PARRIS ISLAND, SOUTH CAROLINA: The United States Marine Corps boiled basic training down to three intense days for 28 teachers and counselors from New Jersey. Lots of stress and strain, questions and answers, pageantry and simplicity. Lauren Rice, Lisa Nelson, Bethany McAnneny, and Vanessa Amaturo participated in it all. They didn't miss a step. On the final phase of training, the counselors from East Brunswick High School learned the importance of mentoring and the development of inner and outer strength.
McAnneny said, "It was great to see the high school educators cheering each other on, even though we had only known each other a short time." Rice was pleased with the "level of resiliency" shown by her co-workers when they were all "out of their comfort zone." Nelson said, "I liked the group activities and problem-solving. Like the Marines, we had to work together to accomplish a goal."
The final day of the Parris Island Educators Workshop begin with parade/run by all recruits along with their drill sergeants and other instructors. Parents wearing t-shirts bearing the names and platoon numbers of their sons or daughters lined the streets. According to a Marine recruiter, one recruit had a busload of guests from his church attend the graduation ceremony that day. The daily flag-raising ceremony that featured the USMC band followed.
The band began by playing Irving Berlin's God Bless America . Brigadeer General Austin E. Renforth, head of USMC recruiting east of the Mississippi River, informed the crowd that, since 1940, Berlin has donated all income from the song to the support of the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts in the state of New York.
In an interview later on Friday, General Renforth talked about the importance of "developing a thinking Marine." He noted his own mentorship by General James Mattis, the Secretary of Defense. He compared his role as a mentor to that of educators in his ability to change people's lives. "We need a thinking person for modern conflicts. We in the Marine Corps go after a completely different person than the other services do. We don't offer anything but the intangibles. We just offer the chance to become United States Marines."
"The Marine Corps is a serious business. People care about each other so much. They don't want to let someone down. On Parris Island, we try to develop a culture of love," said Renforth.
When asked by TAPinto East Brunswick about the numerous female recruits (25% of this graduating class) and how their role has changed over the years, he replied "We don't care who you are. Earn the title 'Marine.' I want to trust you when you lay down to fight next to me. Gay, straight, male, female, transgender. That's it. Nothing else matters."
Renforth asserted that the biggest challenge for new recruits was "learning organization." Teachers and counselors in the group concurred loudly when he discussed the "sense of entitlement of our youth" that sometimes makes them difficult to train.
The General also noted that technology is not always the friend of the military: "Technology sometimes creates a sense of micro-managing and interference. We love it when we need it, but we hate it when we don't need it." The educators in the group once again agreed vociferously.
The educators witnessed the gradation ceremony of the recruits in this training cycle. There was a good deal of pomp and a majestic sense of patriotism as the 8 platoons took the field. The young people with whom we had lunch two days earlier were now becoming Marines. At the conclusion of the event, the new Marines turned their backs on their drill instructors, shouting a collective OOO-RAH in celebration of their achievement. As General Renforth said, "The Marines are the first to be called upon; the first to arrive; and the first to fight. We saw 464 success stories today."
So what's the take-away? The East Brunswick counselors collectively were eager to put the experience into practical application: "We learned about the jobs and educational options available for Marine recruits. The military is a great opportunity for students who may not have direction or support. The Marine Corps requires high academic performance and a high school graduation. We understand the importance of a good score on the ASVAB test. We got a better understanding of the G.I. Bill as a financial resource. We began to recognize the importance of of having a family tradition of military service."
However, one counselor made the most telling comment of all when reflecting on her time with the Marines: "I learned that I have the best co-workers. We will be a better team when we return to East Brunswick High School."