MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. -- "The deadliest weapon in the world is a Marine and his rifle," once said Gen. John "Blackjack" Pershing, U.S. Army, commander of American forces in World War I.
Training to turn a Marine Corps recruit into "the deadliest weapon in the world" happens in the 31 Area of Camp Pendleton, known as Edson Range.
After four weeks of training aboard Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego, approximately 17,000 recruits a year are bused to Pendleton for weapons and field training.
The training takes place on 6,000 acres of land here that comprise four rifle ranges, two field-firing ranges and two field-training areas.
"They come here for an indoctrination into a field environment and to receive entry- level infantry skills. We give them a platform for further training like (the School of Infantry)," said Staff Sgt. Greg N. Isaacson, drill instructor for Platoon 1066, Company B, 1st Recruit Training Battalion, Recruit Training Regiment.
Recruits aboard Camp Pendleton spend 27 days — one-third of their time in boot camp — in a strict and detailed training regimen:
The first five days are spent receiving primary marksmanship instruction. Recruits learn the fundamentals and techniques of a Marine Corps rifleman.
The program includes three- and five-mile hikes with flak jackets, load-bearing vests, kevlar helmets, weapons and All-purpose Lightweight Individual Carrying Equipment packs.
Rifle qualification comes next. Recruits spend five days on the rifle range.
The first day they zero-in their weapons, followed by three days of firing practice and a day of qualifying.
After they've qualified, it's back to the dusty trail for an eight-mile hike with the aforementioned gear, then a class in the Marine Corps Martial Arts Program.
It's field week. Recruits set up tents and spend the entire week roughing it. The itinerary includes a run through the confidence chamber — a gas-exposure drill in which recruits learn to use their gas masks — day- and night-firing exercises, fire on moving targets and a class in MCMAP.
The final week is dedicated to the well-known Crucible, a 54-hour training odyssey here. It takes recruits approximately 45 miles and consists of 36 events and obstacles, including sleep and food deprivation.
Many of the tests are designed to build recruits' confidence in themselves and their fellow recruits.
Following the Crucible, the recruits receive a "warrior's breakfast" as a symbol of their accomplishment.
One soon-to-graduate recruit agreed the Crucible's conclusion is a defining moment.
"It felt like you'd worked so hard, then finished the final test to get there," said Clifford L. Cotton, the guide for Platoon 1065, B Company, 1st Recruit Training Battalion. "It felt great knowing you're one step closer to crossing the parade deck (during graduation)."
Although September 11th, Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom have profoundly affected the Marine Corps, they've had no effect on recruit training here.
"It hasn't changed our training. We've always trained to win battles," said Gunnery Sgt. William R. Shaw, lead series chief drill instructor for L Co., 3rd Recruit Training Bn., RTR.
While training hasn't changed, the purpose behind it is now in sharper focus, Shaw says.
Gunnery Sgt. Eddie Anguiano, Operations Chief for Weapons and Field Training Battalion, agrees.
"Our instructors seem to be more aware of how important their jobs are now," Anguiano said, offering assurance that recruit trainers will continue to produce "deadly weapons" for the front lines of the war on terrorism.