Home Veterans The Skinny on Drill Instructor Duty: What is it really like?

The Skinny on Drill Instructor Duty: What is it really like?


Do you want to know what being a Drill Instructor is Like and how it affects your family?  We did a Q&A with SSgt Cesar Gonzalez, Battalion Drill Master, 1st Recruit Training Battalion, Recruit Training Regiment, MCRD San Diego.

Recruit TrainingFor those yet to join the Corps, discover great information about the crucible and some advice for poolees.  Thanks Cesar for the great insight and Semper Fi!

1. What did you imagine being a Drill Instructor would be like?

I imagined that it would be like three years of three month long deployments. The information I gathered from prior drill instructors was that the work load was so large and intense, that there was literally not enough time in the day to get everything done.

2. Are there cycles you can expect with being a DI? If so can you explain what those are? And do the hours adjust as the cycle progresses?

A cycle starts on “pick up” week. This week is full of classes regarding the recruit training procedures and any updates to procedures and policies aboard the Recruit Depot. The new recruits are delivered to the training company on Friday of pick up week. The cycle ends on graduation day thirteen weeks later. There are not different cycles necessarily, but there are different billets. The billets include Drill Instructor, Senior Drill Instructor, and Chief Drill Instructor. The majority of a Marine’s time on the depot is spent as a drill instructor and senior drill instructor. As a drill instructor you are in charge of teaching everything from how recruit will get dressed to how they will march. As a Senior Drill Instructor you are in charge of a drill instructor team and oversee day to day operations.

3. Tell us about your voice becoming “froggy”?

Drill instructors communicate with recruits using loud and firm commands from 0500-2100 (5am-9pm) every day. We are taught to use our diaphragm to project our voices, however not everyone can do so. For those who cannot, their voices get blown out. If you scream with a blown out voice, the “frog voice” is what you are left with. Using a “frog voice” to command recruits doesn’t allow your regular voice to heal.

Photo by Lance Cpl. Francisco Abundes, DVIDS
Photo by Lance Cpl. Francisco Abundes, DVIDS

4. What are the biggest challenges that come with being a DI?

For each Marine it is different. Each Marine that comes to the depot has his own set of challenges. A common trend is ill prepared spouses. Most spouses are used to their husbands working normal 9-5 jobs in the fleet. They are used to having weekends and holidays off. That will not always be the case on the depot. Being a drill instructor is a 24/7 job. From the moment a cycle begins to the time it ends, the drill instructors are charged with the training and well being of their recruits. Although the recruit’s training cycle is on a set schedule, miscellaneous things come up that require the supervision of drill instructors.

(example: Marine calls his wife to let her know he is coming home in 30 minutes. 15 minutes later a recruit gets injured and needs to be taken to the hospital. The Marine is caught up in the moment, has to take the recruit to the medical center and forgets to call his wife to let her know he isn’t coming home.) This is something I was warned about never doing! I never told my wife I was coming home.

5. What advice would you have to Marines who are considering becoming a DI for a B-Billet?

My advice would be to prepare themselves mentally and physically as best they can. Ask prior drill instructors you may know about their experiences. This has been a fantastic experience for me and my family.

Boot camp help Marine Corps USMC drill instructor duty help what is boot camp like how to become a DI
Photo by Cpl. Caitlin Brink, DVIDS

6. What would you recommend to their families? And how would you prepare them for the job?

Again it will be different for each family. Drill Instructor duty is extremely difficult. Ask questions so that you know what you are getting into and be supportive of your Marine. Any question my wife had, I answered. If I did not know the answer, I found someone who did. A tour as a drill instructor is only a successful tour if you leave the depot with your family intact! Your unit Family Readiness Officer is a good resource. Get to know the other spouses in you unit, they are either going through the same experiences or have already gone through it and will know how to help.

7. What’s it like dealing with recruits on their first day?

The first day with recruits is like trying to teach a group of people a new language in one day (we literally have to teach them naval terminology on the first day). You have a group of young men who want to be just like you, but the vast majority have absolutely no idea how to do so. We have to teach them what to be, how to be, when to be, where to be, and why we do thing this way. The pressure is immense because every drill instructor wants their recruits to be bigger, better, faster, and smarter than any other group of recruits.

8. What’s does it feel like after graduating your first class?

After graduating your first class, you feel a real sense of accomplishment. You hope that each recruit that you shaped into a Marine will be a direct reflection of you. Throughout the three month cycle we teach, guide, mentor and lead these men through what is probably the hardest thing they have done in their lives.

Photo by Cpl. Eric Quintanilla, DVIDS
Photo by Cpl. Eric Quintanilla, DVIDS

9. Can you explain what the crucible is and its significance?

The crucible is last event leading up to becoming a Marine. It is a three day and two night event (54 hours) in which the recruits are put through strenuous conditions that cannot be overcome alone. They have to rely on each other to complete the multiple missions and tasks they are given. Though out the crucible they walk over 45 miles, complete assault courses, and land navigation courses. The last test is an 11 mile hike to the “Grim Reaper”(mountain) wearing full combat load. At the top of the “reaper” the recruits are given their Eagle, Globe, and Anchor and they’re called Marine for the first time.

10. Do you have any advice for poolees waiting to come to boot camp?

My advice to poolees would be to ask questions! Do your research! Don’t just watch the motivating commercials and think you will be good. Study the materials your recruiter provided you with, because it will all put you ahead of the game. Never forget WHY you came to boot-camp, everyone has their own reasons and they will help you make it through.

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