The Final Fifty-Four Hours

By Hospital Corpsman 1st Class (SW/AW) Daniel S. Flaherty, lead petty officer, Crucible Aid Station, Parris Island, S.C.

At 12:30 a.m. on Thursday in the South Carolina Lowcountry, alarm clocks ring for me and nine other Navy corpsmen, beginning our preparation for the final fifty-four hours of United States Marine recruit training, known simply as “The Crucible.”

Designed in 1996 to emphasize the importance of teamwork in overcoming adversity, the Crucible is the final test in recruit training, bringing together all the skills and knowledge Marines should possess. Recruits face eight challenges during the Crucible, including team and individual obstacle courses, day and night assault courses, land navigation courses, individual rushes up steep hills, large-scale martial arts challenges, and countless patrols to and from each event. The difficulty of these challenges increases with the addition of handicaps, such as carrying several ammunition drums, simulated booby traps, simulated mortar and small arms fire, sound tracks of wounded comrades screaming “corpsman up,” and evacuating team members with simulated wounds.

We muster on station to start our first 12-hour shift of the next three days at the Crucible Aid Station (CAS). A 14-bed casualty receiving facility manned by one medical provider and three senior corpsmen, the CAS can provide sustained treatment for 24 patients and has a state-of-the-art “cooling tub” for the treatment of hyperthermia cases, known as “heat cases.”

Wearing Navy Working Uniforms (NWUs), affectionately called “Aquaflage” by the Marines, we stand out in a sea of Woodland Marine Pattern (MARPATs) uniforms and create a striking impression on these future Marines. During the next 54 hours, my corpsmen and I will collectively work 540 hours, support 38 Crucible evolutions, and hike 126 miles. During this time, we will treat injuries ranging from basic blister care, musculoskeletal injuries, and blunt trauma to rhabdomyolysis and hyponatremia. These conditions are caused by training evolutions ranging from three, six and 10 mile forced marches under live fire, hand-to-hand combat and pugil stick bouts, night resupply operations, obstacle courses, helicopter insertion and bayonet training.

48 hours into the Crucible, we join 600 Marine recruits, 50 drill instructors, 10 Marine officers, two Navy medical providers, and a Navy chaplain to form up and step off for the final evolution, a grueling 10-mile march to the Marine Corps War Memorial.

The 54th hour finally arrives. With the command of “colors” heard in the background, 672 personnel and I snap to attention at the Marine Corps War Memorial and salute as the National Anthem is played and our nation’s colors are raised over the monument. The company’s senior enlisted member speaks about the significance of the Marine Corps War Memorial and what it means to be part of the brotherhood of the U.S. Marines. Every time I hear that speech, I get chills when the bond between those five Marines and one Navy Corpsman who raised the flag at the Battle of Iwo Jima is recalled. Each recruit then receives the coveted Eagle, Globe and Anchor, signifying the transformation from recruit to U.S. Marine. These new Marines sing the Marine Corps Hymn and then are dismissed to eat a warriors’ breakfast. 

The day may have ended for those Marines, but our work as corpsmen still continues. We complete walk-throughs, looking for injuries and illnesses, and hold a post Crucible sick-call to treat any medical problems developed in this crucial last stage of Marine training. We then rest until the next week, when we support yet another group of recruits earning their right to be called “United States Marine.”