Marines basic training today versus Full Metal Jacket era

I’ve heard my share of stories from Marines who served “back in the day” about how the basic training that Marines go through today is not as rough as the training they went through back in the 60s, 50s, 40s, whenever.

The classic portrayal of Marines basic training in popular culture is probably the film Full Metal Jacket. In this movie, the recruits are called maggots, pukes, faggots, cocksuckers, and various other degrading names. Some of them are beaten physically by their drill instructor. But I have been told by many Marines - some of them who are my age, and some of them who are from older generations - that the training now is supposedly “soft” somehow compared to how it used to be.

They say that:

Drill instructors are not allowed to use curse words

They are no longer allowed to beat recruits physically

Anyone who does these things will be punished by the higher ups

There is no more tolerance for hazing from fellow recruits

How much truth is there to all of this? Can anyone who has been through it weigh in?

That’s been in effect in the Spanish military for decades (at least) - I had one boss that we used to say “sounds like a damn sergeant” and guess what, I found out he had been one, in the demolitions squad. I never heard him use anything that the dictionary would have classified as “vulgar”, yet his curses and penile references were unmistakable.

Only because they can’t say “dick” doesn’t mean they can’t call you one…

The Marines reputation for borderline-abusive basic training comes from the Ribbon Creek Incident in 1956, when a DI had a few too many at the NCO club and went back to the recruit barracks to run some nightime training. For the historically-minded, he succeeded in killing more Marines by himself than the Spanish Empire had in 1898.

Vietnam changed everything for the rest of the services, in an era when a white (usually Southern) sergeant hitting a drafted Black guy would have caused a riot. Since the Marines were all volunteers (and IMHO, have a lot of unresolved homoerotic S&M issues :slight_smile: ) They still exercised more lattitude. But by the 80’s, the DI 's never hit the guys, they just made them do calesthenics like crazy, same as the other services. They did, however, correct the recruits proper positioning of their rifles at attention, hitting them in the face while doing so.

(there were times in navy boot camp that I wished they’d offered me the option of being hit with the muzzle of my 1903 Springfield instead of having to hold it out in front of me for an eternity)

Not allowed does not equal doesn’t happen… alot. And punishment only happens if they (the drill instructor or the fellow recruit) get caught.

So, yes they curse, yes, some still use physical motivation, and yes, recruits will police their own.

Anecdote here: I asked a friend of mine who had just gotten out if it was true that DIs were no longer allowed to swear at recruits. He looked at me like I was from another planet and explained that one of his DIs had thrown him into a wall once. This was in '90 or '91.


Even if these things were universally true, only a fool would think that makes basic training easier.

  1. Being sworn at is not a big deal.

  2. You can put someone under a LOT more physical stress than hitting them.

  3. Hazing? Shit, on basic we didn’t even have time to think about it.

I wasn’t a Marine but I’ve asked this same question of my dad (joined 1972) and brother (joined 1997.) My dad says FMJ is basically pretty accurate but I don’t think there was much hazing between recruits and there was little or no hitting/choking from the DIs. By the time my brother went in there was absolutely no physical contact from the DIs and little or no cursing from them.

By the way, the term is “old Corps.” To be old Corps, you must have joined before the person you’re talking to. That’s the only requirement :).

EDIT: I think my dad is coming over tonight so I’ll ask him if his DIs ever hit anybody. I know I’ve asked him before but I can’t remember what his answer was.

You trained with a 1903? How old are you?

I’ve heard of one trick:

When the men spar for hand to hand training, the DI will keep putting in new, fresh guys into the ring while keeping the screwup in. So that basically, the screwup ends up having to fight every recruit in the unit. And THEN get on with the rest of the days training.

yep, that’s what we had in boot camp in 1986. We never shot them, of course, just drilled & did PT with them.

I so fell in love with mine that I later bought my own from the Civillain Marksmanship program

Doesn’t this sound like the police officers in Beverly Hills Cop to you?

Back when Ivylad was in the Navy, he pissed off his DI* something bad, and the DI made him do push-ups.

Ivylad was very physically fit at the time, and could whip off 100 push-ups without breathing hard. So doing push-ups wasn’t really a punishment for him. He said one day the DI made him do push-ups as long as he could, just to see how far he could get before he dropped.

He said the one thing the DI did, when he complained about the small meals, was make him eat double portions in the same amount of time. I think DI’s now use psychological methods to break you down and build you back up, rather than physical assault.

*Do they call them DI’s in the Navy? I’m drawing a blank.

We used “Drill Instructor” in 1963.

No. I joined in 1967 and they were simply called “Company Commander” or “CC”.

I have on good report that peer hazing still occurs in the Air Force.

I have a request for information in to a young Marine of my acquaintance.

I suspect most of the serious abuse is now reserved for SERE training.

I graduated from Marine boot camp in San Diego in January 1962. Our DIs were very much aware of the repercussions of the Ribbon Creek Incident and let us know that they would not touch us unless necessary. They never told us what "necessary"was.

I saw a DI punch a recruit in the solar plexus after the poor guy had accidentally dropped his rifle…on the DI’s shoe! The recruit wasn’t hurt and later admitted he had it coming (ask any Marine about the sacred status of polished shoes!).

The DI’s swore and used colorful language regularly, and there was no reason not to. We were generally referred to as “maggots” or “girls”. I never heard anyone called by a homosexual slur, and racial remarks were highly unlikely as our platoon was all white (OK, we had three Samoans and a guy from Guam) and the platoon commander (the senior of our three DIs) was himself Black.

Punishments usually consisted of running with rifle, helmet and cartridge belt. We did three miles every morning, but there could be more if the DIs felt we were getting “loose” and needed some tightening up. “Now, ladies; it’s time for a little stroll!”

Another favorite punishment was pushups done with hands folded into fists so our knuckles were in contact with the ground, which was frequently covered with gravel. Yes, it hurt a lot.

As to The Old Corps, I can proudly claim that status by virtue of being one of the last recruits to train with the M-1 Garand rifle. When my platoon graduated the new platoons were being issued M-14s.

Also, I had an actual military service number, something that was phased out during the Vietnam War and replaced by Social Security numbers. I vividly recall the number, but even now I have a hard time speaking it without adding “sir!” after it.

The Navy retained welded-up Springfields as boot camp rifles for many years. They were going to have to take a lot of abuse so they figured they might as well use up obsolete arms for the purpose. It’s just a lump of metal for people to be burdened with.

Years ago a kids TV presenter did a series called ‘Duncan Dares’ where he did various ‘adventurous’ things. One episode was him training with the Parachute Regiment. Since he was a civilian they didn’t want to give him a rifle so instead he had to do all the marches, assault courses etc. carrying a solid steel shepherd crook. Typical army humour. :wink:

One of the cute tricks my company commanders used was creative exercising. Evidently they were issued a card that had the maximum number of things like push-ups that they were allowed to make us do in one sitting. So like 25 push-up at one time and that was it.

So we’d start off after getting dropped (their term for exercise after screwing up) thus:

CC: “Ok everyone…halfway down…hold it…hold it…ok, now down (down doesn’t actually mean laying on the deck either)…hold there…now halfway up…hold it …keep it there…back down…halfway up…hold…now up…that’s one”

You get the idea…they could make those 25 push-ups take about 45 minutes if they wanted…depending on how pissed off they were. And yeah, lots of cursing…(This was in 1990 Navy Boot Camp…with the old and heavy as shit plugged up rifles)

Just think, though: you could make a kickass bishop!