There are only two recruit depots where U.S. Marines are made, and one of them has a reputation for being “Hollywood.”
Due to their close proximity to Tinseltown, Marines who graduate from MCRD San Diego are usually called “Hollywood Marines” by their MCRD Parris Island, S.C. counterparts and often ridiculed as having an easier training and lifestyle.
Regardless of who you think has the tougher training, here are some things only ‘Hollywood’ Marines will always remember about their initial training.
1. The Yellow Hell
While standing on the yellow footprints is a tradition at both locations, MCRD San Diego takes it much further. The base is a sprawling 388 acres and every building on base is yellow. The renowned architect Bertram Goodhue designed the buildings in a Spanish colonial revival style, and while there are currently 28 of those buildings on the National Register of Historic Places, the only history recruits will remember is that they are in yellow hell.
2. Planes, planes, and more planes!
No matter how long or short your flight is from your home to MCRD, the drive from the airport to base is a mere five minutes. By checking out this Google satellite view you can see that the base is literally on the opposite side of the runway fence. At first the constant deafening noise of airplanes taking off and landing every few minutes is annoying, but recruits get used to it real quick. In fact, some use it to their advantage, by counting the planes as if they were sheep to go to sleep at night dreaming about their next flight home. Recruits endure the mental kick in the stomach while running along side the runway fence watching planes take off with happy newly graduated Marines and their families.
The planes also provide a symbolic sense of comfort. I went to MCRD in August 2001 and one month later the 9/11 attacks occurred. When first told of the attacks by our drill instructors, we felt it may have been some sort of trick. However, once they pointed out the airport was shut down and no planes were taking off, the sky all of a sudden seemed desolate with an eery silence. When the planes were allowed to fly again days later, a sense of relief was felt by all.
3. Perfect Weather
San Diego enjoys gorgeous weather year-round with an average temperature of 70.5 degrees and minimal humidity. However, recruits don’t go there for a vacation, they go to become Marines. Drill instructors are quick to remind recruits of the many beautiful women in bikinis sunbathing at one of the several beaches within a short distance from the base. No matter how difficult things may get, recruits can find comfort in knowing tomorrow will be another beautiful day with clear skies to train.
4. Bus Trips
Not all recruit training takes place at MCRD San Diego. To complete the second of three phases, they are moved 45 minutes north to Camp Pendleton. The ride takes recruits through San Diego’s beautiful north county and it’s the first time recruits are off base since arrival. They are supposed to keep their heads down but it’s common to sneak a glimpse at the beautiful landscape around them and think about home or what’s in store for them at Camp Pendleton. Similarly, on the way back to MCRD to finish the last phase, it gives recruits a time of reflection on completing the demanding training they just endured during second phase and realize they are that much closer to graduation.
5. Mountains, hills, and ridges
Second phase recruit training takes place at Edson Range, Camp Pendleton and includes marksmanship, rifle qualification, close combat, field training, and the gas chamber. But ask any recruit and the one memory that first comes to mind are the many hills they had to hike creating many feet blisters. Camp Pendleton is notorious for its mountains, hills, and ridges that are perfect for grueling hikes. The most famous of which is known as ‘The Reaper’, or ‘Grim Reaper’. With full packs on, it is the last and final monumental hill to climb during the 54 hour exercise known as The Crucible in which they have already climbed several with only eight hrs of sleep.
6. Padres Baseball
Although not every platoon or company at MCRD gets this luxury, those who do get a chance to be recognized by the local community for their newly committed service to this great nation. Although the seats are in the highest sections of the stadium and they are strictly guarded by their drill instructors, it’s a welcome change of pace from the intense and stressful daily training.
7. The San Diego Skyline
It’s hard to believe that just outside the gates of MCRD sits beautiful downtown San Diego. For three months, recruits have dreamt of exploring all the reasons why San Diego is called “America’s Finest City.” Now that they have graduated, it’s common for the nation’s newest Marines to proudly wear their dress uniforms as they eat and celebrate with friends and family throughout the city.