first appeared in Sanboxx News. 

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Sandboxx News is a digital and print military media outlet focused on the lives, experiences, and challenges facing today’s service members and America’s defense apparatus. Built on the simple premise that service members and their supporters need a reliable news outlet free of partisan politics and sensationalism, Sandboxx News delivers stories from around the world and insights into the U.S. Military’s past, present, and future– delivered through the lens of real veterans, service members, military spouses, and professional journalists.

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