5 lessons we can all learn from ‘Marine Gunnery Sgt. Emil Foley’

In what is widely considered the best role of his acting career, legendary film and television star Louis Gossett Jr. plays Marine Corps Gunnery Sgt. Emil Foley, a hardcore drill instructor in the 1982 film “An Officer and a Gentleman.”

an officer and a gentleman

Gossett Jr.’s portrayal of a no-nonsense DI in the film earned him the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. If you watch his performance in the film, you can see why Oscar came calling. The character is crude and tough on the group of would-be pilots attending a 13-week Naval Aviation Officer Candidate School where he serves as the primary instructor.

Like many great actors who have donned the Campaign hat on the silver screen, DI Foley imparts knowledge on how to survive the daily challenges of life in his own unique way. Here is what we can all learn from Gossett Jr.’s Oscar-worthy performance.

1. Humble yourself

An Officer and a Gentleman

Some of the best and most memorable lines of the film come in the early scenes when new recruits line up to hear Gunnery Sergeant Foley talk about what they should expect in the next 13 weeks of training. Foley knocks each person down a couple of pegs by making them understand they are not special.

When Foley asks one of the recruits named Della Serra if he was a “college boy,” the character quickly faults his academic accolades saying in graduated in mathematics with honors.

Della Serra gets a rude awakening from Foley when the Marine shows him his cane with notches on it. Each notch represents each “college puke” who has dropped on request during his time in the program. Foley suggests Della Serra may be one of those notches and then tells the group that half of them will not make it through the training.

This is a powerful scene where DI Foley is letting all the recruits know that his authority outweighs their individualism.

2. Have Good Character


Although Mayo has all the skills and physical traits to pass the course, Foley consistently questions Mayo’s character. Officer Candidate Mayo is an arrogant and self-centered individual only looking out for himself. He is also quite the hustler, selling inspection-ready boots and belt buckles to his fellow recruits to make a quick buck.

After discovering Mayo’s little racket, Foley gives Mayo a chance to straighten up his act during a weekend-long smoke session. Foley breaks Mayo down physically and emotionally. This sequence also features the famous scene where Gere’s character screams “I got nowhere else to go!” This is a turning point where Mayo begins to change his character and his attitude.

3. Teamwork is important

An Officer and a Gentleman

Mayo’s change of attitude is clear when instead of trying to achieve an individual obstacle course record, he goes back to encourage one of his fellow classmates, a young lady named Seeger, to get over a 12-foot wall. Thanks to Foley’s tutelage, Mayo learned the value of teamwork.

4. Quitting is not the answer

An Officer and a Gentleman

Tensions between the two characters rise again toward the end of the movie. Following the death of his friend, Mayo wants to speak with Foley in private.

After Foley told him to get back to work, Mayo gives his DOR. Understanding Mayo’s emotional state and frustration, Foley does not acknowledge his DOR, and he tells Mayo to meet him in a hanger where they will fight it out. Following a brutal fight, Foley tells Mayo if he still wants to quit he can but at that point, Foley knows the recruit came too far to quit.

5. Respect

At the end of the movie, the officer candidates earn the rank of Ensign. Per tradition, each new officer receives his first salute from the instructor. Each officer hands Foley a silver dollar. When Mayo hands Foley his coin, the Marine places the coin in his right pocket instead of his left. This symbolizes respect for Mayo as an exceptional candidate.

“I won’t ever forget you, sergeant,” Mayo says after the salute. You can see Foley starts to choke up just a bit when he replies “I know.”

Mayo then says, “I wouldn’t have made this if it weren’t for you.” Foley is clearly touched as he tries to keep his composure, then tells Mayo “Get the hell out of here.” The mutual respect between the two is evident.

Although it’s only a movie, many veterans may have encountered someone who reminds them of DI Foley.

Tell us who made an impact on your life or during your time in the military in the comments section.

Follow Alex Licea on Twitter @alexlicea82

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