Drill instructor

Apply pressure. Repeat as needed.

By John Simons, Fortune writer

(Fortune Magazine) -- James Erwin, gunnery sergeant, Marine Corps

"I do a lot of yelling and screaming, causing stress and confusion, and getting in people's faces like you see in the movies. I can turn a candidate into a big stress ball. I'll take something minor and simple and blow up and make a big deal about it. But there's a purpose to that. The most important part of my job is to manipulate situations to get a better evaluation of candidates. If a candidate is showing potential leading his or her platoon I want to see something more. I'll throw a wrench in the system. I'll give them more responsibility - put more pressure on. I'll change the schedule on them. How they react is what I'm interested in, and how they multitask and prioritize. Are they trying to press ahead?

"Here at Officer Candidates School, we're dealing with a totally different man or woman than you see in basic training. We're getting a college student of some kind who wants to be a Marine officer. That's a big difference the drill instructor has to recognize. I have to deal with these people a little differently. With raw recruits, training is about immediate response to orders. If they don't respond to an order, we take them to a big sandpit and make them do pushups, run, whatever - as punishment. I am not allowed to do anything like that at OCS. Besides, the officer candidates are a lot smarter; they are a lot stronger. And my objective is different: Create a Marine officer who can make critical decisions under pressure. I'm training them to lead. I'm not just trying to belittle people. I don't see it as bad that people aren't making it. I'm screening in - not screening out. And I take that seriously."  Top of page