Once a recruit steps foot on the yellow footprints, his life will never be the same. One of the first things recruits learn at receiving company is the position of attention, the initial position for many drill movements.
As the brakes on the bus squeak to a sudden halt, his heart begins to race with anxiety. The warm, hurried breaths of the skittish teenager sitting next to him seem to echo in his ear as they both wait, eyes shut tight and heads tucked down in a modified fetal position. The screeching sound of the door flying open pierces a brief moment of silence. Suddenly every second feels like an hour as he anticipates every sound and every action in the dark world around him. One, two, three footsteps … then the voice, “Look at me right now!”
Many people have heard the saying, “you never get a second chance to make a first impression.” Drill instructors at Receiving Barracks Company here don’t worry much about that. Every week, they introduce hundreds of young men to Marine Corps recruit training. For the drill instructors, it’s just another day at work. For the recruits, it’s a night they’ll never forget.
“We’re the first drill instructors they see,” said Staff Sgt. Amman E. Catalan, senior drill instructor, Receiving Barracks Company.
“We have to maintain the high intensity and professionalism Marine boot camp is known for. They’re all expecting what they’ve seen in ‘Full Metal Jacket,'” he said.
After swearing to serve his country, one must undergo the challenges of recruit training to earn the title Marine.
One thing Stanley Kubric left out of his classic Vietnam-era war film is any mention of the celebrated yellow footprints that are embedded in the memories of every Marine.
“My first night on the yellow footprints made a monumental life impact on me,” said 1st Sgt. Michael L. Kufchak, first sergeant, Company H. “How can any Marine not remember their first experience in recruit training? It ascertains the fact that you’ve been removed from all the creature comforts of civilian society and you’re now in a military environment and exposed to a very directive atmosphere.”
Four rows of 15 sets of yellow footprints painted with heels together at a 45-degree angle lie just outside the Receiving Barracks Company. These simple training tools are literally the first step in the 13-week indoctrination process that is Marine Corps recruit training. After the recruits step onto the yellow footprints the process of introducing them to the position of attention is expedited, and without even realizing it, they’ve participated in their first military formation.
Once the position of attention is learned, recruits are given a short block of instruction on the Uniform Code of Military Justice.
From there, they are rushed inside and put through a thorough screening for any unauthorized personal items, or contraband. It is during this time the recruits have their first one-on-one interaction with a drill instructor. This is usually where they discover how intense, demanding and intimidating Marine Corps drill instructors can be.
“The high stress level of recruit training is introduced here in order to prepare the recruits for what they will experience at their training company,” said Catalan.
While the recruits get understandably stressed out at this point, they have yet to undergo any significant individual change, but that changes quickly when civilian clothes are replaced with combat utility uniforms and haircuts are administered.
“The first night has to be the most important because we strip away that individual identity and get them all looking the same,” said Staff Sgt. Daniel Santiago, senior drill instructor, Receiving Barracks Company. “They begin to realize it doesn’t matter who came here wearing designer pants or ripped jeans. Once they’re here everyone is the same, and that helps them understand the importance of working as a team.”
In addition to haircuts and uniform issue, recruits are also issued a “smart card” which acts as a debit card and contains a microchip that stores personal information, such as immunization records.
The Marines responsible for issuing smart cards, clothing and equipment and processing the recruits’ records are not drill instructors, but they also play a vital role during a recruit’s first night of training.
“The recruits’ careers begin here,” said Staff Sgt. Juan C. Guzman, administration chief, Recruit Administration Branch. “We’re the ones responsible for making sure everything is in order administratively. It’s vital that information is correct.”
Without being properly processed the recruits cannot go to a training company.
“Our mission is to ensure recruits are properly processed before they go to a training company,” Catalan said. “But there’s more than just the yellow footprints and the drill instructors. We do our job, but we can’t function without the Marines behind the scenes. We do about 60 percent of the job, and they do the other 40 percent.”
Recruits are assigned to Receiving Barracks Company for an average of two to three days while they undergo the in-processing necessary to prepare them for what they will encounter at their actual training company. This includes dental and medical examinations, an initial strength test and administrative requirements.
Of all the nights recruits spend attached to receiving company, it is the first that is usually the most memorable.
“That first night was extremely memorable for me,” said Recruit Jason S. Stoltz, Platoon 3142, Co. K. “I realized very quickly I had left all the comforts of a pampered civilian lifestyle behind, and I would have to work hard from then on to become something greater.”