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Discipline and training

The core of any military, or para-military for that matter, organisation's effectiveness in carrying out the operational tasks assigned to it rests on two pillars: discipline and training. This is an axiom that is taken for granted and ignored at peril.

Comment: While this is true of course. In the Marines there are 5 pillars if you will : Discipline, training, readiness, willingness, dedication and able to adapt.
All 5 of these foundations are  taken to an almost religious-fanatic level. A level I have found no where else . (I trained with Brits, Germans, Russians, Israelis , Canadians and Taiwanese and I trained South Koreans, Afghans, Iraqis, Brazilians and Colombians) The only other force (I know off) that comes close is the French Foreign Legion (In terms of Esprit de Corps ).


  1) There can be no Discipline without willingness to serve and the dedication to Corps and Country. You can obtain Discipline in a Prison with force and threat, but that Discipline becomes mechanical and is only working with supervision. True Discipline for a Marine begins the second he opens the eyes and does not stop when he his the rack. It does not matter if he (she) is alone, in civilian life or deployed. Discipline must not just be a trained value one switches on when he puts on the Uniform and goes out the window the second you walk out the base gate. Discipline must become a value the Soldier (Marine) Lives and breathes. 24/7 – 365 days a year. Such Discipline can be taught but it must be motivated by the Individual from within.
  2) Training: training Military craft is one part. The other is drilling, rigorous drills that begin at revile. A Civilian counts the Hours at work, a Marine counts the seconds of a minute and is aware of them. A minute saved there will give you a minute extra for shaving or grooming. Training must include drilling and drill is not just marching, and military forms, but it must start at how the Soldier brushes his teeth and how he laces his shoes to the way the hair is cut and the sleeves are rolled. The content of their pockets (all of them) the state of their bunk, their footlocker.. Then Drill must include history and education. A Marine knows the history of his Unit, his regiment, his Corps by heart. You can wake a Marine (any marine) and ask him for the Birthday of Chesty Puller, when the Marines been to Tripoli and he can tell you why our sword is called the Marmaduke and why we have a red stripe on our pants. He knows the reason for the number of buttons on his dress blue and why we are Leathernecks and Devil-dogs. He knows every Commandant of the Marine Corps and he want to know it and feels terrible if he would ever fail to know such things.  It will connect the Marine to his Unit (GOD, COUNTRY, CORPS  exactly in that order and  everything else comes second including Family, Money, girlfriend etc) 
  3) Readiness : Readiness is as much a state of a force as it is a state of mind. A Marine must be ready to face the day as a Marine, the second he opens his eyes and face Death, Injury, service or a grumpy Gunny. Readiness comes with how Soldiers get out of bed, how they are trained to face the day. How they address and face each other and their superiors and also how they face the enemy. Readiness is as important as Discipline or training. You must be ready to face the most daunting training and take it as a Marine. This state of mind comes to those who make “the hump” ( that is the point in Boot Camp when you can't drill and PT your Marines enough and they will still ask for more. When they realize they have passed from civilian maggot to Marine and it is a downhill battle from there. 
  4) Willingness: You can force a Soldier to do things , follow orders, etc or you can motivate a Soldier (Marine) to be willingly do these things from his or her own motivation. A Marine willing to serve is a more effective weapon and instrument than a Soldier forced to obey. With this Willingness comes an esprit de Corps...A sense of belonging and unity with your fellow marines (And not just the ones you serve with) And the desire to serve, to be a good marine becomes stronger than any other motivation or desire. It becomes stronger than sexual desires and moves into regions of Faith and religion. This is why there is no Branch with more Medal of Honor recipients than the Corps ( And we are the smallest Branch ). 
  5) Able to adapt. This one of the Marine Credos: Adapt and Overcome. It allows a Marine to act and react to any situation with or without standing orders to react to any given situation and apply Marine Corps values. This is so much emphasized that Marines apply this to any given situation inside or outside the Marine Corps. 

Both of these aspects are inter-related and inter-dependent, with neither effective without the other. You cannot train or deploy a military force that doesn't exercise systemic discipline, from the personal right up to the organizational, or else you end up with actions being taken that are disorganized and uncoordinated at best, and chaotic at worst. You cannot train such a force without the inherent discipline that compels members to follow commands and carry out orders, and you cannot expect the members of that organization to act coherently and according to its rules of engagement (ROE) or standard operating procedures (SOP) unless they have been trained to understand and internalize the essential importance of discipline in all its various aspects.

The concept of "boot camp" is bandied about as a general meme in popular culture and the media, with various references to it as a term that indicates that the popular understanding of the term is of military type training, with the term even being used by a commercial organization to brand its program of fitness training. What is generally not understood, even in general by people in the military milieu, is that the term has a very specific etymology. Boot Camp is a colloquial term arising from the initial induction training of the United States Marine Corps (USMC) 
The term Boot Camp originates from our very early days. When a Marine was mostly trained a s Ship board soldier and the basic training was conducted Bare feet, only after completing basic training would the government issue the Marine with a pair of Boots. Some enlisted for that very reason! To get a pair of Boots! ( Some of Washington's Army walked bare feet into the Battle of Valley Forge (through Snow and ice) as the Rebellion could not afford issuing boots to everyone. (FYI)


and is often also mistaken for what is called, in the South African context, Basics or Basic Military Training (BMT). This is most definitely NOT correct. The initial induction training of the USMC aka Boot Camp is designed with one specific over-riding goal. This goal is both simple in concept and complex in execution. The goal is to inculcate the ethos and institutional values of the USMC into the new recruit.

The process that a civilian undergoes on initial entry to the military is one that is poorly understood by almost everyone, both those who have, as well as those who have not, been through it. With the exception of the USMC, the process of converting of civilian into a soldier or sailor etc, is begun during the first months of training with various basic military skills being the focus, and the inculcation of military values being simply one aspect of the process. What makes the USMC different is that their focus is on the ethos and values. The Marines have a number of wonderfully pity sayings and catch-phrases, and the one that applies here is that "Once a Marine, always a Marine". This is certainly true as the boot camp experience makes an impervious stamp on all those who graduate, which lasts their lifetime.
(the Army is the Sword of the nation...Marines are the Cutting edge)
(Marine Corps Uniforms come in all sizes...but they won't fit everyone)
(Soldiers get trained...Marines Earn the right to the title Marine)
More of those catch-phrases if you need them...;-)


How does this relate to the topic? It emphasises that for the Marines, their institutional values are what they believe differentiate them from all other organisations. Every enlisted Marine goes through this same experience irrespective of what actual job he or she might actually end up doing. In fact a Marine’s training in the skills needed to perform his job only begins once he has graduated from the transformational process which is boot camp. 
Not just enlisted Marines....All Marines. A Marine is a rifleman first, regardless if he later serves KP or flies a Jet. Our Black Knights (Marine Corps Fighter Pilots are trained to the same standards as the Navy Top Gun  pilots (Marine Air is stationed in Miramar...btw) but these Pilots unlike the ones from Navy (or Air Force) are all trained Rifle Men and Infantrists (And keep their skills and scores up to date throughout their career)

The one defining value, amoung many, which stands out in the boot camp experience, is that of discipline. This is echoed in the initial training in most military organisations, but is emphasised much more heavily by the Marines. To illustrate, the one military skill that is taught during boot camp, other than the general square bashing et al, is that of musketry, that is, how to fire a rifle. The Marine axiom is that anyone who does not shoot well has poor discipline, implying that if you follow instructions exactly as they are given to you, you will carry out the task perfectly.

The aspect of basic training that most recruits, in most armies, understand the least is what they consider to be the senseless activities that they are compelled to carry out. Very often, even the instructors are unaware of the purpose of what they are ordering to be done, but they know it was done to them and it made a difference to them, so they continue the practice when they are in the position of instructing new troops. In the South African context this is preferred to pejoratively as "rondvok", and is a familiar concept to generations of soldiers.

The underlying purpose of this type of activity is actually a vital necessity in the process of indoctrination of civilians on the beginning of their journey towards becoming soldiers. The classic example is when the soldiers have to stand inspection. Generally the scenario is that every soldier stands at attention at the foot of his bed and his person, as well as his equipment, is inspected by his instructors. Any minor fault is penalised severely, but more than that, perfection is demanded in the layout and condition of all the soldier's equipment, his bed, his uniform and his personal discipline. This process serves to teach and enforce a number of critical concepts.

The first concept is that of personal hygiene. A soldier has to be clean shaven, have washed his body, ensured his nails are cut, that his uniform is perfectly maintained (washed, ironed and worn correctly) and his boots are shone to a mirror gloss. All of these things are often considered to be trivial or unimportant but the converse is true. A soldier needs to learn that self discipline means that irrespective of how tired he might be, or how trying the circumstances might be, his first responsibility is to maintain his equipment. This translates to being in the field where he will be exhausted, tired and hungry, but will still ensure that his equipment is taken care of before his personal needs are met as poorly maintained equipment, whether it's his rifle or vehicle, will mean that he cannot perform his main function. Taking care of equipment has to become a habit, and the inspection ensures that the soldier understands on a visceral level that only perfection is good enough, irrespective of the circumstances. 

The emphasis on the personal hygiene of a soldier has two main purposes. The first is that if a soldier is clean then if he gets injured, there is a greater chance of escaping the consequences of infection. The second reason, and the more pertinent one to my point, is that good personal hygiene is an indicator of good personal discipline and morale. As a commander, I know that when I see a soldier in the field who has made an effort to maintain his personal hygiene, it indicates that 90% of the time he will have the self discipline to clean and maintain his equipment. The converse is also demonstrably true. The other aspect of this is that a unit, who generally display good self discipline, begins to show signs of that discipline beginning to be ignored, it is a unit that is showing the signs of declining morale.

One of the other aspects of the inspection scenario is that every soldier's equipment is expected to be laid out in precisely the same manner as every other soldier's. It is an article of faith that while the actual equipment might be perfect, but one or two of the soldiers on in the unit have gotten the sequence or arrangement incorrect, when this is discovered by the instructor the entire group will be punished and required to correct the errors for a subsequent inspection. 

This process also reinforces the concept that the only acceptable standard is perfection, i.e. It must be done correctly every time, but more than that, it inculcates the concept of the team's success being dependent on each member of the team doing things in the manner that they have been taught; correctly and predictably. This is hugely important aspect of training because each soldier has to learn that if he does his job, the people around them will do theirs in a predictable and reliable way, so he can rely on all the members of the team taking care of their responsibilities and thus the team can accomplish what no individual member could on their own. Learning that they can rely on each other in this manner is one of the foundation stones of the success of any military action. This confidence in each other all begins with the fact that they learn to work together to achieve an objective, and just as importantly, they learn that they are all held to the same standard so that they can rely on each other when it comes to the crunch. 

The other lesson in this is that when the group realises that individual performance is invalidated by just one member of the group not performing according to standard, it causes the entire group to fail. They learn to watch each other and to correct each other's mistakes and to assist each other to achieve their goal. This is the foundation of their understanding that they have to take responsibility for ensuring that all the members of the team perform their jobs correctly. This means that discipline within the team or unit becomes self-sustaining and is reinforced from within without requiring constant monitoring and supervision from outside the team. If this ethos is inculcated correctly, them the unit will be an easy one to both command and control as they will require only the commander's intent and thereafter everyone will carry out their assigned roles to ensure that the commander’s intent is realised, supervising their peers and subordinates without being explicitly instructed to do so and motivating each other to perform their roles correctly.

Once soldiers have been through the indoctrination process, and have been taught the basic skills required of an individual soldier, then they are trained to act in concert as a team in specific ways under specific sets of circumstances. This training builds on the self and group discipline that they learnt through example and repetition during basic training as well as the instinctive reaction to commands that is taught most effectively during "drill" (parade ground marching or 'square-bashing'). 

The coordinated action is generally taught as a series of SOPs and Immediate Action Drills (IA Drills). What this generally entails is specific sets of actions being taught as a standard way to react to certain situations. For example, in the infantry one of the standard drills is the sequence of events that are required to carry out a platoon attack. The platoon will be taught that a platoon attack is always comprised of series of actions that must be carried out in a specific sequence. They are taught what these actions are and in what sequence they must be carried out and will practice doing so many times until the various actions become almost second nature. Once the platoon is accomplished at the actions, then the commander of the platoon, who has had advanced training in this, will start introducing variations in how these actions are put together. Because the platoon knows how to carry out each of the various actions, and they know that they must follow orders, the commander can give abbreviated orders via his chain of command and the various elements of the platoon will understand that they need to carry out a series of actions based on the generally cryptic and short-handed commands that they have been given. 

They ability of the platoon, or any other grouping from platoon through company, battalion and brigade, to carry out the correct actions, in the correct manner and at the correct time, is all dependent on each group and each individual knowing his role as well as the role of those around him and that he is able to rely on everyone performing their jobs correctly. It further depends on the training being consistent and thorough across the organization, but more than this, it depends on the whole group having sufficient opportunity to train together so that they can become comfortable and familiar with each other and ensure that their communication and SOPs are consistent and understood across the entire group.

All of these factors should be well understood by any professional soldier, and the responsibility to ensure that these functions are performed constantly and correctly is the duty of each and every individual officer and NCO within the military. If the training is done correctly and consistently, standards are applied and maintained and sufficient opportunity is provided for soldiers to exercise together to maintain their skills, then is likely that the army as a whole, as well as individual units, will perform effectively and appropriately when called on to do so, whether in combat, peacekeeping or any other role that is assigned to them.

When soldiers are confronted with situations that fall outside the general area of their training, well disciplined soldiers will give their best effort to carry out their role, but it is an unfortunate reality that if their training has, for example, focused on combat, then peacekeeping or public order deployments can be problematic as their trained reaction to certain situations will most likely be inappropriate. This is highly relevant in the current environment within South Africa, where a call was made on President Zuma to deploy the Army into the Cape Flats to assist with to maintenance of law and order and to curb the detrimental effect of the gangs operating there.

That being said, however, if the individual and unit discipline is up to standard, then it is a lot easier for commanders to control soldiers in situations that fall outside their training. For an example of where the contrary is only too apparent, we need look no further than the recent massacre of thirty four civilians outside the mine near Rustenburg by undisciplined police to understand the dangers. Disciplined and well trained members of an organization arranged along military lines would have waited for an order to fire, and then used well aimed single shots to take out specific targets, rather than firing indiscriminately into the crowd. They would also have responded to an order to cease fire immediately.

The lesson for the South African Army is that it is vital not to lose sight of the importance of the ethos of the organisation and its constitutionally mandated role, nor to mistake it for either civil service employment or a conventional nine to five job. The exercise of individual desires, rights and opinions needs to be submerged into the concept that the needs of the organisation take priority and that personal and organisational discipline are vital to the ability of the organisation to carry out its role. The soldier can also never congratulate himself that he has learnt a skill and move on, but remember that continuous exercise of his skills and refreshing of his training is vital to maintain his ability to do his job and make a success of the tasks given to the organisation.
There is nothing I really need to ad or criticize as most statements are self evident and logical (at least to a Soldier/Marine)  The comments I made further up are Marine Corps focused as I am a Marine and I felt I could include some useful information.
With that said.

Semper Fi
Lt. Col Martin M.
USMC

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