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This article is organised as follows:

  • Part 01: Introduction to the US Marine Corps’ Drill Instructor.
  • Part 02: History of the US Marine Corps’ Drill Instructor.
  • Part 03: Training Hierarchy.
  • Part 04: Drill Instructor Selection and Training.
  • Part 05: Drill Instructor Tour of Duty.
  • Part 06: Facts and Figures.
  • Part 07: Miscellaneous.


1.0     Introduction

This article provides an overview of the United States Marine Corps’ (USMC) Drill Instructor.

“Four or five [hours] of rest equals a good night. Sometimes, they don’t make it back home at all.” (Wolfgang, 2010).

A drill instructor in the USMC is an intensive training position that involves honing and transforming civilian recruits into basic Marines. Drill instructors, of which there are approximately 1,000, hold the unique position of training recruits not only to master the basics of being a Marine, which include general knowledge, physical fitness and rifle marksmanship proficiency, but to do so in a stressful combat environment.

Consequently drill instructors, sometimes informally referred to as ‘hats’ due to their distinctive campaign cover, are central to the experience, training and development of Marine recruits.

Drill instructors are widely known for their intensity, which the USMC describes as necessary to properly prepare recruits for the rigours of possible combat, with usually three or more assigned to each platoon.

To become a drill instructor, an individual must serve a full enlistment in the Marine Corps, be recommended by their command and attend drill instructor training.

This article is divided into seven parts for easier reading. Part One is the introduction which outlines what a drill instructor is and what they do. Part Two describes the history of the drill instructor, as well as the distinctive hat. Part Three highlights some of the organisations in the training hierarchy. Part Four looks at the selection and training process. Part Five describes the tour of duty of a drill instructor, including available positions. Part Six provides some interesting facts and figures. Finally, Part Seven provides some useful books and links, as well as references.

1.1     What is a Drill Instructor?

Drill instructor is the term used by the US Marine Corps for the military training instructors who deliver training to volunteer-civilians during recruit training – also known as Phase 1 training, basic training, initial training and ‘boot camp’.

Drill Instructors supervise and instruct, or assist in commanding and instructing, a recruit platoon.

1.2     What Does a Drill Instructor Do?

A drill instructor provides training, coaching, counselling and mentoring to individuals as part of their transformation from volunteer civilian to combat-ready Marine.

Drill instructors are military training instructors who deliver training to military recruits as part of their recruit training, which is outlined below.

A drill instructor is responsible for:

  • Instructing and assisting in training basic combat tasks to recruits.
  • Training recruits in the fundamentals of service life and the development in the recruit of discipline, physical fitness, pride, and love of the Marine Corps and country.
  • Training recruits in close order drill.
  • Instructing in nomenclature, disassembly, assembly, and functioning of small arms and assists in marksmanship instruction.
  • Instructing in general orders for sentinels, interior guard duty, personal hygiene, first aid, military bearing and neatness, and care of clothing and equipment.
  • Delivering lectures on Marine Corps history and tradition, customs of the service, military courtesy, and US Navy Regulations.
  • Assisting in conduct of parades, reviews, and bayonet drill.
  • Maintaining records and preparing reports.
  • Conducting recruit training for newly enlisted personnel following the recruit training schedules and orders.

1.3     Drill Instructor Creed

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.


2.0     Introduction

This part of the article provides a fairly comprehensive history of the drill instructor, as well as the history of the male and female versions of the drill instructor’s hat.

2.1     History of the Drill Instructor

Prior to the conception of the recruit depots and Drill Instructor Schools, NCO’s at the various posts and stations trained Marine recruits in the ‘principles of military movements’ and the use of the in-service rifle – with the quality of training as varied as the number of bases and NCO’s.

In 1911, Major General William Biddle, 11th Commandant of the Marine stated training in this manner was inadequate and consequently established the first centralised recruit depots at Norfolk, Virginia; Philadelphia; Mare Island, California; and Puget Sound, Washington.

By 1915, US continental east coast recruit training was centralised at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot (MCRD) Parris Island, South Carolina.

In 1923, MCRD San Diego assumed the duties as sole recruit depot for the US continental west coast.

During World War II (1939 to 1945), the drill instructor schools (DIS) were first established at both depots, but shortages of drill instructors needed to train the influx of new recruits forced the DI Course to cover only a couple of weeks.

In 1947, academic instructors were added to supplement the staff at the DIS and the training syllabus was expanded to ten weeks.

During the Korean War (25 June 1950 to 27 July 1953), the MCRD’s once again witnessed an increase in demand for recruit training (approximately 138,000 Marines graduated from Parris Island during the war). The number of recruits overwhelmed the number of available experienced drill instructors, leading to the re-establishment of the DIS during this time. The DI course was consequently reduced to three and a half weeks to meet demand for DI’s.

Drill Instructor School was formally re-established in October 1952 and over the years has increased its length from four weeks to the current 11 weeks.

In 1952, Donnie Dunagan joined the US Marine Corps, enjoying a 25-year career (Dunagan, 2015). Donnie was a child actor providing the voice for the Disney Classic Bambi and co-staring in the horror film Son of Frankenstein. Upon graduating from recruit training, the 18-year old private first class (PFC) Donnie Dunagan was selected for drill instructor school, becoming the youngest DI in Marine Corps history. During his 25 years of active service he rose through the ranks from enlisted private, Senior NCO, warrant officer to commissioned officer, with early selection to Major – receiving a record 13 promotions in 21 years.

Exceptionally qualified PFC’s were admitted to DIS until 1954 when enrolment was restricted to NCO’s.

On 08 April 1956 tragedy struck when a drill instructor led his recruit platoon on a punitive night march across Ribbon Creek, one of the tidal streams on Parris Island. Six men drowned, and the resulting court-martial became a national media sensation putting the future of the US Marine Corps into question. The then Commandant of the Marine Corps, General Randolph McCall Pate, ordered better supervision of drill instructors, and training in general, to assure that there would never be a repeat of the Ribbon Creek incident.

“Women instructors were called Platoon Sgt’s or platoon Leaders.” (Moore, 2016).

In 1976, women were authorised to attend training at the drill instructor school, although in separate squads from the men. On graduation women received a set of scarlet epaulets to wear on their outer jackets along with their duty belts (Moore, 2016).

By 1988, male and female DI candidates trained together, although women now graduated with the scarlet cord whilst men still graduate with the campaign hat (Moore, 2016).

In 1992, “Gunnery Sergeant Melody Naatz became the first female to don the flat brimmed ‘Smokey Bear’ as a Drill Instructor.” (WMA, 2014).

“Sept. 26th 1996, for the first time female drill instructors were presented the “Smokey Bear” at graduation from D.I. School.” (Moore, 2016).

2.2     The Male Drill Instructor Hat

The introduction of the pre-World War II campaign or field hat worn by USMC drill instructors today originated during an advisory council meeting in 1956, with SNCO’s strongly recommending the adoption of better ‘headgear’ for drill instructors.

At that time, the khaki barracks cap had a bill, but did not shade the eyes, and the green herringbone cape worn with the field uniform was also inadequate in the summer sun.

The pith helmet was a practical alternative for wear in the hot Carolina summer, it was cool and its wide brim provided good shade for the eyes and neck. It later became the hat used by marksmanship instructors at the rifle range.

Further study indicated that the field hat was the item most preferred by drill instructors. Although it shaded the neck and eyes well, it did not keep the head as cool as the pith helmet.

The field hat was a bit of tradition going back to the ‘Old Corps’ or pre-World War II days. It was also more suitable for year-round wear than the pith helmet.

By early June 1956 the MCRD had requisitioned 1,000 field hats for delivery on 01 September 1956; however, General Wallace M. Greene Jr. (23rd Commandant of the Marine Corps from 01 January 1964 to 31 December 1967) wanted to order 700 hats immediately. On Saturday 21 July 1956 at 7:30 am all 603 drill instructors of the recruit training command obtained their new hats.

2.3     The Female Drill Instructor Hat

The 31st Commandant of the Marine Corps (General Charles C. Krulak) announced on 13 September 1996 that all female drill instructors were now authorised to wear the previously male-only ‘Smokey’ field hat.

The Commandant’s decision has answered the frequently asked question, “Why not?”

It was first asked in 1976 when the first females graduated from the Drill Instructor School and, again, in 1983 when female drill instructors began wearing the scarlet shoulder cord.

During their graduation ceremony, on 26 September 1996, female Drill Instructor School graduates were issued field hats.

A cord retirement ceremony took place 02 October 1996, after which female DIs ceased wearing the scarlet cord and began wearing the cover – with General Charles C. Krulak being on hand for the event.

The final scarlet shoulder cord, the previous symbol of a female drill instructor, was placed in the Parris Island Museum.


3.0     Introduction

This part of the article highlights some of the organisations involved in the selection, training and/or posts for drill instructors.

3.1     US Marine Corps Training and Education Command

The US Marine Corps Training and Education Command (TECOM) is responsible for the training, development, and education of Marines. TECOM’s mission is:

“To develop, coordinate, resource, execute, and evaluate training and education concepts, policies, plans, and programs to ensure Marines are prepared to meet the challenges of present and future operational environments.” (TECOM, 2017).

TECOM is located at Quantico, Virginia, and is led by the Commanding General, a Major General (CG) (OF-7). The CG is assisted by a Deputy Executive, a civilian, and a Sergeant Major (OR-9).

TECOM is composed of ten organisations/directorates (TECOM, 2017):

  • Five Directorates:
    • Centre for Advanced Operational Culture Learning (CAOCL).
    • MAGTF Training Education Standards Division (MTESD).
    • Training and Education Capabilities Division (TECD): Provides training and education support to enhance the effectiveness and efficiency of training and education programs across the mission spectrum
    • MAGTF Staff Training Programme (MSTP): provide training in MAGTF operations across the range of military operations, within the context of a Joint and/or Combined Task Force environment, to improve the war-fighting skills of senior commanders and their staffs
    • Marine Corps Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC).
  • Education Command (aka The Marine Corps University, MCU): MCU is a group of accredited higher-education schools at Marine Corps Base Quantico, Virginia. It was established on 01 August 1989 by General Alfred M. Gray, Jr., then Commandant of the Marine Corps.
  • Training Command: Delivers officer and enlisted:
    • Entry-level Military Occupational Specialty (MOS, aka Phase 2 Employment Training).
    • Career progression and career enhancement skills (aka Phase 3 Training).
  • MCRD Parris Island: Delivers recruit (aka Phase 1 Initial) training.
  • MCRD San Diego: Delivers recruit training.
  • Marine Air Ground Task Force (MAGTF) Training Command: Manages the MAGTF Training Programme (MAGTFTP) and conducts service level MAGTF combined arms training to enhance the combat readiness of the operating forces and support the Marine Corps’ responsibilities to national security.

3.2     Marine Corps Recruit Depots

There is a Marine Corps Recruit Depot (MCRD) on the east and west coast of the continental US:

  • MCRD San Diego, California, in the west – also known as MCRD West.
  • MCRD Parris Island, South Carolina, in the east – also known as MCRD East.

Both MCRD’s are commanded by a Brigadier General and assisted by a Depot Sergeant Major. Each MCRD has a Recruit Training Regiment (RTR), commanded by a Colonel, which is composed of one or more training battalions, one support battalion and one drill instructor school respectively.

MCRD Parris Island first started training male enlisted recruits in November 1915, and female recruits in February 1949. MCRD Parris Island trains approximately 49% of male recruits and 100% of female recruits who join the USMC, around 19,000 each year (DVIDS, 2017).

Further information on the MCRD’s and recruit training can be found here.

3.3     Marine Corps Base Quantico

Marine Corps Base Quantico (MCBQ), Virginia, is home to the Officer Candidate School (OCS), where the US Marine Corps trains its civilian volunteers as officers and future leaders of the USMC.

3.4     US Marine Corps Drill Instructor School

“In the schoolhouse, a sign over the door says, “The future of the Marine Corps begins here.”” (Kovach, 2012).

The mission of Drill Instructor School (DIS) is to develop and evaluate knowledge, leadership, command presence, instructional ability, knowledge, and physical condition of selected NCOs, staff NCO’s and officers to successfully perform the duties of a drill instructor or series commander.

Additionally, the DIS certifies all DI’s and other RTR non-DI recruit handlers in cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), to include the use of automated external defibrillators (AED’s) in accordance with American Heart Association (AHA) standards, and provide annual refresher training.

There are two DIS, one located at each of the MCRD, and are organised as follows:

  • MCRD San Diego:
    • Director: Major/Lieutenant Colonel (OF-3/4).
    • Assistant Director: Captain (OF-2), with experience in a recruit training company and also acts as primary instructor of the Series Officer Course (SOC).
    • DI School First Sergeant: 1stSgt, senior enlisted advisor and former DI.
    • Chief (Drill) Instructor: Gunnery Sergeant (GySgt)/Master Sergeant (MSgt).
    • Academics Chief: Staff Sergeant (SSgt).
    • Squad Instructors: The trainers of DI, approximately 9-10, with each being a gunnery sergeant or staff sergeant. Squad instructors will have completed at least one tour as a DI and each will have been hand-picked to train and mentor the Corps’ future drill instructors. In addition to serving as an instructor and subject-matter expert for a particular subject area, they are also assigned a squad of eight to 10 students, which they lead, mentor and counsel throughout the 11-week training cycle.
  • MCRD Parris Island:
    • Director: Major/Lieutenant Colonel (OF-3/4).
    • Assistant Director: As above
    • DI School First Sergeant: As above.
    • Chief (Drill) Instructor: As above.
    • Academics Co-ordinator: Gunnery Sergeant.
    • Squad Instructors: As above.

DIS delivers the following courses:

  • Enlisted:
    • 55 training day, 11-week Drill Instructor (DI) course (see Part Four).
    • Senior Drill Instructor (SDI) course.
    • Chief Drill Instructor (CDI) course.
    • 20 training day Prior Drill Instructor Course (aka DI School Refresher Course) (Section 4.9).
  • Officers:
    • Series Commander Course (for newly reporting company grade officers).
    • Company Commander’s Course.


4.0     Introduction

This part of the article outlines the US Marine Corps’ Drill Instructor programme which describes the selection and training process for drill instructors.

4.1     Eligibility Criteria

The potential drill instructor must possess a high degree of maturity, leadership, judgment and professionalism, as well as thoroughly embracing the core values of the US Marine Corps.

Candidates who volunteer for, or are in-voluntarily selected for, drill instructor duty are issued orders to either MCRD West or MCRD East for duty under instruction at Drill Instructor School for a period of about 11-12 weeks. Upon completing the course, the candidate is then assigned to the MCRD as a drill instructor.

Employment as a drill instructor, although not a career in itself, is a special duty assignment (SDA, also known as a ‘B-Billet’).

General and specific eligibility criteria include (MCO 1326.6D, 2015):

  • General Criteria:
    • May be volunteers or non-volunteers.
    • Integrity/Judgment: Must demonstrates sound integrity and judgment.
    • Core Values: Must thoroughly embrace and exemplify the core values of the US Marine Corps and lead by example in this area.
    • Stable Family: The candidate is not currently enrolled in a command-directed Family Advocacy Programme as verified by the local Family Services Centre. Divorce or Separation standing alone does not disqualify someone for assignment to DI School. However, a candidate is not qualified when his/her bona-fide separation/divorce/ custody proceedings will foreseeably interfere with meeting all DI School training schedule requirements.
    • Financially responsible: The candidate has demonstrated an ability to manage personal financial management with maturity and judgment, e.g., is not overextended financially to the point of being unable to fulfil their financial obligations; does not have a pattern of dishonoured checks; and/or has not filed for bankruptcy within the past two years.
    • The candidate should have approximately $550.00 net available funds (including SDA pay of $275.00) after completing the Commanding Officer’s Financial Worksheet.
    • Will need to be recommended by the chain of command as part of the process.
  • Physical Criteria:
    • Physically qualified: The candidate experiences no difficulty in passing the PFT, achieving a first class PFT 90 days prior to the class reporting date.
    • Swim Qualification: A candidate’s combat water survival qualification must be current and at a minimum of 4th class (CWS4). CWS4 qualification is a graduation requirement.
    • Meets personal appearance and height and weight standards: Candidates must be within the Marine Corps height and weight standards IAW MCO 6100.10_. No unresolved history of assignment to weight control or personal appearance programmes is authorised. The candidate must be weighed/measured in PT gear, no shoes.
  • Medical Criteria:
    • Medically qualified for duty: A physical examination by a medical officer must be conducted within 12 months of the class reporting date and state “qualified for DI duty” in block 77 of SF88.
    • The Commanding Officer and the Medical Officer will also screen the candidate and the candidate’s medical records per the Commanding Officer’s Medical Screening Guide.
  • Age Criteria:
    • Must be between 22 and 37 years old when reporting to DI school, although can be waived.
  • Education Criteria:
    • High School Grad/GED: DI candidates should have an educational background equal to that of the majority of recruits who they will be instructing. DI candidates with a reading level below the 10th grade may experience some difficulty assimilating Drill Instructor School course material.
    • General technical (GT) score must be 90 or above, although can be waived.
  • Leadership & Military Standards Criteria:
    • Disciplinary record and drug or alcohol related incident(s).
      • Courts-Martial: No courts-martial. A court-martial conviction may be waived by CMC MMEA-85 if 5 or more years have elapsed since the offense.
      • NJP: Not more than two NJPs in the last 5 years preceding the class reporting date. No NJPs in the last 24 months preceding the class reporting date.
      • PAGE 11 ENTRIES: No adverse page 11 entries (i.e., MARCORSEPMAN para 6105 counselling) in the last 2 years preceding the reporting date.
      • Drug and Alcohol: No drug related incidents. No alcohol related incidents within the last 3 years preceding the class reporting date. A waiver granted for reenlistment is not valid for assignment to drill instructor duty. A separate waiver must be requested from CMC MMEA-85.
    • Presence of Mind. Marines being considered for drill instructor duty should possess a calm demeanour during stressful situations. A Marine who has exhibited an explosive personality or is known to ‘fly off the handle’ is not normally the Marine for drill instructor duty.
    • Annual Training: Candidates are required to complete annual training prescribed by CMC prior to detaching, e.g. Rifle/Pistol requalification, BST, etc.
  • Rank and Service Criteria:
    • Must have a minimum of 24 months obligated service.
    • Sergeant through Gunnery Sergeant.
    • Gunnery Sergeants will have completed a successful tour as a drill instructor or will be volunteers.
    • Meets minimum obligated service: Candidates must have a minimum of 2 years of active service remaining upon completion of DI School.

4.2     Drill Instructor Preparation Programme

There is no formalised Marine-wide drill instructor preparation programme.

4.3     Training Syllabus

“The 11-week course they teach future drill instructors includes seminars and role playing in a mock squad bay of bunk beds and foot lockers.” (Kovach, 2012).

Today, the DIS strives to be the premier leadership school in the US Marine Corps. Although the course length has changed, from 4 weeks in the 1950s to 11 weeks in the 2010s, the mission of the DIS has remained constant. The total time for the course is 55 training days over 12 weeks, down from 56 days in 2007 (Hagar, 2016), with week 0 being processing and the first actual or formal day of training starting on Week 1 (Table 2).

The focus of the instruction and training established in the course syllabus of the 1950s and 1960s is very similar to the programme of instruction the DIS uses today (Within the US system of military training, the curriculum or training programme is known as a programme of instruction (POI)).

The POI encompasses over 500 hours of academics, physical training and practical applications over the 11-week course. Emphasis is placed on standard operating procedures (SOPs) for recruit training, drill, physical fitness, general military subjects, and instructional techniques.

DI candidates, as drill instructor trainees are known, are given a thorough review of all military skills, as well as an intensive indoctrination in the conduct, regulations, and procedures governing recruit training.

Overall, leadership is the cornerstone of the course. Ensuring each DI candidate has a sound foundation of the basic leadership traits and principles coupled with solid command presence enables them to set the proper example for their recruits. Consequently, all DI candidates undergo a comprehensive leadership package that includes time management, communication skills, and counselling.

DI candidates, usually in groups of approximately 8-10, will be trained by a qualified DI, known as a Squad Instructor (Section 5.1). Squad instructors continuously evaluate and counsel their respective DI candidates to ensure maximum performance.

Although male DI candidates train in MCRD West and East, female DI candidates (as of December 2017) only train at MCRD East.

The scope and concept of the DIS training syllabus is four-fold:

  • First and foremost, it is a leadership school. Although an initial, comprehensive review of the basic leadership skills is provided, the focus is on the further development of the student’s (NCO/SNCO) leadership abilities and potential. The main effort converges on the concepts of positive, concerned and ethical leadership.
  • Second, it is designed to provide the student with a thorough knowledge of those basic military subjects covered in recruit training.
  • Third, it gives the student a thorough knowledge of the directives, regulations and procedures governing recruit training.
  • Fourth, it physically prepares the student to lead his recruits during daily physical training periods.

The training syllabus includes a number of military subjects/topics (Table 1).

Table 1: Academic subjects and topics
Subject/Topic Description
Leadership Programme
  • Designed to further develop the student’s practical leadership abilities and broaden their perspectives.
  • This will prepare them for the challenges of recruit training, and other challenges they will encounter throughout their careers.
Close Order Drill (COD)
  • The training in this sub-course is designed to develop within each student the knowledge, ability and confidence to teach any aspect of close order drill in precise detail.
  • Additionally, students are instructed in sword manual, command voice, cadence, parades, and ceremonies.
  • Student progress is evaluated by practical application evaluations, oral presentations and a written final examination of the entire sub-course.
  • Teach-backs/Drill Commands.
  • It is beneficial for students to memorise the position of attention prior to their arrival, as they will be expected to recite that movement to one of the squad instructors verbatim a few days after arrival at DIS.
Values-based Training (VBT)
  • The training in this sub-course is designed to teach the student how to develop within recruits the Core Values of Honour, Courage and Commitment.
  • This is accomplished through guided discussions, physical training, classes, and the Crucible.
  • Students not only experience this event in the same manner recruits do, but they are also taught how to lead recruits through the Crucible.
Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) for Recruit Training
  • This instruction provides the student with knowledge of the training, organisational orders, and policies governing the conduct and supervision of recruit training.
Physical Training (PT)
  • Physical fitness and physical training is one of the most visible illustrations of leadership by example.
  • Accordingly, students’ preparation in becoming a DI must be designed to ensure confidence through endurance and agility. The conditioning programme at DIS is designed to develop the four components of physical fitness: strength, endurance, agility and coordination.
  • Furthermore, the programme familiarises the student with the recruit PT programme. To evaluate the student’s progress, the Marine Corps Physical Fitness Test (PFT) and Combat Fitness Tests (CFT) are administered two times each.
  • Although the school’s PT programme design is progressive in nature, it is in the student’s best interest to report to DIS in a high first class PFT condition.
  • Candidates will undertake a 5- and 8-mile rucksack march during the course, as well as undertake The Crucible towards the end of the course (Hagar, 2016).
  • Any students who runs over 23:00 minutes on the 3 mile run, achieves less than 10 pull-ups, or 80 crunches on the initial PFT will be placed on the Remedial PT programme.
  • Students are required to maintain a minimum 8:00 minute per mile pace on all individual and formation runs.
Marine Corps Common Skills (MCCS)
  • This sub-course presents a review of military subjects the students, as DI, will teach or assist in teaching with a recruit platoon.
  • Just over 50% of each class fails the first MCCS test.
Basic Warrior Training (BWT)
  • Training in this area provides the students with the basic knowledge of field skills.
  • This training will be conducted during the one week spent at the Weapons & Field Training Battalion.
  • Student progress is evaluated by practical application periods and a written final examination of the entire course.
  • Students reporting to DIS must have their basic military issue as set forth in the most current version of Marine Corps Bulletin 10120 (Individual Clothing Allowances).
  • Refer to this bulletin for information concerning uniform changes and requirements.
  • All clothing must be serviceable (that is, no frayed collars or cuffs; no spots or mending on any part of the uniform) and clothing must fit properly.
  • Students will receive numerous classes on uniform regulations during the course to include classes on how to mark their uniforms.
  • Upon graduation, new DIs receive a full issue of good quality ‘Organisational Property’ (OP) khaki shirts (long and short sleeve). In addition, DIs receive free dry cleaning service for all OP uniforms. That said, it is highly recommended that students own a minimum of one khaki short sleeve shirt and one khaki long sleeve shirt that are of the Creighton/Great Northern type for use during DIS.

Below are a number of useful documents for DI candidates:

“Allshouse stood to the side of a training area at the depot where Class 2-17 was running an exercise called “maneuver under fire.” It’s a 300-yard shuttle run divided into parts where students carry ammo cans, haul fellow Marines on their backs, drag their comrades, “low-crawl” and “high-crawl.”” (Livingston, 2017).

Training highlights for the DI course can be found in Table 2.

Table 2: Outline of training by week
Week Outline
  • Processing: including Initial PFT, height and weight, compliance/non-compliance screening, finances, family stability, and introduction class instructor packages.
  • 6 classes for MOS 0911 development, 1 uniform inspection, 2 PT events, 6 COD sessions, and various briefs from outside agencies.
  • 6 classes for MOS 0911 development, 1 PT event, initial swim qualification, 5-mile conditioning hike, 1 uniform inspection, 6 COD sessions, Guidon verification test, and various briefs from outside agencies.
  • 8 classes for MOS 0911 development, 3 PT events, 8 COD sessions, 1 written and performance examination, 1 uniform inspection, and various briefs from outside agencies.
  • 8 classes for MOS 0911 development, 1 PT event, initial CFT, 8-mile conditioning hike, 6 COD sessions, 1 written examination, 1 uniform inspection, and various briefs from outside agencies.
  • 4 classes for MOS 0911 development, intermediate PFT, final swim qualification, 6 COD sessions, 1 performance examination, and various briefs from outside agencies.
  • 5 classes for MOS 0911 development, 2 PT events, 1 uniform inspection, 7 COD sessions, and various briefs from outside agencies.
  • 1 class for MOS 0911 development, 2 PT events, 1 written, and performance examination, and various briefs from outside agencies.
  • BWT Week: field skills training, RTO of The Crucible, viewing of emblem ceremony, 1 practical application examination, and 1 written examination.
  • Finals Week: COD written and performance examinations, final PFT, final CFT, final SOP examination, director’s inspection, and class photographs.
  • RTO Week: students observe recruit training and participate in routine events under the direct supervision of signed off drill instructors.
  • Graduation Week.

“Corporals (and Lance Corporals assigned to MSG school) will have 100 points added to their composite score upon completion of drill instructor, recruiter, and Marine Security Guard school.” (MCO 1326.6D, 2015, p.1-3).

“A program has been established to provide for meritorious promotions to Sergeant for Corporals on Drill Instructor and Recruiting Duty.” (MCO 1326.6D, 2015, p.1-3).

4.4     Drill Instructor Additional Military Occupation Specialty

DI candidates who successfully graduate the DI course will be awarded the additional military occupational specialty (AMOS) of 0911.

As per MARADMINS Number 329/06 (dated 20 July 2006), AMOS 8511 was converted to 0911 in the new occupational field 09 (Training).

4.5     Prior Drill Instructor Course

Prior drill instructors who aspire to another tour of duty as a drill instructor must complete an authorised DI School Refresher Course, commonly known as the Prior Drill Instructor Course.

This course takes place over 20 training days and includes:

  • Drill, to include: sword evaluation, guidon evaluation, teach-backs, COD evaluation, and COD written evaluation.
  • SOP written exam.
  • PFT/O-Course validation.
  • Three mile, two-quart canteen validation in 23:00 minutes or less.
  • Confidence & Circuit Course Validation.
  • Rappelling.
  • Uniform Inspection: announced, unannounced and/or Director’s.
  • CPR training and evaluation.
  • Marine Corps Combat Water Survival (MCCWS).
  • Accountability Inspection: All uniforms will be checked for accountability and serviceability.

Prior DI’s with more than eight years between tours of duty will be required to undertake the 11-week DI Course, those with less attend the Prior course.


5.0     Introduction

This part of the article looks at the tour of duty for a drill instructor, the drill instructor of the year competition, and the drill instructor assignment preference programme.

5.1     Drill Instructor Tour of Duty

Newly graduated DI’s will receive orders to serve as a DI for a three-year tour of duty at either MCRD West or East, with female DI’s at MCRD East. Over the next three years the new DI will train a platoon of recruits at 13-week intervals, with 10 days of leave in between each training platoon – although there can be anywhere from 1-5 weeks in-between training platoons (Horsley, 2015; Miller, 2016).

Every 3-4 nights a DI will have duty, were they must stay overnight with the recruits, as there must be a DI with the recruits every night. A DI can expect to work 16-18 hour days.

Whilst at one of the two MCRD, a DI will undertake one or more of the following roles:

  • The head drill instructor is officially termed the Senior Drill Instructor, or SDI, and must be addressed as such by recruits and drill instructors alike. Often referred to simply as ‘seniors’ (and “as a platoon’s “daddy”” (Miller, 2016)), the SDI’s often bond with the recruits and ensure that the DI’s do not push recruits beyond unnecessary barriers or violate regulations. SDI’s are usually a Staff Sergeant or higher (although sometimes a Sergeant (Miller, 2016)) and are distinguished by wearing a black leather duty belt (whereas other drill instructors wear wide green webbed duty belts).
  • The second in command is officially the Experienced Drill Instructor, but is unofficially referred to as the ‘heavy hat’, ‘j-hat’, ‘strong-j’ (notionally for “junior”), or ‘drill hat’ (as they normally provide the majority of instruction in close order drill). The Heavy is tasked with making life extremely difficult for recruits.
  • The third (and sometimes when there is a fourth) drill instructor is termed the Assistant Drill Instructor, also known as the Junior Drill Instructor and is commonly referred to as the ‘green belt’, ‘kill hat’, ‘knowledge hat’, ‘bulldog’, or ‘3rd hat’, normally charged with teaching the recruits much of their academic knowledge and responsible for the overall discipline of recruits.
  • Additional drill instructors may be assigned in the winter season, when there are fewer recruits, or as a temporary assignment for students at DIS.

Another way to look at this is, that a drill instructor (whether experienced, assistant or junior) is in charge of teaching everything from how recruits will get dressed to how they will march. A senior drill instructor is in charge of a drill instructor team and oversees day-to-day operations.

The DI of a platoon are responsible to the Series Commander, a level of command added below that of the company commander, as a safety measure put into place following the Ribbon Creek incident.

There are a number of roles a Marine can undertake within the DI community, including:

  • Enlisted Training:
    • Drill Instructor (DI).
    • Senior Drill Instructor (SDI).
    • There are some opportunities for respite from the intensity of DI work. DI’s may be assigned to Support Battalion for duty in one of several roles, including martial arts instructor, classroom instructor, water survival instructor, or the rehabilitation of injured recruits.
    • Chief Drill Instructor (CDI).
    • Series Gunnery Sergeant: In charge of three to four platoons.
    • Company First Sergeant: In charge of ate least six platoons.
    • Battalion and Regiment Sergeant Major.
  • Drill Instructor School Posts:
    • Squad Instructor:
      • The trainers of DI, with each being a gunnery sergeant or staff sergeant.
      • Squad instructors will have completed at least one tour as a DI and each will have been hand-picked to train and mentor the Corps’ future drill instructors.
      • In addition to serving as an instructor and subject-matter expert for a particular subject area, they are also assigned a squad of eight to 10 students, which they lead, mentor and counsel throughout the 11-week training cycle.
      • “After proving themselves as drill instructors, six to 10 move across the street to the schoolhouse.” (Kovach, 2012).
    • DI School First Sergeant: senior enlisted advisor and former DI.
    • Chief Instructor.
    • Academics Chief/Co-ordinator.
  • Officer Training:
    • o Assistant Marine Officer Instructors and Officer Candidate School Instructors (see below).

As per MCO P1326.6D (dated 15 October 2015, p.1-3), individuals who successfully complete a tour of duty as a DI are to “…be considered as highly qualified for promotion to the next higher grade.” Some individuals may also receive a “meritorious promotion” (MCO 1326.6D, 2015, p.1-3).

5.2     Marine Corps Drill Instructor Ribbon

As authorised by SECNAV Letter 1650 Ser NDBDM/482 (dated 15 July 1997), a drill instructor who has successfully completed a tour of duty in a 0911 (previously 8511) billet is eligible to receive the Marine Corps Drill Instructor Ribbon (MCDIR).

DI must serve a minimum of “30 months” in post (MCO 1326.6D, 2015, p.1-4).

The award consists of a ribbon bar only, with no citation or certificate being issued.

5.3     Special Duty Assignment Pay

Marines assigned as DI are authorised special duty assignment (SDA) pay, an extra $275 per month in 2015 (MCO 1326.6D, 2015, p.1-4).

5.4     Selective Reenlistment Bonus

Marines assigned as DI are authorised to retain their selective reenlistment bonus (SRB) eligibility even though they will be serving outside their primary MOS (MCO 1326.6D, 2015, p.1-4).

5.5     Assistant Marine Officer/Officer Candidate School Instructor

The position of Assistant Marine Officer Instructor (AMOI) and Officer Candidate School (OCS) instructor is for individuals who are prior drill instructors (MCO 1326.6D, 2015, p.2-4).

Training recruits as a drill instructor is a high achievement and is the first step toward becoming an Assistant Marine Officer Instructor (AMOI) or Officer Candidate School (OCS) Instructor:

  • OCS Instructor: Sergeant Instructor is the title given to those who take on the important responsibility of training and evaluating officer candidates at:
    • USMC Officer Candidates School at the Marine Corps Base Quantico (MCBQ), Virginia.
    • Navy Officer Training Command at Newport, Rhode Island.
    • US Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maryland.
  • AMOI: is a Staff NCO-in-charge of students attempting to complete a degree and commission in the US Navy and USMC within the Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps (NROTC).

Individuals are eligible for one of these two roles after (MARADMINS Number: 509/17, dated 14 September 2017):

  • Graduating from DIS;
  • Serving a successful three-year tour of duty as a DI;
  • Regular active duty Marine in the grade of Staff Sergeant through Master Sergeant;
  • Possess a minimum GT score of 100 (AMOI duty only);
  • Meet height and weight standards;
  • Possess a current first class PFT score; and
  • Working for three years in their Primary MOS after their DI tour of duty (can be waivered to 2 years).

At this point an individual can apply for an AMOI/OCS role, which is very different from that of a drill instructor. A sergeant instructor’s main role is to assist the platoon commander in training, evaluating and screening all candidates within their platoons, with other roles including (Beale, 2017):

  • Conducting continuous, close, personal observation of each candidate in their platoon.
  • Ensuring candidates abide by all provisions of the candidate regulations and maintain high standards of discipline, personal appearance and military courtesy.
  • Being entrusted with taking care of the candidates and ensuring that training is conducted in a safe manner.
  • Serving as role models for officer candidates.
  • Helping officer candidates develop certain traits: The candidates chosen to attend OCS are expected to already possess the commitment, character, physical and mental courage, teamwork, unselfishness and resilience that are expected of a Marine Corps officer and the sergeant instructors’ help develop those traits further during OCS.
  • Aiding officer candidates by coaching, mentoring and educating them to make the right choices when faced with difficult decisions.
  • Teaching and reinforcing basic Marine Corps knowledge.
  • Teaching and supervising of individual weapons handling.
  • Teaching and supervising of drill (approximately 65 hours each cycle).
  • Teaching and supervising of physical training.

5.6     Drill Instructor of the Year Competition

“Drill instructors first compete for the award within their company, then at the battalion, regimental and eventually depot level. The year’s top two drill instructors from Parris Island and its counterpart in San Diego are matched up for the Marine-wide award.” (Brink, 2014).

At each level a candidate will appear before a board, which is an intensive interview process that takes into account, amongst other things, service record, appearance, and the condition of the individual’s uniform (Livingston, 2017).

An incentive for winning the Marine-wide award is promotion to the rank of gunnery sergeant (Brink, 2014).

Other awards a DI can win include (Brink, 2014):

  • Battalion drill instructor of the quarter; and
  • Senior drill instructor of the quarter.

5.7     Drill Instructor Assignment Preference

Marines who successfully complete a tour of duty as a DI will be given a continental US assignment, unless an overseas assignment is specifically requested, to a specific geographic area, providing a valid billet in their primary MOS exists in the geographic area (MCO 1326.6D, 2015, p.1-5).


6.0     Facts and Figures

“…nearly all of the 17 Sergeants Major of the Marine Corps since the creation of the top enlisted position in 1957 were Drill Instructors during their careers.” (Luckwaldt, 2016).

  • MCRD Parris Island:
    • In 2014, there were approximately 650 drill instructors (Brink, 2014).
    • In 2017, there were approximately 600 drill instructors training 19,000 recruits each year (DVIDS, 2017).
  • MCRD San Diego:
    • In 2012, there were approximately 450 drill instructors training roughly 3,200 to 7,400 recruits at any one time (Kovach, 2012).
    • In 2013, the hours of the various components of the course were:
      • Close order drill: 102.0 hours.
      • Combat conditioning: 25.5 hours.
      • Instruction: 249.5 hours.
      • Leadership: 33.0 hours.
      • Safety: 3.0 hours.
      • Review and reinforcement: 6.0 hours.
      • Evaluation: 88.0 hours.

There were just over 1,000 drill instructors in 2017, down from approximately 1,200 in 1980 (NPRDC, 1980).

“The attrition rates at DI Schools ranged from 24 to 56 percent during the period from July 1972 to December 1975.” (NPRDC, 1980, p.vii).

Military personnel from various countries have competed drill instructor school, including Cape Verde, Haiti, Hungary, Romania, Slovenia, Tonga, and the United Kingdom (Carr, 2003).

6.1     Exchange Programmes and Training

Exchange programmes and training conducted by drill instructors includes:

  • In 2003, Bulgarian staff sergeant Yavor Behar attended the MCRD East drill instructor school as a student in class 4-2003. Staff sergeant Behar attended the course as part of the International Military Education and Training Programme (Carr, 2003).
  • In November 2016, a Captain and Sergeant from the Irish Defence Forces attended the Drill Instructor School at MRCD Parris Island “to gain a better understanding of how the U.S. Marine Corps conducts values based training for recruits, officers, and drill instructors in order to improve how the Irish Defence Forces conduct recruit training and to further strengthen relations between the two Nation’s militaries.” (DVIDS, 2016).
  • In March 2017, a number of drill instructors from MCRD East visited Fort Jackson to observe US Army drill sergeants and Army recruits during their version of recruit training (Hill, 2017).


7.0     Summary

This article provides a fairly comprehensive outline of the US Marine Corps’ Drill Instructor.

It provides information on the history of the drill instructor, selection and training, as well as tours of duty and some basic statistics.

7.1     Useful Publications

  • Department of the Navy (DN):
    • SECNAV Letter 1650 Ser NDBDM/482: Request for the Establishment of Drill Instructor Ribbon and Marine Security Guard Ribbon (15 July 1997).
    • SECNAV instruction 1650.1G: Navy and Marine Corps Awards Manual (07 January 2002).
    • SECNAV Instruction 1650.1H: Navy & Marine Corps Awards Manual (22 August 2006).
  • Marine Corps Orders (MCO):
    • MCO P5060.20: Marine Corps Drill and Ceremonies Manual (05 May 2003).
    • MCO 1510.32F: Marine Corps Policy for Recruit Training (20 December 2012).
    • MCO P1326.6D: Selecting, Screening, and Preparing Enlisted Marines for Special Duty Assignments and Independent Duties, Change 2 (15 October 2012).
    • MCO 6100.13: Marine Corps Physical Fitness Programme, Change 2 (30 January 2015).
  • Marine Corps Recruit Depot Orders & Publications:
    • Recruit Training Regiment (RTR) directives.
    • Weapons and Field Training Battalion (WFTBN) directives.
    • Depot Order P1510.30M: Standard Operating Procedures for Recruit Training (27 July 2006.
    • Depot Order P1510.31: Standard Operating Procedures for Recruit Training (20 March 2014).
    • Depot Order P1513.6B: Recruit Training Order (12 September 2008).
    • Depot Order P1513.6B: Recruit Training Order, Recruit Training Pocket Guide (12 September 2008).
  • Marine Corps Bulletin (MCBUL):
    • MCBUL 10120 – Fiscal Year 2015 Individual Clothing Allowances (08 October 2014).
    • MARADMIN 329/06: MOS Manual Changes and Conversions (20 July 2006).
    • MARADMIN 509/17: Assistant Marine Officer Instructor (AMOI) and Officer Candidates School (OCS) Billet Vacancies (14 September 2017).
  • Books and Magazines:
    • Smith, L. (2007) The Few and the Proud: Marine Corps Drill Instructors in their Own Words. New York: W.W. Norton Company.
    • Fleming, K. (2009) The U.S. Marine Corps in Crisis: Ribbon Creek and Recruit Training. Columbia, South Carolina: The University of South Carolina Press.
    • Popaditch, N. (2009) The Ultimate Marine Recruit Training Guidebook: A Drill Instructor’s Strategies and Tactics for Success. El Dorado Hills, California: Savas Beatie.
    • Shirley, B. (2012) Parris Island Daze: My Drill Instructor was Tougher Than Yours. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform.
    • Popaditch, N. (2012) Ultimate Marine Recruit Training Guidebook: A Drill Instructor’s Strategies and Tactics for Success. El Dorado Hills, California: Savas Beatie.
    • McDugle, K. (2014) Inside the Mind of a Marine Drill Instructor. Tulsa, Oklahoma: Total Publishing and Media.
    • Crouch, J.E. (2015) The Pressure Cooker: Forging Naval Officers Through Marine Leadership. 1st Ed. (eBook).
    • Correa, J.S. (2015) Reflections of a Former Drill Instructor. Marine Corps Gazette. 99(11), pp.30-32. Available from World Wide Web: [Accessed: 21 November, 2017].
  • Research:
    • NPRDC (Navy Personnel Research and Development Centre) (1980) Selection of Marine Corps Drill Instructors. NPRDC TR 80-17. San Diego, California: NPRDC. Available from World Wide: [Accessed: 22 November, 2017].

7.2     Useful Links

  • Training Units:
    • Marine Corps Base Quantico:
    • Marine Corps Recruit Depot, Western Recruiting Region, San Diego:
    • Marine Corps Recruit Depot, Eastern Recruiting Region, Parris Island, South Carolina:
    • United States Naval Academy (USNA):
  • Drill Instructor Schools:
    • DS School East (MCRD Parris Island):
    • DS School West (MCRD San Diego):
  • USMC Drill Instructor Associations:
    • USMC East Coast Drill Instructors Association:
    • USMC West Coast Drill Instructors Association:
  • John E. Crouch (USMC Drill Instructor Stories):
    • Facebook:
    • Website (1):
    • Website (2):
  • Other:
    • Virtual Museum (DI School):
    • Marines, Together We Served:

7.3     References

Beale, J. (2017) As Iron Sharpens Iron, Marine Instructors are the Crucible of the Corps. Available from World Wide Web: [Accessed: 22 November, 2017].

Brink, C. (2014) Brick Native Named Parris Island’s Top Marine Drill Instructor. Available from World Wide Web: [Accessed: 22 November, 2017].

Carr, C. (2003) Bulgarian Soldier Takes on Drill Instructor School, Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, South Carolina. The DISAM Journal. Fall 2003, pp.124-126. Available from World Wide Web: [Accessed: 22 November, 2017].

Dunagan, D. (2015) Bio. Available from World Wide Web: [Accessed: 22 November, 2017].

DVIDS (Defense Video Imagery Distribution System) (2016) Drill Instructor School Class 1-17. Available from World Wide Web: [Accessed: 22 November, 2017].

DVIDS (Defense Video Imagery Distribution System) (2017) Meriden, Conn., Native a Marine Corps Drill Instructor on Parris Island, S.C. Available from World Wide Web: [Accessed: 22 November, 2017].

Hagar, J.M. (2016) Marine Corps Drill Instructor School. Available from World Wide Web: [Accessed: 21 November, 2017].

Hill, V. (2017) Best Practices for Training: Marine Drill Instructors Review Army Training Methods. Available from World Wide Web: [Accessed: 22 November, 2017].

Horsley, A. (2015) The Life of a USMC Drill Instructor. Available from World Wide Web: [Accessed: 21 November, 2017].

Kovach, G.C. (2012) Drill Instructors are Brothers in Arms. Available from World Wide Web: [Accessed: 22 November, 2017].

Livingston, W. (2017) How this Marine from Russia came to America – and Became the Corps’ Best. Available from World Wide Web: [Accessed: 22 November, 2017].

Luckwaldt, A. (2016) Marine Corps Drill Instructor. Available from World Wide Web: [Accessed: 11 December, 2017].

Miller, A. (2016) Making Marines: California Drill Instructor ‘Truly Cares’ About Recruits. Available from World Wide Web: [Accessed: 21 November, 2017].

Moore, B. (2016) Women Marines – Changes to the Corps: Drill Instructor Reunion Speech. Available from World Wide Web: [Accessed: 22 November, 2017].

NPRDC (Navy Personnel Research and Development Centre) (1980) Selection of Marine Corps Drill Instructors. NPRDC TR 80-17. San Diego, California: NPRDC. Available from World Wide: [Accessed: 22 November, 2017].

TECOM (United States Marine Corps Training & Education Command) (2017) TECOM Training & Education Command. Available from World Wide Web: [Accessed: 30 November, 2017].

WMA (Women Marines Association) (2014) History of the Women Marines. Available from World Wide Web: [Accessed: 22 November, 2017].

Wolfgang, B. (2010) Drill Instructors Get Little Sleep But Push Marine Recruits to the Limit. Available from World Wide Web: [Accessed: 22 November, 2017].