My Week in the Marine Corps

By Carmella S. Franco/School Administrator, August 2015

I never had particular interest in the military, though I was aware my father and two uncles had served during the Korean War and World War II. So when I was offered the chance recently to spend a week in training with the U.S Marine Corps, I approached the opportunity a bit tentatively but with an open mind.

I had been nominated for the Marine Corps Educator Training program by Salvador Ramirez, a former Marine who now is board president of the El Monte Union High School District in southern California. At the time, I was involved in providing leadership training to members of his district’s management team, so I figured this might enable me to view school leadership through a different lens.

The Itinerary

I reported for boot camp at the Marines’ recruiting depot in San Diego, with no idea what awaited me. Over the ensuing four and a half days, I underwent a remarkable experience and a transformation of thinking.

As a new “recruit,” I was processed upon arrival, and drill instructors were assigned to lead the two assembled units of roughly 40 educators. Each day was made interesting through a series of presentations, panels, performances and demonstrations by Marine officers and enlisted men and women. These educational and leadership moments, as I referred to them, alternated with our recruit experiences. We spent a day each on bases at Miramar and Camp Pendleton.

As the week progressed, the material covered in the presentations became more sophisticated. We heard from commanding officers, lieutenant colonels and an investigating general, all of whom reflected the Marine Corps’ vision and goals to produce well-balanced, team-oriented individuals able to fight the nation’s battles and become productive citizens once they re-enter civilian life.

On the last morning, there were some particularly wonderful moments — the presentation of colors; breakfast with recruits who were completing their 11th week of boot camp, having met the grueling demands of the crucible, a 48-hour physical ordeal; and the graduation ceremony for the 12-week recruits.


Four Lessons

Every day, I found myself thinking that the field of education could benefit a great deal from the way the Marines operate. These particular lessons stand out.

Strong leadership is a major determiner.

The Marines are engaged in training the recruits to be leaders from Day 1. The training focuses on the team, not the individual. We were organized into teams for the recruit obstacle course activity, and our survival depended on our working together. Clear and effective public speaking is taught, and opportunities for practice are provided. Set goals are to be accomplished, and high expectations exist for each Marine. There is a reason and a purpose for everything, from activities to rules.

Nurturing and caring form the foundation.

It is understood that every effort will be made to support the recruits and to ensure they successfully complete their 12 weeks of training. We learned that during the previous three years, with only one exception, all recruits became Marines. While the drill instructors are driving, non-smiling dictators of sorts, their overriding responsibility is to see the recruits develop the grit needed to survive, literally and figuratively. This is a 24/7 commitment by the Marines.

Accountability is an “A” word.

In nearly every presentation, the word “accountability” was mentioned if not stressed. It was clear that responsibilities were black and white, and everyone had a role to play and a job to carry out.

When not working in their job field, the Marines on base performed other work that was needed for smooth operations and/or facility improvements.

Successes and achievements are celebrated.

Following completion of the crucible in the 11th week of boot camp, the recruits are treated to a meal with choices and quantity. This constitutes the start of the important process of decompression. The culminating celebration is the graduation ceremony. Family and friends are present to witness this memorable accomplishment as each assumes the title of Marine. To say that it is impressive is an understatement.

Personal Benefits

I left my week with the Marines convinced that we in education can learn much from them as an organization — in particular, the areas of accountability, roles and responsibilities, support of employees, team development, motivational strategies, recognition of strengths and talents and celebration of accomplishments.

The Marines’ commitment to a balanced, team-oriented citizenry is one that educators can endorse and support. I say, tongue in cheek, that I managed to survive boot camp. In truth, I am a better individual and leader as a result of my incredible week with the Marines.

Carmella Franco is a retired superintendent and former state-appointed school district trustee residing in Whittier, Calif. She is co-author of A Culturally Proficient Society Begins in School: Leadership for Equity (Corwin). E-mail: