12 August 2009


By Andy Weddington
Friday, 14 August 2009

To paraphrase an old saying in the Corps, no matter how close the ties—family or otherwise—no one truly understands Marines; except Marines—and the enemy.

Case in point. In late 1997 Sara Lister, at the time serving as Assistant Secretary of the Army for Manpower and Reserve Affairs, remarked that Marines were “extremists” at risk of “total disconnection with society.” Who knows what triggered her absurd and outrageous comment but she ignited one hell of a firestorm. The Corps’ Commandant was rumored to have thanked Lister for the compliment. Likely not true but it makes for good story-telling. But credible word had it he was less than impressed with her written apology. And that is being gentlemanly about it. Capitol Hill demands for Lister's resignation and dismissal proved futile. Bottom line: Lister did not and will never ever understand Marines.

Now to the story…one that will not make mainstream media today…

Specialist Leslie Tearman and Specialist Bethany Tearman of the Wisconsin National Guard have been deployed to Iraq—their unit is guarding prisoners at Camp Cropper in Baghdad—since January and are not expected home before January 2010. Chief Petty Officer John Shortridge, U. S. Navy is also deployed to Iraq, again, and not expected home until next spring. I do not know the Tearmans and I met Shortridge, ever-so-briefly, on one occasion.

The Tearmans and Shortridge have something in common—they are related—Leslie Tearman and Shortridge are siblings and Leslie is Bethany’s mother.

There is one other common link between the Tearman family and Shortridge—the reason for this commentary—they have a relative about to graduate from Marine Corps recruit training.

This morning at 1000 (Pacific Standard Time), aboard Marine Corps Recruit Depot, San Diego, Recruit Andrew Tearman, the son of Leslie Tearman, will parade and graduate; forever carrying the title “Marine.” Recruit Tearman, a member of Platoon 2146, will be among hundreds of young men in two series (three platoons each series) from Company G, 2nd Recruit Training Battalion, Recruit Training Regiment who will pass-in-review and soon thereafter be formally “dismissed” by their Senior Drill Instructors. Once dismissed, he will be Private Andrew Tearman, United States Marine Corps.

Like his mother, sister, and uncle, I do not know Recruit Tearman. But I do know one thing about him—he had the intestinal fortitude to seek out a Marine recruiter and enlist—that says volumes about his character.

I met Recruit Tearman for the first time yesterday during family day aboard the Depot--my wife and I took him and three platoon mates (who did not have visiting family) to lunch. And despite this rather hasty “kinship,” we will be among the thousands of proud family members and friends—representing nearly every state west of the Mississippi River—who will bear witness to the culminating event of recruit training.

So, why Private Tearman? Oh, the ironic ties which bind. In short, my wife, a Commander in the Navy, is Chief Shortridge’s Commanding Officer. The Chief asked, since family is a half a world away, if it would be possible for my wife and me to attend the graduation ceremony? Without hesitation, "Yes, of course—absolutely—our pleasure."

Of course there were a few coordinating details to resolve to ensure we connected with Tearman as we could not pick him out of a one-man lineup.

Enter the Marine family. A few emails and a phone call or two to Marine friends still on duty and in short order Colonel Rob Gates, Commanding Officer of the Recruit Training Regiment, assured me all would be taken care of. It was. During a brief phone conversation a few days before graduation to coordinate meeting Recruit Tearman, one of Tearman’s Drill Instructors—Staff Sergeant Nathan Stocking, USMC—told me he would personally take care of introducing us to Recruit Tearman. Stocking was professional and characteristic of DIs--a man of few words. But he did tell me Tearman was a good recruit. He must be or Staff Sergeant Stocking would not have said so. Having spent three years in a training battalion aboard recruit depot Parris Island, I know DIs do not hand out platitudes. To say a recruit is “good” is quite a compliment.

So, to those of you reading who are not familiar with what Marine Corps recruit training is all about, a little perspective using excerpts from my book,“MAKING MARINES.”

The recruits…

“Recruits are the most important ingredient in the recipe for “Making Marines.” Young men and women of character from across America’s farms, towns, and cities—big and small—and, from foreign soil, and of every color, creed, and socio-economic class one can name who, for sundry reasons, are drawn to the United States Marine Corps. These men and women do not want to be Soldiers, Sailors, or Airmen. Yet little do any of them fully realize the many challenges and hardships they will face, and have to conquer, before earning the privilege of being called “Marine.” Training is tough—it has to be. Duty in the Operating Forces only gets more challenging—with far greater stakes—and the “game” is for real—life and death—in training and combat. Therefore, the time-tested road from recruit to “Marine” is littered—intentionally—with increasingly difficult mental and physical obstacles. Recruits must keep a positive attitude, exert maximum effort, and persevere—at all times—to prevail.”

Aboard the Depot…

“Once off the bus and covering a pair of one-size-fits-all yellow footprints—of which Corps yore is made—recruits abruptly learn their personal desires and undisciplined ways are problematic—to say the least—and constantly garner the unpredictable wrath of DIs. It does not take long to grasp the concept of teamwork. As culture shock begins to subside, feelings of uncertainty, self-doubt, and homesickness attack. And, to add to the stress, rigorous physical training causes sore, aching bodies, as muscle and stamina steadily replace fat and weakness. Some will be sent home—for one reason or another—assessed by DIs, and certified by officers, as not Marine material. For others, there will be setbacks in training—most will eventually triumph. The majority will defeat their anxieties, ghosts, and demons and do so because leading, training, and mentoring them every step of the way is their DI—with eyes on their recruits 24 hours a day—from arrival to graduation.”

The Drill Instructors…

“DIs have not changed all that much. No matter the era, they are the epitome of a Marine. They are loud, exacting, demanding, uncompromising perfectionists who are never satisfied—ever. Each generation of DIs fully understand the magnitude of their responsibility, and duty, preserving the standards, traditions, customs, and courtesies of the Corps. The DI ensures only the deserving departs the depot wearing the eagle, globe, and anchor—thereby accomplishing the Commandant’s order—“Make Marines.” Therefore, it’s not surprising all Marines—regardless of generation—share a very special camaraderie from the common experience they endured, and speak with awe and reverence about their DIs. Ask any Marine the names of their DIs—even if completing recruit training decades ago—they will know them—without fail—and, without hesitation—and likely feel just a little uneasy thinking about them while unconsciously reaching to check a button or belt alignment.”

From yellow footprints to graduation day there is not another entry-level 12-week transformation process—military or civilian—as demanding and life-changing as United States Marine Corps recruit training. For those who challenge and conquer the rigorous regimen, there are no promises--only two envied privileges: 1) to wear the military uniform of the United States adorned with the distinctive eagle, globe, and anchor—the world’s most recognized military emblem; and 2) to claim the title “Marine”—for life. “Once a Marine always a Marine” is not clever bumper sticker fodder. It is fact.

Anyone who has completed entry-level Marine training—whether aboard recruit depots San Diego or Parris Island, South Carolina, or at Officer Candidates School in Quantico, Virginia—well appreciates the feelings of relief, accomplishment, and self-satisfaction having faced and beat demanding physical and psychological challenges purposively designed to test one’s mettle—challenges most people can not begin to imagine—much less tackle.

Today Private Tearman is a Marine. But for him, like all other Marines, he barely has time to take a deep breath. For entry-level training is only the beginning. Basic infantry training and military police specialty training follow—and the requirements are more challenging still. Then, once “classroom” time is complete, he will be assigned to the Operating Forces to contribute to the team—to join the fight—today, the war on terror.

In the words of George Orwell:

"People sleep peaceably in their beds at night because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf."

Congratulations to the new Marines of Company G. Three hundred thirty-three new warriors--"rough men"--reporting for duty so the rest of us may sleep peaceably.

Regardless of how short or long his service, Private Tearman is a "Marine"--forever. He will understand Marines and Marines will understand him. Everyone else, except the enemy, can only wonder.

Here's to the Corps! Semper Fidelis, Marines.

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