Click here for more current events lesson plans matched to national standards.
Essay:A Line to my Heart A father of a marine considers who defends us.
Special report:School Reform in Philadelphia
Making the Grade A look at five first-time teachers in New York City.
Improving Education Examine some of the new ideas in education reform. 08.28.02
Civil-Military Gap Do civilians and military personnel think differently? 11.00.99
Life in a Marine Boot Camp Posted:01.15.03
Why would a high school student on the path to college join the Marines? John Schaeffer, who just wrote a book about his decision, describes why he joined and what he learned.
Corporal John Schaeffer USMC, Age 22
I was born in Haverhill MA, and raised in the small town of Salisbury north of Boston. I am a United States Marine and an author.
Don't let either of those facts scare you. I am merely a 22-year-old with a life that is a little unusual.
There is a government program requiring your school to give the armed services recruiters your address. Maybe my experience with what I found in the Marine Corps will help you get a little perspective on this issue.
In the spring of 1999 I decided to join the Marines. I felt alienated from many other people who would not or could not understand my decision to do something that seemed more quantifiable to me than striving to follow my older sister and brother into some "prestige" college.
My first days at boot camp on PI (Parris Island) were a blur -- a dark, brooding, olive-green blur of moving half-focused shapes and distant shouts. At one point or another every recruit looked over the hazy marsh to the lights beyond and just wanted to get the hell off. Our main fear was the fear of not measuring up. By the third week of training seven members of our platoon had been sent home.
Soon it no longer came naturally to begin any sentence with the word "I." All that mattered was group performance and accomplishment. The change that was being wrought in us by our DIs (drill instructors) was more mental than physical. Our minds were becoming tougher as we were slowly exercised to exhaustion. The Corps let each recruit know that if you came from typical selfish "nasty" America, it did not like you the way you were and would change you or break you.
As long as I could remember, it had always seemed to me that I was watching my life from a different perspective than even my best friends. I changed my sense of being withdrawn from events by watching the recruits around me experience boot camp. Seeing them being broken down to nothing, then rebuilt as self-confident Marines was much more powerful than experiencing this transformation myself.
No one would have mistaken my platoon for the kids graduating from my private high school the summer before. The "rich" recruits came from families with two cars, and a small home or apartment. Many were poor. The average SUV driven by the parents at my high school cost more than most recruits would earn in the four years they had signed up for in the Corps.
This is not to say that I joined the Marines because of some desire to cross the divide between the "upper class" private high school world where I grew up north of Boston and the typical less-privileged recruit. I was not "slumming" in the Corps. I joined because I was bored and sick of my lack of discipline; I didn't want to go right into college and wanted to do something different that didn't have all that much to do with my previous life.
If the recruiters had tried to explain the truth about the Corps to me before I signed up I would not have understood them. I got the message about being "the proud, the few," but it hardly told the story.
People enlisted in the Corps for selfish reasons: self improvement; because they were broke; because they had nothing better to do; had something to prove to fathers, mothers, and girlfriends; or for training that would "pay off" later in the civilian world, such as aviation electronics. Some bought into the nice uniforms or just wanted to belong to something, anything -- or to see the world.
After we recruits got to Parris Island, our reasons for wanting to be Marines changed and deepened, or we were sent home. By the end of boot camp each of us knew that we would be involved in military actions in which we had no say whatsoever. We knew we would do the job and do it well, not because we wanted to kill people or die, but because each Marine relies on another Marine watching his or her back.
That was the difference between the reasons most of us had for joining and the reality of what boot camp turned us into, and how it changed our thinking. That was what we never would have understood as civilians. For whatever half-assed reason we joined, by the time boot camp was done we were aware of our responsibility to the other Marines who depended on us.
The issue was not one of patriotism. Speaking for myself, I had no sense of the whole country. When I thought of defending something, I thought of defending the people I loved, Mom, Dad, my brother and sister and our home as well as my town and friends. "Patriotism" was too big a concept for me. I wanted to defend the things I loved, that I could grasp.
Most of all, loyalty to the Corps was something boot camp made tangible. By the end we were trying to be good Marines out of loyalty to the Marine standing next to us and to those who would follow us. On Parris Island, I came to see and believe what I was told; each mission is dependent on another that came before. When it came down to it, as any recruit could tell you by the end of his or her training, the Marine next to you is more important than you are.
Don't let the program requiring your school to give the armed services recruiters your address frighten you. The police are not going to show up and take you to the military in chains! All that will happen is perhaps a recruiter will call and try to sell you the all-volunteer military.
If it's not for you, then don't buy it. If you are interested, then I wish you the best of luck and hope that it will be as fulfilling for you as it has been for me.
Copyright © MacNeil-Lehrer Productions All Rights Reserved