Red Lion Area School District staff trains with Marines
A bus carrying a unique set of recruits came to a stop at the South Carolina-based Marine Corps Recruit Depot in the early hours of a cold February morning.
Like everyone who had come before them, they got off the bus and stood on sets of yellow footprints where new recruits receive a briefing on how to stand at attention and what it means to be a Marine. They're told how thousands of Marines have stood in those very same spots — except the drill sergeant wasn't addressing future Marines, he was talking to teachers, administrators and guidance counselors, all of whom traded school hallways for the Parris Island training base for the week.
Among those standing at attention that morning was the principal of Windsor Manor Elementary School, Kitty Reinholt; the senior high school's assistant principal, Scott D'Orazio and Supervisor of Teacher Development Todd McClimans — all from the Red Lion Area School District.
"They took us through all the steps just like they would the new recruits," Reinholt said, though they weren't allowed to walk through a set of silver doors to access the facility. Walking through those doors "symbolizes going from a civilian to a recruit."
Even the drill sergeants went through the side doors with them.
"They're very symbolic," McClimans said of the silver doors. "You only ever go through those doors once and that's when you first arrive."
The entire introduction process was very specific and ritualized, D'Orazio said.
Workshop: The Red Lion trio's visit to the recruiting depot was made possible through the Marine Corps Enlisted Educator's Workshop — a program that began in the late 1970s and was designed to reach out to those who mentor and regularly work with could-be Marines, said Master Sgt. Bryce Piper, who serves as the Marine Corps Recruitment Center's public affairs chief.
The goal, he said, is to give those in attendance a more informed perspective.
"Each guest leaves the workshop with a better appreciation and understanding of the Marine Corps and Marine recruiting," Piper said. "Guests are not only shown as much as possible about recruit training from beginning to end, they are encouraged to ask tough questions about what they see and the Marine Corps."
D'Orazio said he did, in fact, experience a change in point-of-view.
"Being in the senior high school, we often see these recruiters coming in and talking to our kids," the assistant principal said. "It can be hard seeing them talking to some of our students, but this experience really offered a shift in perspective. I know they want these students to be successful, and I feel I can now speak in a much more informed manner for kids with an interest in pursuing this."
Training: The Red Lion staffers' week was filled with training and challenges that all Marine recruits experience.
"There was running, jumping jacks, push-ups and more running," Reinholt said with a laugh, noting the drill sergeant at times even yelled at the group of administrators.
They also went through incentive training, the goal of which, McClimans said, was to not end up in the sandpit.
Physical activity and exercise when performed in the sand is more challenging than it would be on a hard surface, and being coated in both sweat and sand doesn't make matters easier. The sandpit — which is essentially a sandbox big enough to fit an entire platoon of recruits — serves as the key function of incentive training and serves as a constant reminder and habit-forming tool for the recruits to police themselves.
"Just imagine a bunch of teachers jumping around in that sandpit," McClimans said, grinning at the memory.
The educators, in addition to participating in target practice, also repelled down a wall and worked their way through obstacle courses. They also were able to attend the graduation of two battalions.
"We really witnessed this transformation of the recruits from beginning to end," D'Orazio said.
The educators ate in the mess hall with the recruits — where they were able meet-up with Red Lion graduate and current recruit Nathaniel Olsen — which sometimes resulted in "sensory overload," D'Orazio said.
"People were just coming and going constantly," he said. "The routines they have are very firm, and there's just constant movement, high energy and a lot of commands."
But D'Orazio now knows, all of that was for a reason.
"They purposefully create these stressful environments," he said. "Everything they do has a reason."
Take-away: Reinholt said the principle of teamwork was ever-present in their training.
"It was never about the individual," she said, noting that she and her fellow Red Lion administrators were always helping each other through exercises. "That’s a concept that’s always going to be relevant in our schools, from kindergarten all the way through the senior high school."
The code of conduct — honor, courage and commitment — was also something of value the educators could take with them, McClimans said.
"What human being couldn't take pride in those?" D'Orazio wondered.
D'Orazio said one his biggest take-away from the week was how drill sergeants instilled the importance of citizenship in their recruits.
"They told us that 80 percent serve for four years and then move on," he said. "So minimally, they’ve prepared their recruits for a career in military, but ultimately they’ve trained them to be good citizens."
— Reach Jessica Schladebeck at email@example.com.