By Brandon J. Pugh

Most people believe that unless you’ve served, or plan to serve in the Corps, you will never be able to experience Marine Corps Recruit Training, or understand what makes the military branch so unique. This isn’t entirely the case—at least for educators.

As a longtime USO volunteer, I have had the pleasure of interacting with service men and women of all ranks and from every branch. However, I’ve always been fascinated by the Marine Corps because of my father’s service and its portrayal in movies like “A Few Good Men” and “Full Metal Jacket.”

Earlier this year, I had the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to take my place on those yellow footprints through the educators workshop.

Brandon J. Pugh, president of New Jersey’s Burlington County School Boards Association, recently participated in The Marine Corps Enlisted Educators Workshop. The workshop provides educators a glimpse into the making of Marines. Participants are greeted like recruits and get to experience certain challenges recruits face during their weeks of training. | Photo credit Courtesy of Brandon J. Pugh

The Marine Corps Enlisted Educators Workshop began in the late 1970s, and is open to teachers, administrators, guidance counselors and school board members, among others. Over the course of four days, educators are brought to their respective recruit depot and are able to experience and observe various elements of how Marines are made, and learn more about opportunities available in the Marine Corps. The program is fully funded by the Corps.

Like recruits, educators west of the Mississippi River participate at Marine Corps Recruit Depot (MCRD) San Diego. Those east of the Mississippi River participate at MCRD Parris Island, South Carolina. Between the two depots, about 1,200 drill instructors train about 37,000 future Marines per year.

I have always had the utmost respect for the military, so I was instantly intrigued when I heard about the program from Marine Sergeant Samuel Nasso, the marketing and public affairs director for Recruiting Station New Jersey. When I learned that I was accepted into the program, I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect. I had read about boot camp and heard about it from those that have experienced it, including new Marines I’d met while volunteering, but it’s not the same as a experiencing it firsthand, even briefly.

In late April, I trained with about 40 educators from New Jersey and Pennsylvania. The selective program—New Jersey had a 13 percent acceptance rate this year—was an opportunity to see most aspects of boot camp in a compressed timeframe.

Recruit training consists of an initial six to 10 days of processing, followed by 12 weeks of training, amounting to about 70 training days—Sundays are excluded. The program is split into three phases, each of which emphasizes close-order drill, physical training, martial arts training, academics and core values. Each phase exists to help recruits meet seven objectives—character development, discipline, esprit de corps, military bearing, individual general military subjects, individual combat basic tasks and physical fitness.

All enlisted Marines receive an additional 29 days (plus MOS School) or 59 days of training to expand upon the basic combat skills developed during recruit training.

My experience began when our local Marine recruiter picked me up early in the morning for the ride to the airport for my flight south. Once settled in South Carolina, the educator-recruits enjoyed dinner on Parris Island. In addition to the edibles, the menu included the history of the island, the Marine Corps in general and an introduction to the base leadership.

While the dinner was enjoyable, the real experience began early the next morning with the “Yellow Footprints Drill,” a time-honored tradition all Marine recruits experience. The bus was met by screaming drill instructors ordering us to stand at attention. They remained with us throughout our time on Parris Island.

I would be lying if I said I wasn’t intimidated by the drill instructors, but it was an eye-opening experience to see how millions of Marines have been greeted over the years.

Afterward, we received a briefing on educational benefits and opportunities available to members of the military, followed by a unique opportunity to have lunch with recruits who lived near our hometowns. One of the first day’s highlights was firing an M16-A4 rifle.

Photo credit Courtesy of Brandon J. Pugh

Pugh fires some rounds at the range during a recent Marine Corps Enlisted Educators Workshop.

Later, we met with Marines at Beaufort Air Station to hear about life after recruit training and the different careers available in the Marine Corps. The day was action-packed, but it was just the beginning.

On Thursday, we watched a water-survival exercise, visited the Marine Corps Museum, attended the Family Day celebration, attended a naturalization ceremony, went rappelling and met Lieutenant General Kenneth Glueck, who is the deputy commandant for combat development and integration.

It wasn’t over, however. We also tackled the confidence course and were given a chance to fight a martial arts instructor. One of the many highlights of the day was watching part of The Crucible, a culminating event where recruits must combine everything they’ve learned during their recruit training to survive a demanding 54-hour exercise.

The next day, we witnessed a Silver Star award ceremony and a Marine Corps graduation, before heading home.

While the experience is very enjoyable and informative for educators, there are three main outcomes that the Marine Corps strives to achieve through the workshop, according to Brigadier General Lori Reynolds, former commander of Marine Recruit Depot Parris Island and current principal director to the deputy assistant secretary of defense for South and Southeast Asia.

The first is to increase the public’s understanding of the role of the Marine Corps and its readiness to perform its mission, and also the role of the depot, its training, equipment and capabilities. Second is to increase public appreciation of the quality, dedication and esprit de corps of individual Marines and the cost effectiveness of the Marine Corps and the depot in their roles of national defense. Lastly, the workshop aims to increase understanding of the continuing need for the Marine Corps to recruit qualified, motivated young men and women.

There’s huge benefit in individuals attending the educators workshop because “awareness at all levels of who we are and what we do for our nation is paramount,” Reynolds said, adding one of the most important takeaways is the quality of men and women that the Corps recruits and trains.

In fact, Reynolds said she would tell “any student to make sure they check out every branch of service, as each one is completely different.” She explained that the Marine Corps is not a last resort, but a highly competitive institution. “We take only the best,” she said.

Pugh tries his hand at rappelling. This is just one of the challenges recruits must master during their training. | Photo credit Courtesy of Brandon J. Pugh

Reynolds’ point is one that drives many to the Marine Corps and separates it from other branches.

My father, Randy Pugh, went through Parris Island in August 1968 and later served in Da Nang, Vietnam. He said he joined the Marines because of their reputation for being the best and most disciplined, along with the belief that the Marine Corps sets the bar high and other branches strive to meet it.

“The values of discipline, courage and respect have been instilled in my daily life, and were invaluable during my career in law enforcement,” he said.

At Parris Island, I witnessed those values at work and I learned that the Corps isn’t just an occupation, but rather a way of life.

My training experience was tremendous and I was able to see the process that transforms our nation’s men and women into some of the finest warriors in the world.

The week is not designed to be physically rigorous, but rather to expose individuals to different aspects of the Marine Corps—including recruit training, service as a Marine and what makes the Marine Corps a truly unique and elite branch.

I highly recommend that individuals in a position to attend the educators workshop do so. I will forever have a deeper appreciation for every member of our armed forces, and it reminded me why I began and continue my volunteer work with the USO.

Regardless of branch of service, I thank those who are currently serving, have served, or have a friend or family member serving in the military.

– Brandon J. Pugh is a team leader for the Liberty USO, which serves Pennsylvania and southern New Jersey. He also is the president of the Burlington County School Boards Association in New Jersey.