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eee ISLAND REDUX arris Island, South Caroli south of Charleston and forty Savannah, Georgia, atthe end ofa series of windit d with trees dipped in Sp area celebrated in the Pat Conroy novels The Great Santini and The Prince of Tides, books that mix genteel lushness with cathartic and destructive bursts of passion. Amor films such as Forrest Gump, The d Glory were filmed here. Over the last thirty years the region has become a popular ist and retirement destination, especially the nearby Beaufort, with its beautifully restored antebellui d Hilton Head, with its golf courses and beach co dos. Visitors to the charming boutiques and restaurants here Iuxuriate only a short drive away from the main gates of the USS. Marine Corps Recruit Depot (MCRD), where the words n the welcome sign read, WELCOME TO PARRIS ISLAND: WE MAKE MARINES. This is the home of Marine Corps Boot Camp, and the incubator for Marine culture. ‘The Marines themselves foster an image of “PI” as of American Devil’ Island or Napoleonic Elba, a place w' exiled teens not long out of high school endure terrors as they are purged of host of bad habits and attitudes known collec~ tively as “civ young recruit be- ‘came so det twescape Corps that he fled his barracks during a full moon and swam nearly a mile across Port Royal Sound to the opposite shore. He was picked up by police in his soaked camouflage utilities and returned to the Marines for discharge. MCRD-Parris Island graduates about sixteen thousand recruits each year. At any given moment there are four thou- sand male recruits and six hundred female recruits on the island, average age nineteen. A cadre of nearly six hundred drill instructors (Ds) trains them all, Two- and three-story ildings house recruit barracks and drill instructor offices shaded by oaks and pines. Inside those buildings, the living quarters or “squad bays” are essentially long concret floored barns with rows and rows of bunk beds. The bas self is homely but immaculate. Brass polish and fresh coats 6f paint help make up for facilities that are among the most antiquated in all the U.S. armed forces. roads Jh moss. This is the kind I MADE A PILGRIMAGE TO PARRIS ISLAND BECAU! there's a Jot I still don’t truly understand about the Marines, even though right out of college I served as an officer in the Corps. The old saying in the Corps is “Once a Marine, Always, 4 Marine,” and I've found over time that somehow I agree. The intensity and separateness of life in the Corps force any- ‘gtr Bare, Apri 2002. Potogragh by he ater. who has ever served, like it or ‘4 permanently even as the slogan ac knowledges membership ity, is also a warning and a prod. Whether you see it on truck bumpers. ‘along the highway or on baseball caps at veterans’ reunions, , Have you been living up to the example of the few, the proud? Givilian Marines (there’s really no such thing as an “ex- Marine”) manifest the varying aspects of Marine culture different ways. enlisted i His legacy was to shoot and kill fourteen people from atop Austin’s Texas Tower one August day in 1966, Daniel Ellsberg graduated third in his ss at Harvard in 1952 and joined the Marines as an officer. His legacy was the Pentagon Papers, documents he smuggled tothe New York Times in 1971 to tell the truth about Vi and light the fuse that would explode the Nixon presidency. F Blsberg, his actions were completely in keeping with hi ethies as a gung-ho former Marine. Not many of activists who anointed him a hero ever called attention to Ellsberg’s Marine credentials. A civilian Marine since 1991, was goosebumped as I drove through the gates of the hallowed Parris Island for the first time (1 never trained there—all officers complet ingat Officer Candidates School {OCS} in Quantico, Virginia). I realized how a decade back in the elvilian world still hadn't helped me figure out exactly how the reality (much less the propaganda) of Marine life should overlay the template of to come to terms wit ‘tasks basic train: ‘my subsequent civilian existence. My father was a decorated. Marine officer in Vietnam; my brother was a decorated Marine in the Gulf War. Consequently, it's as if 1 spent my childhood and early adulthood on some all-Marine space- ‘ship before crash-landing on a barely more habitable orb in the civilian galaxy. More than occasionally, I tread through life ambivalently, scratching my head, a stranger ina strange land, asking what parts of me will always be Marine, what parts will never be Marine, and what parts will forever shift. You can’t fit all ofthat on a bumper sticker. IF PARRIS ISLAND WERE ANOTHER PLANET—SAy, something out ofa George Lucas movie—then its Jedi Knights, would be drill instructors. Dis are those enlisted men and. ‘women who push basic recruits through the three months of bboot-camp training. To become a DI, a Marine first has to en- dure an eleven-Wweek course at Parris Island known as Drill, Instructor School, the toughest training program in the Marine Corps—much more rigorous than boot camp itself Thad decided to visit DI School and boot camp because the personnel and curriculum there represent the very essence of Marineness. My nerves got the better of me as I waited in my Subaru ‘outside the base public-affars office the first morning of my visit. That old feeling of wanting to measure up came flood- iz back. I was there to meet my escort—a smart and attrac- live young lieutenant named Jennifer Radcliff. Marine Corps policy prohibits journalists from wandering around Parris Island unaccompanied. Though I had explained my Marine lineage in detail in a proposal letier, none of that mattered. ‘To the denizens of Pl I was just another reporter: Lt Radcliff drove me around in a white government van, and in between appointments we stopped for military-issue coffee or a sandwich. Although she was wary of me as a re- porter, and I was wary of her as a public-affairs spin agent, ound it refreshing to work with a female Marine. I'd served in a combat unit during my days in the Corps and had ‘worked around men only. It was immediately easier to relax and be myself with Radcliff as we arrived at the red-brick DI School to observe a class in session. Even though she was still on active duty, her identity didn’t revolve around being a Marine as much as mine did a decade out of the Corps. Perhaps she knew the Marines would always be foremost amale club, My mind riffs back a decade ago to a dark hotel bar in Olongapo—a mad, Hieronymous Bosch-like town beyond the barbed wire of Subic Bay Naval Base in the Philippines. Asa lieutenant enjoying my first overseas deployment, | am the junior-ranking officer ata table full of eaptains and ma: jors watching a willowy, dark-haired Filipino woman dance ‘on the stage in front us. She wears a white bikini, matching hhigh heels, and a round silver disk with the number 8 pinned 1o her waistband, We've been drinking heavily after spending tree weeks at sea. The woman dances suggestively to a Madonna song, “Papa Don’t Preach.” When she spots me at the table, she begins to smile and point my way. Smaller and, ‘more baby-faced than the other men, I must be the least threatening to her. A major calls over our waiter and gives him finy dollars for “number eight.” Then the major, who is ‘married and wants to live vicariously, pokes me in the chest and slurs, “OK, Lieutenant, don’t let me down now.” ‘Soon the git i sitting on my lap with her arms around my neck. Her name is Mary. The way she says it, it sounds like -May-ree. For fity dollars, Mary will be my “girlfriend” for ten days in port. !ask her how old she is, and she whispers in my ear, “Fileen.” I seize upon her age as an escape hatch, but the group at the table sees her youth as something positive. Embarrassed and slightly panicked, I try to engage her in conversation. The waiter wants to know if T'm planning to reserve a room=if so, it costs extra. I say tonight. The table gets its jollies while the girl dances aroui ‘me. Then I grab her by the wrist and excuse us both from the group. “We're going to get a drink,” I say with a wink. More ‘guffaws. The major calls after me, *Make sure you empty all the rounds in your magazine, lad” lake Mary outside, stammer a litle, and reassure her that Tm not gay and that she is very beautiful—but I must go. | give her another twenty dollars for her trouble and stumble back to the base, alternately cursing the officers I work for and wondering what's wrong with me. ‘These brie moments with May-ree washed over me as Isat in the back of the classroom and reminded me of the one thing I wouldn't do while here: fall into the numbing stupor ‘of manhood testing with a male Marine. To hold my interest, wanted to find a female drill instructor, someone who could ‘be my brief but articulate muse, helping me to see the Corps. with fresh eves. IN BETWEEN CLASSES LY. RADCLIFF AND I MILLED about with the students in @ small lounge where we all munched on energy bars oF sipped cups of coffee to stay awake. Almost nobody sat down during breaks for fear of ‘wrinkled uniforms. (The threat of an unannounced uniform inspection always looms at DI School) During this break Lt Radelif introduced me to my “gt”: Sergeant Jennifer Bar- ret lthe five-foot-five sandy blonde from Nebraska whose big eyes made hier seem even younger than her twenty-six years. We made a date to meet atthe end of the training day ‘w talk about her experience in the Marines Back from the break, Gunnery Sergeant Ricky Wiliams taught class called “The History of Recruit Training,” which ‘was less history course than an opportunity to remind Dis where the boundary lines of discipline and conduct reside. Many civilians incorrectly assume that the Marines sanction brutality in basic training. ‘This is not true. There are high school football programs more brutal than Marine boot ‘camp. What may have been tolerated inthe past to toughen recruits destined for Japanese islands or Korean mountains is no longer allowed. Inthe age of CNN, overzealous hazing poses too great a threat of scandal; the Marines will never permit a recurrence of Ribbon Creek. That infamous inci- dent oceurred one night in 1956, when a Parris Island DI ‘drank a bottle of vodka and decided to wis reerits by leading a forced march through the Ribbon Creek salt