The Marine’s Boot Camp experience is unique—it’s evident from the opening scenes on that first night at Parris Island, South Carolina. New recruits emerge from buses at two o’clock in the morning and line up—by placing their feet on row after row of painted footprints. It’s as if by taking their places, they click into a new life. “New recruits always arrive at night; it’s intentional,” Lieutenant General Robert Blackman, former President and CEO of the MCHF, says. “For most people, the night is disorienting, and everyone is tired. This setting allows drill instructors to begin that process of transformation, taking recruits from individual civilians to team players who are focused on the greater good and not themselves. Of course, the footprints symbolize the thousands of people who came before, but they’re also practical. They begin the instruction on formation and close-order drill.”
Brad Ohlund, the film’s Director of Photography, says that from that first exposure to Boot Camp, through graduation, and until newly minted Marines greeted their families at the film’s end, the film’s subjects were completely focused on the all-consuming task at hand. “It was almost as if the film crew wasn’t even there,” he says. “They had way too much going on; they were training, and training hard. From that first night, when they arrived tired, intimidated, and scared, no one even blinked. No one even slightly moved his eyes to look at the camera.”
We, The Marines conveys more than the story of training; it conveys the sense of belonging that occurs for people who finish the training. It conveys the significance of the Corps’ history. The Marine Corps was first created in 1775 to provide sharpshooters intended to support Naval frigates, who needed an edge over the superior English Navy. Thanks to these riflemen, dozens of enemy captains were killed, literally allowing our country’s independence. This heritage, and the Corps’ associated unity, have passed down nearly 250 years into each and every recruit. This history underscores one of the most fundamental rules in the Marine Corps—each and every recruit learns to shoot with precision and at long distances. The motto, “every Marine a Rifleman” remains true.
But a Marine is not a Marine until he or she successfully completes the “Crucible.” It’s a 54-hour obstacle course on steroids—48 miles of marching with 45 pounds of gear, covering 29 team-building exercises—all on only six hours of sleep and two meal rations. Recruits scale walls and towers, help one another under cylinders of barbed wire and over high cross-beams, traverse bodies of water across slippery logs, pull one another through thick mud. They jump, run, crawl, carry. They realize that they will not—they cannot—succeed without one another. The Marine Corps is a collaborative venture.
At the end of Boot Camp, the youngsters from that first night off the bus are unrecognizable. In their places, standing in formation, are strong, resilient soldiers. We see a single tear coursing down a cheek, and unspeakable accomplishment on every face. “On the parade ground after the Crucible, it’s not the graduation itself, but the Eagle, Globe, and Anchor ceremony that is especially moving,” Ohlund says. “The Senior Drill Instructor of each company or platoon walks down row after row of graduates, and he’s carrying pins, which are symbols of the Marine Corps. He reaches out with one of these in his palm, and clasps the Marine’s hand in a handshake, transferring the pin. At that precise moment, the recipient stops being a recruit and becomes a Marine. It’s a powerful moment; the drill instructor stops being an instructor and starts being a mentor. It’s an amazingly emotional moment. A week later, they graduate.”
The film team captured spouses, parents, children, and grandparents rushing forward after the graduation ceremony. As family hugged their crisply uniformed relatives, cinematographer Ohlund asked the new Marines what got them through the hard times of Basic Training. “Every one of them said, ‘my drill instructors.’ These drill instructors had been screaming and degrading these Marines all day, every day for the last eleven weeks, nearly twenty-four hours a day. But it worked; they had turned these kids into Marines, and the Marines knew it. I found that to be astonishing.”
These are the experiences that set the Marine Corps apart. By the time a recruit stands at graduation, he or she is a changed person.“There’s almost something magical about it,” General Blackman says. “We frankly strip away individuality and create teams, because a team is stronger than the total of the individual pieces. Marines are proud to be part of an organization with such an illustrious past and such a spectacular history of success.”