PARRIS ISLAND, S.C. -- They're known as 'The Few, The Proud,' but what does it take to actually become a United States Marine? FOX 17 was given a behind the scenes look at how civilians are transformed into Marines in the longest and toughest boot camps of all the armed forces.
Male recruits from states east of the Mississippi River and females from all over the country go through boot camp at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island in South Carolina. It's 13 weeks of blood, sweat and tears; testing not just physical toughness, but mental as well.
Parris Island's motto is 'We Make Marines.' FOX 17 spoke with recruits from West Michigan on their journey to become Marines.
It's close to midnight on a Tuesday in April. A bus full of new recruits pulls up in front of Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island. In a few moments, their lives are about to change forever.
As the bus comes to a stop, a drill instructor, Staff Sergeant Charles Dunphy, steps on board the bus. He yells for the recruits to put their heads up, look at him and scream "Aye, sir!' The recruits yell back 'Aye, sir!'
After a few more commands, SSgt. Dunphy yells, "Now when I tell you to you're going to get off my bus and you're going to stand on the yellow footprints side by side, do you understand?"
The recruits respond, "Yes sir!"
The drill instructor screams for them to get off his bus. The recruits run off the bus and line up on the yellow footprints, where tens of thousands of Marines have stood before them.
The bus pulls away from the depot and now there's no turning back. The drill instructor then begins his speech to the recruits.
"You are now a part of Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island South Carolina," says SSgt. Dunphy. "Starting now you will train as a team. The word 'I' will no longer be a part of your vocabulary. Do you understand?"
The recruits respond, "Yes sir!" and then he continues to explain the significance of where they stand.
"Tens of thousands of Marines have begun their outstanding service to our country on the very footprints where you are standing. You will carry on their proud tradition, do you understand?"
From here, the recruits will line up in front of the doors to the depot for the first and only time.
"Passing through these hatches symbolizes your transformation from a civilian into a United States Marine Corps Recruit," says SSgt Dunphy.
The doors open and the recruits enter the depot. Then, the chaos begins.
"We need chaos," explains Sgt. Christopher Wade, a drill instructor. "It's controlled chaos. We need that chaos to show them kind of what the chaos of war could entail. It's always yelling, screaming and thoughts of war and all that. At the same time, we know exactly what's going on. We're controlling everything."
The recruits sit in silver desks as another drill instructor explains what to do. The recruits then secure the items they came with, fill out documents and make their way into another room where they'll make their one phone call home.
The phone call instructs the recruit to introduce themselves, say they arrived safely at Parris Island and ask them not to send any food or bulky items. They then say they'll contact them in 7 to 9 days by letter with their new address.
They'll end the call with 'Thank you for your support. Goodbye for now.'
The night continues. The male recruits' heads are shaved. No one will sleep for two more days.
"The point of the chaos is to get the recruits to be able to physically and mentally make decisions and do things under stress and in a stressful environment," said Gunnery Sergeant Jordan Jones, chief drill instructor of Alpha Company. "It just forces them to think on their toes, make those decisions and work as a team under a stressful environment."
FOX 17 spoke with Willie Couch, a recruit from Battle Creek and a graduate of Marshall High School. Couch has been at boot camp for four weeks.
"It definitely was a culture change," said Couch. "It was kind of like shell shock in a way to go from being a civilian to boom you're a recruit."
Before recruits can earn the title of Marine they must endure 13 weeks of rigorous training divided into four phases. Drill instructors are at the helm the entire time.
"We will give every effort to train you even after some of you have given up on yourselves," says one drill instructor in a speech to a group of recruits.
"It's all about establishing discipline from the get-go and after that, we mentor them and bring them in and show them the process of what it's going to be like when they become a United States Marine," said Sgt. Wade.
Another recruit from West Michigan is Matt Folkert from Allegan County. He's been at Parris Island for 11 weeks.
"It's been tough, but in a good way," said Folkert. "I've realized that everything the drill instructors do to us is for a specific reason. Everything means something."
"The drill instructor's job is to break you down and rebuild you with what it takes to be a United States Marine," said Gregory Whalen, a recruit from Hillsdale, Mich. "That means you're never good enough. It's really hard to keep going even though no matter what, you're not going to be good enough."
The weeks to follow are packed with physical training, like the combat fitness test, swim qualification, Marine Corps martial arts and obstacle courses. That's just phase one.
"It's been challenging," said Joshua Hagenbarth, a recruit from St. Joseph, Mich. "It's tested us physically and mentally, but it's all been for a reason and it's all been to better ourselves."
Phase two of boot camp includes grass week, where recruits spend time on the rifle range mastering the M-16 A-4 service rifle.
It's all leading up to the end: phase three.
"I'm most looking forward to the crucible," said Couch. "I'm excited about the crucible. I'm excited to prove that I can do it and become a Marine."
The end of phase three is the crucible: 54 hours of minimal sleep and minimal food where recruits must overcome obstacles together before they can become Marines.
"I just want to get that eagle, globe and anchor," said Matthew Folkert. "I want to complete the crucible and get that eagle, globe an anchor. I want to become a United States Marine."
One portion of the crucible is known as the 12 stalls where recruits must work together as a team to solve 12 different exercises. They'll also complete an exercise known as 'The Battle of Fallujah.' Recruits must low crawl through sand and under barbed wire while sounds of battle play loudly around them.
"I heard the crucible was challenging," said Willie Couch. "It'll be physically and mentally challenging. You've got to give it your all, so I'm excited to prove to myself that I can do it."
The recruits hike throughout the Crucible, about 40 miles total. They ration about two meals throughout the entire crucible and only sleep three to four hours a night. The end of the crucible culminates in a nine mile hike before they can receive their eagle, globe and anchor.
"The hardest part by far was the crucible," said Private Isaiah White-Slaton, a new Marine from Holland, Mich. "I cried when I received my eagle, globe and anchor. I cried a lot. It just made me happy to know that I was able to get through boot camp."
The same drill instructors from the beginning have been by the recruits' sides pushing them and motivating them.
"It's the greatest feeling in the world seeing them from the form on day one and how they know nothing about the world and then seeing them as Marines," said Sgt. Wade. "It's the proudest feeling you can ever get."
"It's the satisfaction of taking them from what they were to seeing them walk across the parade deck with everything we taught them and instilled in them," said Sgt. Katie Wissman, a drill instructor. "It's the absolute greatest feeling ever."
After the recruits receive their eagle, globe and anchor and become Marines they enter phase four, two weeks in between then and graduation where they work on life skills like financial responsibility, relationships and leadership. They also practice for graduation.
Tune into FOX 17 Friday night for graduation and meet three young men from West Michigan who recently graduated and earned the title of United States Marine.