Marine Drill Instructors – a valued but misunderstood breed

Anyone who gone through the Navy’s Officer Candidate School has met a Marine Drill Instructor a.k.a. a DI up close and personal, very personal.  The one Lou Gossett played one in the movie “Officer and a Gentlemen” was close, but no cigar.  Gossett had the look, purposeful movement and bearing of a DI, and portrayed the public perception of a DI, but his vocabulary was, shall we say limited!  Back in the day, before political correctness, a DI’s “patter” was quite creative but was only a means to an end in delivering the real value they perform for both the Marine Corps and the Navy.

The Marines select the best and brightest to become drill instructors in boot camps and the best of these are sent to ROTC units and the Navy’s and Marine Corps Officer Candidate Schools to help mold potential young officers into the leaders they want to take them into battle.  Why?  Who is better to teach an officer candidate with two left feet how to march and salute properly?  More importantly, the Navy’s primary mission is power projection which really means put Marines ashore and then sustain them.  As Naval and Marine Corps officers and aviators, the lives of the Marines depend on the decisions we make and our determination to help them in battle.

Or, as Sergeant Cruz – one of my DI’s – put it, “Sir, someday, the life of me and my men are going to depend on your ability to accurately drop a bomb on the bad guys or your determination to fly in to pull me out of some shit hole if I am wounded or before I get killed…”

In BIG MOTHER 40, the Marine major general, Hector Cruz was named after Sergeant Cruz.  He is the only person I know who could scale the fifteen foot wall, run to the next one or two obstacles to show us the easiest way to get over or under or through them.  In the ninety degree Fahrenheit, eighty percent humidity of a Pensacola summer, he could do it without creating sweat stains under his arm pits, getting sand on is uniform and keeping his corfam shoes shiny and not dusty.  Sergeant Cruz, if he was an inch, was about five foot five!

The character Jesus Montemayor in BIG MOTHER 40 is the HC-7 Detachment 110 Officer-in-Charge.  In real life, he was Sergeant Montemayor, United States Marine Corps and a drill instructor entrusted to teach leadership to potential young naval officers like me.  Sergeant Montemayor was the largest man I ever met.  I still remember standing at attention in front of him and if my left side was aligned with his right, my right arm would be just past the row of buttons in the center of his shirt with perfect creases down through each pocket.  He could, had he not grown up dirt poor on an Indian reservation, have gotten a college football scholarship because the school didn’t have a football team.  The Marine Corps was his way off the reservation.

After I had given Sergeants Cruz and Montemayor each a silver dollar for the honor of giving me my first salute from an enlisted man as a newly commissioned ensign, Sergeant Montemayor told me that “leadership was all about commitment.  Commitment to your service, your squadron, your crew, the men you lead, but most of all, it was a commitment to yourself to never let any of them down.”

Heavy words that I remember to this day, even though they were spoken to me in the summer of 1967!

Marc Liebman

August, 2013