Thomas Ricks' Making the Corps is one of the best books on today's Marine Corps available. The book looks at the Corps from the perspective of following a cohort of recruits through book camp on Parris Island. As the subtitle, one of the longest I have ever seen on a non-academic book (and longer, indeed, than most of those), boot camp is difficult, but is also reflective of America in general. 'Sixty-three men came to Parris Island to become Marines. Not all of them made it. This is the story of boot camp Platoon 3086, the Marine Corps, and America.' There is a lot in that statement, `not all of them made it'. Boot camp in most military services has an element of winnowing and removing those unable to work and cope in the military environment. Often this is a matter of mental strength and maturity more than it is a physical inability.
Ricks followed the crew of Platoon 3086 very closely. He did not change the names. He did not whitewash the situations. He followed them personally, but also incorporated pieces of information from official logs and follow-up evaluations. For all the mystery that seems to surround the Corps, it is a remarkably open organisation, and in many ways is like a Hollywood personality in search of a camera and the spotlight. Marines don't mind being in the spotlight. On the other hand, Marines strive to work as a team, so the stars of this book are, in reality, not the individuals, but the platoon, the Drill Instructors, and the Marine Corps itself. The story of Platoon 3086 could be repeated over and over. More than one million men and women have gone through Parris Island to become Marines. MCRD San Diego likewise turns out thousands per year.
One of the other elements that makes this book impressive for giving insight to the Corps is that, from the lowliest recruit to the Commandant, Marines are in many ways a band of brothers who prize their common bond. The Marine Corps has a lower percentage of officers to enlisted personnel than any other branch - to a very real extent, the enlisted crew run the Corps.
From the beginning of boot camp at Marine Corps Recruit Depot (MCRD) Parris Island, Ricks follows the men as they are driven through swamps and dark dusty roads through the South Carolina coast lands to a place that looks far more like a prison camp than training centre. This is intentional - the Marine Corps starts from the very beginning of the recruit's experience changing the entire outlook on life. The recruit starts becoming a Marine even before he reaches the camp. Rather than bringing the new recruits into the service with an orientation session, Ricks uses the title Disorientation for this introduction, and he is largely correct. In the first few days the world of recruits will be turned upside down, and they will become totally dependent upon their Drill Instructors, their inner strength and drive, and each other.
The hierarchy is simple. As Ricks says, at Parris Island (and the same is true at MCRD San Diego), the officers think about the training in the weeks ahead, the Drill Instructors think about the days ahead, and the recruits think about the immediate task or event.
Training takes place for weeks, and includes physical training (PT), drill and marching, military courtesy and customs, and all the various little disciplines and punishments the Drill Instructors can devise. Few things are done individually - the larger purpose of boot camp for the Marine Corps is to instill a sense of brotherhood and an indoctrination into the culture of the Marines. Ricks compares Marine Corps recruit training with Army training, and shows the contrast with two different Army installations, Fort Jackson and Fort Benning. Fort Jackson is much more like a college campus; even the soldiers at Fort Benning, where the Army does infantry training, look on Jackson as being rather soft. Benning is more like the Corps in that it is segregated (all male), marching and attention is the standard, and physical standards are tough. Ricks notes, however, that more actual training of skills takes place at Benning than at Parris Island.
'They don't train infantrymen at Parris Island,' Col. Johnny Brooks of Benning's infantry brigade states. `What they do is turn a civilian into a Marine.' Marines go on to the School of Infantry (SOI) after MCRD to become infantrymen. Every Marine learns to shot to rather high skill level; the Marine Corps states that `every Marine is a rifleman', and recruits don't make it through boot camp without acquiring that skill.
While this is far from an academic or research text, if one were to go through and collect all the books referenced in the text, and view all of the films (there is much more than films already cited here), one would get a very thorough indoctrination into the spirit and policy of the Marine Corps.
Ricks follows several of the Marines (in today's Marine Corps, the men in boot camp are not called Marines until the Crucible; in the Ricks experience, it was not until graduation - which shows the continuing evolution of the Corps) back into `the world', and follows up as they get new assignments, and, for some, discover that the ideals of Corps values are not lived up to outside of boot camp. Some also realise they no longer have that much in common with former friends and acquaintances.
Overall, this is an excellent insight into the culture of the Marines. Specifics of training may change, and the names of the participants certainly change, but the overall culture and ethos remains the same.