I was at the US Embassy today. Had a few minutes to kill, and so got to chatting with one of the Marine guards. We all know that US Embassies are guarded by Marines, yes? But I, for one, never gave much thought to the details. It turns out there are a lot of details.
-- If you want to be a career Marine, you pretty much have to spend three years in "special duty". This is not an absolute, formal requirement, but apparently your career won't get too far without it. (And also, a career Marine can be called for "special duty" at any time anyhow, so you might as well volunteer.) -- "Special duty" comes in three flavors: embassy guard, recruiter, and drill sergeant. All of them last for three years. -- Embassy guard is considered rather comfy, but boring. I mean, it's being a guard. You have to be constantly ready, but -- probably -- nothing will ever happen. To keep it somewhat interesting, the Marines will send you to three different embassies, one year each. The system is set up so that you will probably go to one nasty place and two okay ones. But stuff does happen, so there are no guarantees; you might do your three tours in Canada, France, and Ireland, or you might go to Afghanistan, East Timor and Congo. You're a Marine, so you go. -- Recruiting was never popular, and it's even less so now. You're sitting all day in a little office in a strip mall between the Chinese restaurant and the Geico franchise. Once in a while you go to the local community college job fair. And there are quotas -- you're supposed to generate X number of recruits per month. Not easy any time, harder still with a war on. It's boring /and/ stressful. Hardly anybody volunteers for this. -- Drill instructor carries the most cachet. Former Marine drill instructors get a certain extra increment of respect. But there aren't a lot of volunteers for this job, either. Why? Well, because it's really freaking hard. First you go through drill instructor school, which is sort of like boot camp but much more so. You have to learn the answers to all the questions, stupid and clever. You have to learn how to deal with every sort of problem a bunch of stressed-out green recruits can come up with: disciplinary problems, psychological problems, health problems. You have to re-learn all the drills and the reasons behind the drills. Then you go to boot camp and take over a bunch of recruits. Boot camp is thirteen weeks, so for thirteen weeks you stick to those boys and girls like glue. They may hate you for waking them at 5:00 in the morning, but of course you're waking up at 4:30. It's like thirteen weeks of nonstop yelling at people. Then after thirteen weeks, if everything goes right, you get two weeks off. Then you go back and do it again. And again. And again. For three years. Yeah, I'd give some extra respect for that. Anyway. It sometimes makes me sad that my country's embassies are all fortresses. I'm just old enough to remember when that wasn't the case. I wish it could be otherwise. But if we must have fortified embassies, I'm glad the Marines are there.