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Nobody Asked Me But…Maintain High Standards at Boot Camp

By Captain Gibson Armstrong, U.S. Marine Corps

Recruit training should not be education; it must primarily be indoctrination-to transform untrained, undisciplined recruits until they identify as part of a proud, organized, fighting force. The well intentioned changes never will imbue requisite pride and discipline. These are best instilled in the crucible of challenge and adversity, not the cozy classroom. Softening boot camp into a 12-week kinder, gentler values-education process that is more like the fleet will only breed failure. At best, it will impart a little knowledge; at worst, it will rob recruits of their own pride of accomplishment. Education must be part of indoctrination not vice versa.

At Parris Island, recruits also learn about honor, courage, and commitment-not in boring classes, but through the challenge of survival. Graduation is rightfully a proud moment as they earn the title, Marine. Application of stress makes recruits more mentally and emotionally pliable, to better absorb the new culture and its values. Less stress will only make them more resistant to their new way of life. With courage and commitment among the goals, the means must include more discipline and challenge, not less.

There is a point of diminishing returns from too much stress. But there certainly is no danger of approaching that threshold when rifles are eliminated and drill is minimized. Such military basics teach invaluable lessons like responsibility, discipline, and bearing. Laser-simulation shooting ranges can be valuable, but nothing teaches responsibility like learning to account for your rifle 24 hours a day. And nothing teaches bearing like learning to call cadence in front of your peers.

Minimizing physical training and making it co-ed are other recipes for disaster. Nothing builds morale and camaraderie better than tough physical training. Non-challenging, integrated training will challenge most men only to a standard low enough for women, and will bring on additional apathy with regard to physical activity.

Those running the new system want the Sailors to know "that [they're] in a professional organization." If that indeed is the goal, then begin with a rigorous indoctrination, not benign lesson plans. Every time new Sailors see the proverbial fat chief or an officer who lets them get by without saluting, they know that their leaders are not serious about standards.

Perhaps the "values" training actually is disguised sensitivity instruction, designed to prevent a future Tailhook. Here's the problem: Ignorance does not cause crime. Lack of self-control does. Education without discipline only creates smarter assailants.

When a chief assaulted a female petty officer on an airliner, the Navy held a stand-down. After recent Army sex scandals, the Navy held another stand-down at Great Lakes. Why? Such knee-jerk stand-downs and an educational boot camp are easy "solutions" that mask the root problem: lack of self-discipline and accountability.

How can the world's greatest navy restore pride, morale, and discipline? What transforms job into adventure? Start by challenging recruits. Remind Sailors that they are always on duty. Police your own ranks. Abandon the shameless retreat of stand-downs and embrace your high standards-beginning with the enforcement of basic appearance standards.

I look forward to a day when the world's most powerful navy will again be the world's proudest and most disciplined navy, when those who measure up are rewarded and those who do not are shown the door.

Captain Armstrong is an artillery officer who has served at Twentynine Palms and in Somalia. He currently is assigned to the 3d Force Service Support Group in Okinawa.


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