The School of Infantry East (SOI-E) administratively separated more than 150 new Marines in fiscal year 2011 for a myriad of disciplinary and medical reasons. Many of these medical and legal issues occurred over recruit leave. There is a travesty happening right now in the Marine Corps, but nothing is being done about it. Every year, the Marine Corps loses several hundreds of Marines to drugs, legal issues, and injuries during a single 10-day period—recruit leave.
Annually we attend training where we talk about never leaving a Marine behind, being a good buddy, and taking care of one another. But every year the Marine Corps sends thousands of young men and women home from recruit training back into the situations they were coming from. Many of these Marines have joined the Marine Corps to escape these dark situations and make a new life for themselves as Marines. But after a mere 12 weeks, we send them back into the home life they were trying to get away from.
Do not think that I am trying to denigrate the incredible change a Marine experiences from the yellow footprints to graduation from recruit training; this is one of the most formative experiences in any person’s life. However, the recruit training experience is only 3 months long. When these young, impressionable Marines return home on leave, the old bad habits are there waiting for them. Additionally, Marines who go on recruit leave are often swayed by the boyfriend or girlfriend back home who missed them so much, and they just can’t bear the thought of losing that once-in-a-lifetime relationship. These Marines return from recruit leave and simply refuse to train. Marines in this category are often processed for administrative separation.
It isn’t just misbehavior that is claiming Marines. Injuries are rampant during recruit leave. Car accidents have been proven to be more prevalent with young Marines, and recruit leave is no exception. It is easy to see why a Marine who has just been through 3 months of hell at boot camp and suddenly has every freedom possible is more likely to get injured or get into trouble.
The solution is incredibly simple. Put an end to recruit leave! This change would have the added benefit of enforcing the training mindset that is desperately needed. When the Marines return home, they are certainly proud of the accomplishment of becoming Marines, but they lose that vital training mindset. They get comfortable.
I propose that new Marines who graduate from Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego or Parris Island hop on a bus and continue training at SOI. After SOI graduation, they then drop to their MOS schools or for infantry Marines to the Operating Forces. This will maintain continuity for a single drop of Marines to their MOS schools or Operating Forces units.
The mantra preached during boot camp is that the fastest way out of boot camp is to do your time and move on. Recruits who try to cheat the system and get out of the Marine Corps in boot camp face a lengthy administrative process and often see their peers graduate while they are still stuck at the recruit depot. This obviously encourages recruits to stay the course if their desire is to get away from the recruit depot. If we end recruit leave, Marines would keep that mentality during SOI training. I believe they would hit the Operating Forces as a better product than they are now.
Additionally, SOI serves as a slow return to “normal” for the Marine. At boot camp recruits are broken down and then built back up. Drill instructors are not peers; they are feared givers of discipline. At SOI, combat instructors are given more leeway to take individual time with the Marines and mentor them. Again, this is not meant to denigrate the all-important role of the drill instructors and how they make Marines at the recruit depots. But at SOI, combat instructors can speak to the Marines on a more peer-to-peer level and continue the mentorship process.
The key objection I can see with this proposal is that the quality of Marine may suffer as a result. The prevailing thought is that Marines who get into trouble on recruit leave would probably get into trouble at some point in their careers, so it would be better to lose them now versus when they hit the Operating Forces. Yes, we want men and women who make good choices in the Marine Corps. But we need to give them every measure of guidance and mentorship before presenting them with a life-changing decision. You wouldn’t send a Marine into combat without thoroughly discussing the many possible ethical decisions he may face on the battlefield. I contend that 12 weeks of recruit training is not the full measure of leadership the Marine Corps has to offer. The idea that we are weeding out the bad from the good with recruit leave is spurious. We are in fact playing Russian roulette to the detriment of our young brothers in arms.
Recruit leave is not meant to be a weeding out process. Once a Marine graduates boot camp, he will be a Marine until the day he dies. Our job is not to look at a Marine’s past but to look to his future. If a commander can look his Marine in the eye and say, “I did all I could to help and mentor this Marine,” then he can be at peace with any outcome. Now we as a Corps must look ourselves in the mirror and ask, “Is our organization doing everything in its power to set our new Marines up for success?”
This is an easy fix. Other Services, such as the Air Force, have much fewer issues with this type of bad behavior on leave because the airmen are sent straight from boot camp to MOS school. This is saving the Air Force millions of dollars and, most importantly, airmen. There is no “officer leave” for Marine officers who graduate from Officer Candidates School, even though they are less likely to engage in such risky behaviors and have much lengthier courses at The Basic School and MOS schools waiting for them. This does not seem to diminish the quality of the officer corps. Why would it be a large detriment to the enlisted corps to end the recruit leave period?
We say Marines are our most precious resource. By ending this leave period, we can save hundreds of our fellow warriors from making poor choices that will negatively impact them for the rest of their lives.