Photo Information

Lance Cpl. Zachery Sturges catches his rifle during the Challenge Day tryout for the U.S. Marine Corps Silent Drill Platoon at Marine Corps Air Stations Yuma, Ariz., Feb. 15. Sturges was named 'Old Dog' for top second year marcher in the platoon.

Photo by Sgt. John J. Parry

Candidates compete for spot on Silent Drill Platoon

15 Feb 2009 | Sgt. John J. Parry

Selected from among thousands of Marines, less than a fraction of a percent will ever have a chance to march with the U.S. Marine Corps Silent Drill Platoon.

Marines aspiring for a spot to march in this unit, otherwise known as “The Marching 24,” must first undergo the rigorous trials of Silent Drill School and compete for a spot during a thorough performance evaluation.

This competition is known as Challenge Day, and it is held at a time and place undisclosed to the candidates.  This year, Challenge Day was held at a parking lot at Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, Feb. 15.

Early morning at 4:30 a.m., the drillmaster surprised the candidates with reveille, informing them training was complete, and judgment day had come.

“We waited so long for it, and then it was time to put out,” said Pfc. Michael Hintz, a 19 year old, first year graduate and marcher for the platoon. “It was the most nervous I’ve been in my life, without a doubt. I knew if I made the slightest mistake, the drillmaster would pick it up.”

The Marines must make sure they are always prepared to perform, and when the time comes, only those who have trained the hardest will earn a position, said Cpl. Jeremy Miller, SDP drillmaster.

“This is a once in a lifetime opportunity for many of these guys,” Miller added. “Many are driven for that sense of pride and accomplishment to march with the unit.”

Challenge Day lasted longer than six hours for the Marines, as each one patiently waited their turn to go out in front of their peers and show what they were made of. This right of passage culminated with a critique by the drillmaster and congratulations from Capt. Rollin Steele, SDP platoon commander.

At a banquet later in the evening, the Marines celebrated with a feast of chicken alfredo and the announcement of the roster for the next parade season.  Included in the banquet was the announcement of the top drillers of the day. 

The best rookie marcher is known as the “New Dog.”  To the surprise of all members of the platoon, it was Hintz who took the “New Dog” and top marcher awards. Hintz had beaten all other members of the platoon, including his instructors.

“I never thought I’d have a chance to do this.” Hintz said. “If somebody told me when I was joining that I’d be in the Silent Drill Platoon, I’d have laughed in their face. To think, this guy from Coopersville, Michigan, would be here and get the chance to perform in front of hundreds of thousands of people just blows my mind."

Training began for the first year Marines in November, 2008.  The class started with 92 students, but only 16 graduated.

This year’s edition of “The Marching 24” would be comprised of seven of the highest-scoring graduates and 17 of the Marines who returned for their second or third year.  It is the returning Marines who instructed their unique style of drill to the first year marchers during Silent Drill School.  There, the instructors taught the students how to march silently while executing an intricate series of rifle spins.

“SDS helps build the team.” Miller said. “The students at first have no comprehension of the drill to come. With instruction and repetition, the better they became and longer they stayed on, the more confident they became with the drill.”

In addition to teaching drill, the instructors would become fire team leaders and squad leaders.  According to Miller, the school helped build the rapport needed for the platoon to operate for the following year.

“It can be difficult, but we take a lot of pride in what they do,” Miller said. “They spend more hours working to teach the students than the students have to themselves. I think these guys are leaders who will come away with a great experience.  They are patient and work to motivate their students to the utmost.”

The rigorous training process has systematically allowed only the hardest working Marines to earn a spot on the platoon.  With the training complete, the 2009 edition of the Silent Drill Platoon is ready to go out and show the world what the Marine Corps is all about.