Most drill instructor candidates apply for the position and view it as a path toward career advancement. They must be between 21 and 35 years old and at the rank of sergeant or higher. Anyone who has "an explosive personality," or is "known to fly off the handle at the smallest provocation" should be discouraged from applying, according to Marine Corps guidelines. "It's the closest thing you're going to get to test your leadership without going into actual combat," said Sgt. Greg Dilley, 30, of Red Cloud, Neb., a student in the recent class.
Sgt. Clint Crane, 23, of Mt. Shasta, Calif., also a recent student, said he applied for the school because he wanted to be "the ultimate Marine."
Just as drill instructors must be able to do everything they ask of the recruits, Johnson and 1st Sgt. Timothy Soboleski, 39, the second-in-command at Drill Instructor School, believe they must be able to lead the student drill instructors by example. During the last 9 1/2-week course both men hiked and marched and slept on the ground along with the class. In superb physical condition, both ran a grueling obstacle course at the recruit depot one day and fared better than many of their younger students.
However, both decided to pass up an opportunity to enter a Quonset hut filled with tear gas during field exercises at Camp Pendleton, an option they did not afford to their students.
The course also includes instruction in what some consider the drill instructors' most valuable tool--a loud, low, nerve-jangling voice that will catch the attention of the most distracted recruit.
For Soboleski, the voice is "the No. 1 key for command and control. The voice makes the privates move." His theory of voice training is simple. "The voice is developed by giving loud commands, hollering louder than any private can holler, singing while running, chanting while marching, screaming chants.
"When you do that, your throat's gonna tear a little bit and it's gonna heal itself. It's gonna eventually get deeper."
In the classroom, Soboleski's voice projection is equally commanding. "Values, gentlemen. Morality," he boomed at the beginning of a seminar on problem recruits earlier this month. "You all remember the drill instructor who was an asshole just to be an asshole. . . . "You're not supposed to be disrespectful to their religion or to their families. A lot of you are gonna come up to a recruit and say, 'Who is your mother? Where are you from? Who hatched you?'
"That's treading on thin ice. Who here wants me to attack their mother? You attack mine and you're dead. . . . What gives you the right to steal the dignity of a young man?"
They can have some fun, however. "Nothing says you can't wear them out when they're surly and contemptful and disrespectful and lazy," Soboleski added. "But you have to motivate them and inspire them to do what's right."
Yet for a service as steeped in tradition as the Marine Corps, the ways of the past die hard.
Even with all the talk of sensitivity and new awareness, half a dozen men from the class, running in a pack one December morning, began a sing-song chant that seemed to come from another era. "One, two, three, four. Every night we pray for war. Five, six, seven, eight. Rape. Kill. Mutilate."