Ask America’s SgtMaj: Bearing

Ally asks: “How does the USMC teach Marines to go from a seated position… to standing in that ‘Marine posture’ with hand outstretched in less than the time it takes me to blink? See, I drive around a lot and when I spot a recruiting station I go in for a hand shake. …to a man the Marines perform the aforementioned maneuver. “

Ally actually goes on in some detail about meeting Marines who effortlessly untangle themselves from various contorted seating positions to stand immediately straight, shoulders back, hand extended in greeting, yet ready for action.

Marines put a lot of stock in bearing. One of the 14 Leadership Traits it is defined as: “The way you conduct or carry yourself. Your manner should reflect alertness, competence, confidence, and control.”

Personally, I prefer the word comportment but it’s the same thing. A civilian friend once described it as an air of: “… not to be %&@#!* with.”  It’s not about giving off a bad ass vibe though. Any thug can be a tough guy. A Marine should be firm, courteous, tactful and leave you with the impression if the wolf came knocking he’d kick the wolf’s tail for you. This seemingly small attribute can leave a lasting impression on those who witness it in action. 

Ally’s question reminds me of standing post on embassy duty in Madrid. One evening after normal hours an Air Force buddy who worked in the embassy mail room stopped by Post One to ask about something. Post One is the main guard post at every American embassy Marines provide security for.  Essentially it is a duty hut composed of bullet resistant glass and CCTV gear.  It provides a very visible Marine presence to anyone entering or exiting the chancery.

I have no memory of the conversation. I do recall since it was after hours and almost everyone was gone, I had relaxed somewhat from the pacing tiger posture I normally adopted while on duty to leaning casually on the window ledge.  In contrast this could best be described as a loose bag of laundry posture.

Out of the corner of my eye I could see the elevator doors. They suddenly opened and out came the Defense Attache Officer, a Navy Captain. My instant transformation to the position of attention with crisp salute and proper greeting as the Captain left for the day completely stunned the Air Force mail handler: “Dude! How did you do that? You, like, totally uncoiled yourself in the blink of an eye!” What to a Marine was a seemingly mundane event was a story this guy told for weeks afterward.    

How do we teach it? I really don’t think there is an instruction manual on comportment, but institutionally the Marine Corps understands the importance of professional bearing.  I always tell the Marines if they look squared away then they probably are squared away. If they look like a sloppy bag of smashed buttocks then it is likely they are exactly that. Perception is indeed reality.

As pertains to recruiters, I’ve heard more than one story from a Marine who related they joined because they were sitting in the office of one of our sister services until they saw the Marine recruiter swagger past. Their unanimous response to this was: “Wow! I wanna be like that guy!”

Go figure.

Semper Fidelis!
America’s SgtMaj

/ / / /


  1. It’s learned in boot camp.

    When a recruit is being braced by the DIs, he’ll be at ridged attention.

    One DI will yell at the recruit to grab his right shower shoe, or some such item. The recruit moves to grab said item with intense rapidity. A split second later, just as the recruit is reaching for the first item, another DI will shout at the recruit that he better be reaching for his left boot, or some such other item. The recruit will learn to comply in such a way that it seems he was never reaching for anything but the second item to begin with. Then the third DI will growl at the recruit that he better be at attention, and the recruit will be at attention before the DI can even finish the sentence.

    This can go on for, what seems like, hours. It happens to every recruit every day for, what seems like, eternity.

    Also, when “lounging” on footlockers while polishing boots, shining brass and whatnot, when any Marine, DI, SDI or otherwise, enters the barracks, the recruits will jump to attention with such speed that it can, sometimes, trigger a sonic boom.

    For a recruit to behave otherwise leads to “personal instruction” in the “classroom”, which is a horror all its own. And if enough recruits in a boot platoon don’t catch on quickly enough, there’s all sorts of ways the DIs have of teaching through mass suffering.

    I understand that USMC officer candidates go through the same process at The Basic School.


  2. SGM,
    tell the truth about how the Marines (and most Soldiers) can stand up that fast… we had the hammer springs from a 1911 welded into our backs. When we sit down, it’s under tension, then when we relax, we pop up.
    Mine is pretty old and worn out though….I don’t pop up as fast as I used to…spring is a little rusty.

  3. I’ve heard it said that you can take the Marine out of the Corps but never the other way around…as a former Squid who knows quite a few Marines, I can certainly attest to that. I’ve always felt myself pretty squared away but I’m downright oval compared to a few of ’em.

  4. I am actually not a fan of spending limited training time spit and polish for its own sake. Sure, you need to look presentable, but if given the choice between spending 10 hours on close order drill or 10 hours on damage control/firefighting (I was a bosun in my time), that DC will be what saves the lives of your shipmates.

  5. Grimmy, DIs were like hornets the first night of boot camp. I recall them swarming the poor kid who was on fire watch that first night.

    CI Roller, hammer springs, is this where the term “spring butt” comes from?

    Anonymous Sailor, “downright oval” great description! Most Sailors I’ve run into think Marines are just plain out of their gourds.

    Anonymous II, this post was about bearing and not so much about the spit and polish, which I consider a completely separate subject. For myself, I was always for having buffed boots but if they were polished like mirrors all the time I wondered if the Marine simply didn’t have enough work to do.

  6. In reply to Anony 2:

    Boot Camp isn’t about warfighting training for recruits. Sure, they get some exposure to combatives (MMA type fighting and pugil sticks), but that’s mostly meant as an aggressiveness check. The training for combat comes after boot camp.

    Boot camp is about teaching young recruits the Marine ethos, USMC history, the expectations concurrent with being a Marine, Military courtesy and proper behavior of a US Marine.

    And Discipline. Discipline with a capital D. Both self and, if self is lacking to any degree, imposed Discipline.

    The rifle training isn’t even actually “war training” in boot camp. It’s a filter to weed out those who can’t or wont learn to use a rifle effectively. No one graduates Marine Boot Camp without qualifying at least marksman. And, marksmen don’t get much respect in the Corps. There was a study back in the 80s that showed that high sharpshooter was the norm in the Corps. Expert isn’t at all rare either.

    There are two schools immediately after Boot Camp. Marines go to one or the other. Infantry go to SOI (School of Infantry). That is where grunts learn their trades, skills and offensive attitude and earn their MOS either as basic riflemen, machinegunners, mortarmen or kings of the grunts, anti-tank rocket and demolitions assaultmen.

    There is another school that REFMs go to that teaches basic infantry skills and familiarization with a broad range of infantry weapon systems. I forget what it’s called, sorry.
    After this school, young Marines not blessed enough to be grunts then to to their MOS schools.


  7. Ahhh, I almost understand now. Thank you for your kind answer and I shall think of it every time I get to see “that Marine posture.” 🙂

  8. I just have come to see more value in getting the Discipline (which I do value highly) and professionalism from learning the actual tasks well. Certainly looking at my own deployments: the first thing that went out the window when actually training and doing the real thing is the bullshit. Instead you spend vast amounts of time in the field or learning to do your actual expected downrange jobs (whatever those are). An old Army major once told me that no combat ready unit ever passed inspection and no inspection ready unit ever passed combat. Understand that I am not for “softening” things up. It would still be just as long and intense a training day. Just the content of that training day would be different. By way of example, you can look outside the US military to how British Royal Marines are trained. They spend bare minimums on “looking pretty” even in their basic training, but are instead constantly under a rucksack, in the water or in the gym.

  9. It’s not just about bearing. It inculcates an ability to shift focus instantly when needed and move… NOW!!!

    Case in point, just got a short post from the S&H this evening. A young Marine plane captain (PC), prolly an E-2 or E-3, reacted from his assigned position directing the action/communicating by hand signals with the pilot out front of the aircraft to save a life. An instant made all the difference.

    (aboard Nimitz. Son is an AO with VFMA-323).
    [quote]Well an avionics girl almost died today. She went to get the chains off of the rear landing gearing and did not go from behind the intake. Needless to say she got sucked in and the PC pulled her out by her legs. If he did not make it in time she would have died. Her cranial got sucked off and fodded out the engine. We had to download all the bombs and rounds and what not. Pretty crazy end to the day ha. Friday the 13th. God was looking out for our squadron today. Complacency kills.

  10. Grimmy, in my day we did both MCT (Marine Combat Training) and SOI. I think now MCT is exclusive to non infantry types.

    Ally, it is my pleasure.

    Anonymous, again my thoughts on this post were more about bearing vice extraneous nonsense. If you want to see my thoughts on that, look up some of my posts from June of 2009 in the side bar.

    be603, glad to hear everyone is safe. Hope Avionics got her ass chewed off too.

  11. America’s Sgt Maj:

    Heh. In my day we did ITS (Infantry Training School) and there was no MCT.

    – Grimmy

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