Marines are a little off. There’s a certain intensity, a certain feel you get when interacting with a Marine that sets them apart even from their peers in the other services. Much of this comes from their structure as a bottom-heavy light infantry force, but a lot of this is from their original created purpose: amphibious assaults. The thing is, when you get off a ship onto an enemy beach, you quickly find yourself committed in a way that you don’t want to be if things go poorly. “Do or die” isn’t just a nice motto – it’s traditionally what has actually happened in most amphibious assaults.
Of course, much of this is reinforced by their bottom heavy structure – it’s much easier to maintain harsher standards at the bottom ranks when your pyramid narrows more quickly. Either way, Marines tend to have a special intensity that the New York Times captures well in their window into the Marine Infantry Officer Course. The course begins with the Combat Endurance Test:
After a lieutenant completed each leg of the test, the captain said, there would be another instructor who would explain the next task. The test was timed, but the lieutenants would not know how much time was allowed for many events, or over all. This uncertainty was intended to force every student to go as fast as he could, never knowing how much energy and food to conserve.
Outside, Major Cuomo walked the trails in the heat, watching the lieutenants and occasionally offering encouragement. He explained what the course’s role meant to him: providing enlisted infantry Marines, who bear the brunt of war’s risks and privations, with officers they deserve.
He pointed at a lieutenant ahead, his uniform blackened by sweat and dirt, headed uphill. He appeared to have entered a slow-motion mental zone. He was weaving on shaky legs, but progressing.
“There could come a time when the Marines in a platoon will look at that man, and say, ‘I don’t know where he came from, and I don’t know what he knows, but we are in a big mess and he is going to do the right thing right now and make this right,’ ” the major said. “That man needs to be up to that task.”
At another point, the lieutenants found themselves at an obstacle course, which they had to complete multiple times. One officer lagged, staggering. He stopped, continued, stopped. It did not look as if he would climb the last lap’s last rope. But he did. He shuffled past Major Cuomo, fell to a knee and vomited repeatedly. At one point he dropped to all fours. Medical staff watched him. It looked as if he might pass out, but a few minutes later he was standing. A captain pointed to another card.