“The Few. The Proud. The Marines.” This powerful statement defines an elite fighting force. Their path is not easy. They are known for being some of the toughest men and women in the military, and in the world. Some begin their journey to the Marines at the Naval Academy. In the graduating class of Midshipmen, only 25-30% typically become commissioned Marine Officers. This is no small feat.
The summer before their First Class year, Midshipmen who are interested in becoming a Marine attend Leatherneck Summer Training. This is not your average summer camp. In fact, the name should give you a hint of the toughness that these Midshipmen will require during the nearly month-long training. The term Leatherneck originated from the wide and stiff leather neckpiece that was part of the Marine Corps uniform from 1798 until 1872. This leather collar, called The Stock, was roughly four inches high and had two purposes. In combat, it protected the neck and jugular vein from cutlass slashes. On parade, it kept a Marine's head erect. Needless to say, the Marines have been demonstrating their fighting will and sense of honor for over 200 years.
The goal of Leatherneck Summer Training, in the high heat and humidity of Quantico, Virginia, is for the Midshipmen to demonstrate their muscle, mental, and moral fortitude during intense situations. Let’s begin with the “muscle.” These young women and men are tough! If you think hiking over nine miles with a full combat pack, gear, and carrying a rifle (while encountering obstacles) is appealing, then you could be an aspiring Leatherneck. If you agree that sloshing through water and mud, under barbed wire, and climbing rope obstacles in full gear sounds like a great summer camp, then you could be an aspiring Leatherneck. Shooting heavy artillery? Aspiring Leatherneck. Leading a team through hostile scenarios? Aspiring Leatherneck. Critically thinking to reach a goal while in full gear, with responsibility larger than the pack you’re carrying? Aspiring Leatherneck. Handling uncomfortable physical situations to prove you have what it takes? Aspiring Leatherneck. Marines must demonstrate their muscle in these simulated battle scenarios, and do it with finesse.
Midshipmen are also evaluated constantly for their mental fortitude during Leatherneck Summer Training. These Marine hopefuls aren’t just thrown onto the courses and challenges. They are trained and evaluated on their orienteering, communications, offensive combat tactics, basic weapons skills, problem-solving, teamwork, leadership, and more. Midshipmen then apply these skills to their endurance course challenges, tight situation drills, and offensive and defensive combat drills. It is fine for a Marine hopeful to be knowledgeable in the classroom training, but applying that knowledge practically in the field is often the key that separates the aspiring and the selected.
After the training evaluation, the Midshipmen have proven their muscle and mental fortitude. Concurrently, these tough young men and women have been pressed harder than they have ever been. Their limits being pushed each day, and in each challenge, also helps to determine their moral fortitude. After this grueling experience, do they still have what it takes to be one of the fighting elite? Not all of the Midshipmen who attend Leatherneck Summer Training are chosen to be commissioned as Marine Officers upon graduation. But, one thing is certain, every Midshipmen who attends Leatherneck is changed forever.
Finally, it is just fine to say “Semper Fi” to any Marine. Semper Fidelis is Latin for “Always Faithful,” and the motto of every Marine. The phrase stands for an “eternal and collective commitment to the success of our battles, the progress of our Nation, and the steadfast loyalty to the fellow Marines we fight alongside.”
So, to show my enduring respect to the future Marines, coming from Leatherneck Summer Training...