As a regular person, you might not know why the Marine pictured above is crying. You’d probably guess he is going to a funeral or about to leave home for the first time to go off to war. You’d be wrong. The young recruits pictured above are about to take part in a culminating event of recruit training, the Eagle, Globe, and Anchor Ceremony.
The EGA, the Eagle Globe and Anchor, is a small trinket of metal coated in a thin strip of black paint. It fits in the palm of the hand and can be bought for around $2 from any military apparel provider. Realistically speaking, that is all it is… it is a trinket. To the Marines, however, it is a symbol. The EGA is the emblem of the United States Marine Corps and only Marines are entitled to wear it. For the last three months, this recruit has endured all the trials of Marine Corps Boot Camp, but he was not a Marine. He, like all the other recruits with him, weren’t considered Marines until after they completed training. They were called “recruit” and suffered the hardships, tests, suffering, and indignities which come with the moniker. Once they finished Boot Camp, more properly, once they receive their EGA, only then will they have “earned the title” of United States Marine.
It’s a somewhat religious moment for our odd little cult of warriors. For many, receiving the EGA, and by extension the honor of being Marine, is the proudest moment of their lives. It is the moment, for so many of them, which truly gave their lives meaning. As melodramatic as that may sound, many of my friends who joined the Marines had no direction, no purpose, and no dreams for the future. They didn’t have a sense of agency, the belief that their decisions mattered. They were just riding the waves of life, drifting wherever the currents delivered them. They were far more likely to end up in prison as they were to be looked upon with honor and respect by their community. The Marine Corps, for many of my friends, gave them that sense of being part of something that mattered. If I were to attempt a guess, I’d say that the young man pictured above is crying because, for the first time, he is part of a community of people who matter, one which is honorable, and respected because of what they mean to the world and the citizens which they are drawn from.
Thank you for following this series of articles on the logic behind the need for a truly intense and transformative boot camp experience in today’s military. The logic is there. It is terrifyingly present in every subtle action of the Drill Instructors. As I said before, everything they do is for a reason. Boot camp, and particularly that of the Marines, is made to psychologically change a child into someone capable of performing under combat conditions. In most cases, it is intended to take from them the aspects of their civilian lives that will make life harder for them in the military, those that sometimes would have killed them and others, and makes those weakness no longer part of the calculation. The yelling, the sleep deprivation and being cut off from friends and family are part of the process of becoming a warrior. It is also part of becoming a cult.
And that is what they are. The Marines have formed a culture with the singular obsession of destroying those who endanger the United States’, her allies, and her interests. While they’re humanitarian efforts across the world, though rarely remembered, can never be denied, it is their ferocity in combat that makes them respected around the world. It is their ability to overcome and overwhelm enemies that reminds the world there are no better friends, and no worse enemies. This process of personal transformation takes place throughout a lifetime, but the seeds of it are sewn in boot camp. The foundation of a culture are laid in the welcoming of every generation’s newest members. This is why boot camp does things which aren’t normal through the eyes or our broader culture in which the Marines serve. To normal people, this is crazy.
This is why normal people can’t do the things warriors are asked to do. They can’t imagine combat or the terror of an enemy upon them and they shouldn’t be forced to. The goal of a good government and a strong military, is to create a world where their normal people never have to imagine pain, suffering, hate, or danger. But for these people to exist and prosper, there are those who do, and those who are willing to endure, and those who can fight. They don’t exist to serve and die for their country, but to fight smartly, leverage their risks with their skills, and make the other guy die for his. When others among them fall, they must see that their nation appreciates how special these people are for what they have elected to do. They have given up their innocence as civilians, free to pursue pleasure and prosperity for a time for something more, something each of them defines for themselves, but something which nonetheless, benefits all of us who prosper in the shadow of their actions. For these people, there must be a transition from “civilian” to “warrior”. Boot camp is the means of that evolution and every part of it is necessary. For those who complete the training, their lives will never be the same, they will never be the same; they will be Marines. That title can’t be passed down to you, you can’t buy it, and it is not given – it is earned when you become one of “The Few and The Proud” for life.