These recruits are entrusted to my care. I will train them to the best of my ability. I will develop them into smartly disciplined, physically fit, basically trained Marines, thoroughly indoctrinated in love of Corps and country. I will demand of them and demonstrate by my own example, the highest standards of personal conduct, morality, and professional skill.
Drill Instructor's Creed
Rise and shine.
It's time to make Marines.
For civilians sleeping like rocks, it's 3:15 a.m.
But Sgt. Kingsley Nwosu Jr. of Port Royal is not a civilian.
In fact, it's his job to transform civilians into Marines.
At 27, he's a senior drill instructor at U.S. Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, where all recruits east of the Mississippi River are shipped for basic training. He feels the imprint drill instructors have left on swampy Parris Island for 100 years, long enough to make it a household name. Like Alcatraz.
Lucky for Nwosu, his wife is also a drill instructor at Parris Island, where all of America's female Marine Corps recruits are trained. Sgt. Jahbril Rowland-Nwosu knows 0315. She knows the challenge of jerking "I," "me" and "my" out of the vocabulary of kids cocky enough to think they are bad enough to kick Parris Island's butt.
This local couple met as Marines stationed in Hawaii. He's from Houston and she's from Atlanta. They had a simple marriage ceremony on the beach.
Something bigger will have to wait. So will kids. Right now, they've got to push the comfort zone for America's kids from video games to pugil sticks.
They get only 12 weeks to make a Marine. That's 70 training days that the recruits start at 0400 and end at 2000, no questions asked. Every minute of all 16 hours has been planned for probably longer than the screaming 18-year-olds have been alive.
But right now, it's pitch dark and quiet in the Liberty Point neighborhood off the Savannah Highway. It's 0315. It's time to rise and shine, sink or swim, get in the truck and go to work.
DON'T GIVE UP
Before the sun rises, the 86 recruits of Platoon 1011, Follow Series, Alpha Company, 1st Recruit Training Battalion, Recruit Training Regiment are slopping through mud on the Physical Training field.
A whistle blows every minute and they holler nonstop as they run from box jumps to kettle bell swings or pull-up bars or rope jumps.
Shouting shows confidence, Nwosu says.
Nwosu watches their every move, and he says the recruits are watching him like little eagles. As senior drill instructor, he stands to the side in a red T-shirt. Newer drill instructors buzz around the recruits like yellow jackets, talking constantly, making suggestions, asking questions and giving commands in a loud, barked staccato that's hard for a civilian to understand.
Nwosu says everything they're doing leads to something down the road. They don't know it, but how they go into chow hall with certain items in their hand will help them know how to hold their rifle in drill.
Noise is constant. Recruits shout back at a barrage of commands from the four DIs in the platoon. It keeps the young "boots" engaged.
Nwosu calls one DI the "knowledge hat." In any spare second, he quizzes the recruits on the father of Marine Corps aviation, for example. They'll have more than 200 hours of classroom time. They will be tested three times on knowledge and two times on drill.
Another DI is called the "experienced DI." He has a clipboard. He's in charge of the logistics. He teaches them how to walk, talk, dress, drill and present themselves as Marines.
"My job as senior drill instructor is more like a father figure," Nwosu said. "I try to teach them that it's all about will power, to look at the person to your left and right and persevere for them. I want them to do it right and not give up on themselves."
Sixty-seven Marines entered Nwosu's class in Drill Instructor School on Parris Island. Only 42 graduated.
They learned all about the days when drill instructors punched recruits physically and beat them up emotionally.
Nwosu said he joined the Corps right out of high school for the discipline. But punishment for minor infractions is now doled out with tightly watched extra pushups or physical exercises called "Incentive Training."
Nwosu said boot camp gave him a lift out of a tough spot in life. He became a Marine because his grandfather was a Marine. He loved to visit his grandfather's farm, and he looked up to him.
He went through basic training in San Diego, where the devil is in the hills, not the sand fleas of the Lowcountry.
Nwosu is a machine-gunner by trade. He served two tours in Iraq and one in Afghanistan. He lost one of his best buddies in Afghanistan. He drowned trying to save an Afghan officer.
Nwosu wanted to become a drill instructor to give back to other kids, "knowing they changed me." He believes the drill instructor best exemplifies the spirit of the Corps. It's a three-year gig that will look good on his resume. This is his sixth cycle with a recruit class since becoming a DI in 2013.
Besides the 0315 days, he gets no weekends. At least one of the DIs is with the platoon 24/7. Every third night, Nwosu sleeps in the barracks. If he's not bunking there, he may get home around 1900.
What he does get is a sense of satisfaction out of seeing kids graduating as a "locked and cocked" unit, after arriving on Parris Island scratching and looking around, not paying attention.
The DIs stay fit, running with the recruits day after day.
They're known for the sing-song cadences they shout as they run with their platoon.
Nwosu's favorite one tells a lot about the history of Parris Island:
"Mama, Mama can't you see
What this Corps has done for me?
Put me in a barber's chair
Spin me around and I had no hair.
If I die in a combat zone
Then box me up and send me home.
Put me in a set of dress blues
Comb my hair and shine my shoes.
Pin my medals upon my chest
Tell my Mama I done my best.
Mama, Mama don't you cry
Marine Corps motto is Semper Fi."