USMC Kate Perez

USMC Kate Perez
Credit: Kathryn Perez

 Implicit and Explicit Roles and Norms

Kathryn D. Perez

Oct 1, 2014


I have been a member of many different organizations through my life. One that stands out the most is the United States Marine Corps.  This may seem like just one of many branches of the military in the United States, but within the ranks and among others in the world, there are implicit and explicit roles and norms that exist within the Marine Corps that are not expected nor considered for many other groups across the world, including other branches of American military.  One must know the reputation of the Marine Corps throughout its existence, from November 10, 1775 until today to have an appropriate definition.  The expectations of both the members of the Marine Corps, and those who have moved on, are specific.  Marines are expected to be strong, controlled, and ready to jump in whenever there is a fight.  We are expected to win, and we do not run.  Knowledge of the Marines being “first to fight” is well-known, however, many people do not know what that means, so their impression is that we are fighters, ‘soldiers’, and hot-heads.

 Roles of the Men and Women in the Marine Corps

Explicit Roles

Explicit roles of the United States Marine Corps include being fighters and winners.  We expect ourselves to be the most capable and most intelligent.  The leaders of the country and much of the world have this same expectation of the United States Marine Corps (Flynn, 2010).  Even the enemies of Marines have this expectation, albeit that sometimes it works to their advantage in destroying a Marine platoon.

Marines are taught to be leaders and good subordinates at the same time.  Every Marine expects that at some point we may be called upon to lead and we take their roles seriously.  The Marine Corps is the only branch of the U.S. military that can be sent into battle without need for Congressional approval.  Because of this, we are “first to fight” (Office of Naval Research, 2008).  Every Marine knows this; it is an explicit role and primary purpose of the Marine Corps.

Explicit Norms

Marines are dutiful and we are loyal.  Marines are taught this from the moment we sign on the dotted line, long before we ever step out onto the yellow footsteps at Parris Island or MCRD San Diego (YouTube, 2009).  Anyone who is in the Marine Corps possesses this norm.  We are trained to act without questioning their superiors.  We learn to follow orders (Sturkey, 2001). 

A Marine will never leave a man behind.  Whether he is hurt or killed, the fallen Marine is a Marine and will be brought home to his family.  The loyalty of any Marine is above reproach.  We are loyal to “God, Country, and Corps” (Deaton, 2010).  It is told to the young men and women when we step off the bus, every night before we go to sleep, and as a reminder all day long.  The Marine Corps primary motto:  Semper Fildelis is Latin for always faithful (Sturkey, 2001, p. 108).

Marines are proud of what we’ve accomplished, where we may have come from and what we have become.  We are willing to take a bullet for a friend and we are happy to give toys to children at Christmas.  The duty is to the United States of America, and we will not shirk that duty.  Once a Marine, always a Marine is the mantra that almost all Marines live by until the day we pass from the Earth.  There is no such thing as an ex-Marine.

Implicit Roles

Marines are expected to be tough all the time. We are expected to protect everyone regardless of anything.  The expectation, especially of other military branches, is that the Marines are the verbal punching bag, men are called “jarhead” and women are called “BAM” (a very disrespectful acronym for broad ass Marine) (Del Cioppo, 1990).  We are expected to be treated badly because “we can take it!” (ZachM, 2004)

I hear people tell me that Marines don’t cry.  I have encountered sailors who believe I’m stronger because I was in the Marines and expect that I am just going to take any abuse that is given to me.  These ex-sailors do not consider that I am an equal and that I expect respect as I give it (Adamchik, 2007).

Implicit Norms

An implicit norm of the Marines is to be considered a soldier (Marine Corps League, 2010).  Although there is nothing wrong with being a soldier, they are not Marines.  When a Marine is called a soldier, it takes a lot of military bearing to keep from correcting the innocent person who may be trying to honor them.  When reporters or casual conversation discuss loss of life from the current wars we will invariably merge Marines and soldiers into a single entity without realizing that soldiers are members of the Army.

Marines do not retreat.  Marines do know when to fight and when to not fight.  If one walks away from a fight it does not mean that the person is a coward.  In battle, as in a social setting, sometimes the Marines will have to pull back and regroup (Parker, 2010). 

The “first to fight” motto is misunderstood by many.  Movies depict Marines as strong in spirit and courage, however also that we get angry and start fights (Parker, 2010).  This is an inaccurate presumption for an entire branch of the military.  Those who are not in the Marines will consider the Marines to fight first and ask questions later.  The phrase “let God sort them out” gives credence to this implicit norm.  Many Marines forget that this is a stereotype and provide proof for the presumptions (Swofford, 2003).

Consequences based on implicit norms

I was in an enlisted club and I was with a group of other people.  A female soldier was jealous that I was talking to a young man she liked and she threw a drink on me.  I was, needless to say, shocked.  I stood up to let the liquid fall down and looked at the girl.  The young man took me back to his barracks and gave me a shirt and shampoo.  When I cleaned up I went back to the club.  I ordered a sticky mixed drink and sipped on it all night long.  I tilted the glass casually toward that soldier.  For the next two and a half hours she watched my hand.  She did not get what she expected, I never retaliated.  Well, not visibly, at any rate.  I deviated from the norm by doing an effective job of psychological warfare.  The consequence and intended enforcement of the implicit norm that Marines are hot heads was extended harassment by my male counterparts.  They told me over and over that I should have kicked her butt.  I was not going to do that, I was much more of a lady than that.  It was not until our Staff Sgt told them that I did much more damage than a fist by what I did.  The men did not understand.  I told them she squirmed all night long just waiting.  If I’d thrown the drink on her it would have been over.

Benefits of Participation

When one is a Marine, the ultimate benefit is that one can say we are a Marine.  It is an elite and exclusive club that not everyone is capable of enduring.  This goes to show effect as well.  Those who are in the Marines are proud of it, and this pride is in direct correspondence to having been able to complete Marine Corps basic training and become one of “The Few the Proud”.

Enforcement and Punishment

Basic training was an exercise in breaking people down to build each back up into the very epitome of what is a Marine.  To do this each ill conceived behavior was group punished.  If one person could not make their rack (bed) properly, the entire platoon found their bedding in a pile on the floor.  When the platoon could not be a cohesive unit their “standard”, or the flag that indicated who we were members with, would be taken away.  The idea was that every recruit was a cell in the larger image of Marine, and that each platoon recruit was not whole without the sum of all the parts.

This punishment and indoctrination was cause for desire to excel not only personally, but to work with the weaker links to help them to come up to the level of the group.  The actions by the drill instructors actually instilled a sense of teamwork and cohesiveness to our platoon, creating a more productive and succinct group of future Marines.

The only activities that we were deterred from were swearing, saying “you guys” and touching other recruits.  Swearing was unladylike, therefore was not what a woman in the Marines was to stand for.  In basic training, there were no guys in the female platoons therefore to call ladies guys was disrespectful to the entire group.  And touching other recruits could be misconstrued as assault so it was strictly not allowed.  I recall only one instance when we were allowed to hold each other, and that was when we would walk out of the gas chamber and walk to the edge of a cliff to air out our camouflage.


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