What it takes to survive the Crucible - a 54-hour final test all future Marines endure at boot camp

  • Before they officially become United States Marines, all recruits must endure "The Crucible."
  • This event lasts for 54 hours, testing recruits physically and psychologically on limited sleep.
  • Recruits hike for miles wearing 50 pounds of gear, face off in hand-to-hand combat, and more.

Following is a transcript of the video.

Recruit: Ahhhhh! My leg! Ahh!

Narrator: This Marine Corps recruit isn't actually injured.

Recruit: My leg! Ahhh!

Narrator: He's playing the role of a wounded Marine during a simulated casualty evacuation.

Drill instructor: All of you crawl faster now!

Recruits: Aye, sir.

Narrator: And his fellow recruits have to drag him, inch by inch, to safety.

James Cimino: It's not a comfortable thing to carry someone on your back and drag them through the mud. You sweat more in training so you bleed less in combat.

Narrator: It's part of their final test at boot camp, known as the Crucible, a 54-hour event that all recruits must complete.

Drill instructor: Fox, you're breaking down.

Recruit: Aye, sir!

Narrator: Insider spent four days at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in Parris Island, South Carolina, to chronicle one company taking on the challenge -- the last step before officially becoming Marines.

Drill instructor: Company! Attention!

Narrator: The Crucible occurs in week 11 of the Marine Corps' 13-week boot camp.

Recruits: Aye, sir!

Narrator: The day before, recruits from the gender-integrated Hotel Company assemble in front of their barracks for a briefing. Although female recruits have trained at Parris Island since 1949, gender-integrated companies didn't emerge until 2019. As of January 2021, this group of recruits was the most gender-diverse company of enlisted recruits in the history of the Marine Corps. And among those in Hotel Company are a brother and sister from Georgia -- 21-year-old Lazaro Cisneros and his 19-year-old sister, Mayra.

Lazaro: My sister and me are here doing the Crucible together. We're in the same company. We usually don't see each other often, but we always get, like, a glimpse of each other.

Mayra: It's actually motivating, just being able to see him be there. I know that there's somebody here that knows me. He's going through this with me. He knows the pain I'm going through.

Narrator: At 0200, or 2 a.m., it's lights on in the squad bays of Hotel Company.

Drill instructor: Hit it, guys!

Recruit: Aye, sir! Lights, lights, lights!

Drill instructor: Get on line now!

Recruits: Aye, sir!

Recruit: One!

Recruit: Two!

Recruit: Three!

Recruit: 55!

Recruit: 56!

Lazaro: We had to rush. Very stressful, thinking about how the day was going to go.

Recruits: Aye, sir!

Narrator: Recruits don their desert utility uniforms, known as desert cammies.

Drill instructor: Fold the first sheet with you and your rackmate now.

Recruits: Aye, sir! Narrator: They square away their racks and ready their gear, which weighs about 50 pounds. While some recruits may be smiling now...

Recruits: Aye, sir!

Narrator: They won't be for long. After one final trip to the head, the recruits form up outside to officially begin the Crucible.

Drill instructor: We all understand what that means, right?

Recruits: Yes, sir!

Drill instructor: You should probably scream a lot louder.

Recruits: Aye, sir!

Narrator: Their first task: a long hike in the cold darkness.

Recruits: Yes, sir!

Cimino: It's approximately 6 miles in length, so nothing too arduous for the beginning, but just enough that they understand, like, hey, you're on your own. We're not getting you bused out there. You're going to walk out there just like you're going to walk back.

Recruit: Good morning, sir.

Recruit: Five, five, four. So everyone get a count for your own team.

Narrator: When the sun comes up, the events of day one begin.

Recruit: Cpl. Dunham immediately alerted his fellow Marines to the threat.

Narrator: Each Crucible event is inspired by an actual occurrence in Marine Corps history.

Recruit: Cpl. Dunham covered the grenade with his helmet and body. Narrator: And before the event begins, the squad leader educates the group on its historical significance.

Recruit: He saved the lives of at least two fellow Marines.

Recruit: All gear should be on. You are facing forward. Line it up! Two columns! Pick it up.

Narrator: This group begins with an enhanced obstacle course.

Drill instructor: I don't know why you're smiling when you're struggling with a simple obstacle.

Recruit: Aye, sir. Drill instructor: Get on the bar!

Cimino: So, the obstacle courses out there. They've seen it all before. It's just now we're adding a couple of more factors in there to make it more difficult.

Narrator: Now they also need to safely transport 35-pound ammo cans across the course. When recruits fail to negotiate the obstacle...

Drill Instructor: 15 burpees! Let's go!

Narrator: Their drill instructor orders them to do burpees. And they're punished as a group. Although this recruit was able to conquer the obstacle, her fellow recruits were not.

Drill instructor: All of you get down. It's 15 burpees.

Recruits: Aye, ma'am.

Narrator: So she had to pay alongside them.

Recruits: Two!

Recruit: I don't got no grip!

Drill instructor: Go! Grab onto the damn bar. Hold the bar! Wow. Look, it's not that hard, correct?

Recruit: Aye, sir.

Recruit: I'm just gonna think about all good stuff right now. Fruit punch. Pepsi. Miami. Sunny.

Recruit: Yeah, we got some sun, but no heat.

Recruit: That's crazy.

Narrator: Only six hours into the Crucible, and tensions are starting to flare.

Drill instructor: Yeah, you're still doing the same thing. Now you want to freaking roll your eyes at me?

Recruit: No, sir.

Instructor: You sure? 'Cause I literally just saw you do that.

Recruit: No, sir.

Cimino: So, a lot of times they could get frustrated because they're cold, they're uncomfortable.

Drill instructor: You trying to embarrass me, Miller?

Recruit: No, sir.

Drill instructor: You got an attitude problem?

Recruit: No, sir.

Drill instructor: Execute the dadgum training.

Recruit: Aye, sir.

Cimino: That's a very common thing that we see. Oftentimes the recruits just correct themselves, though. 'Cause at this point, they already know what's right and what's wrong.

Narrator: Fortunately, they'll soon have a chance to blow off steam... when they step inside a structure known as the Octagon.

Instructor: I wanna see some viciousness and some intensity, do you understand?

Recruits: Aye, sir!

Recruit: Ahhh!

Narrator: First, recruits fight each other with pugil sticks.

Cimino: They're tired, they're hungry, and now we're pitting them against each other. At some point, you are going to be face-to-face with somebody through all these conditions, and you're still going to have to be aggressive enough to win.

Drill instructor: Penalty box. Get out.

Recruit: Aye, sir.

Narrator: The winner of the bout runs through a hatch below a sign that says "Devil Dogs."

Drill instructor: Winner! Loser! Get out!

Recruit: Aye, ma'am!

Narrator: The loser reports to the penalty box...

Drill instructor: Embarrassing. Embarrassing.

Narrator: Where they perform a series of planks and other exercises intended to motivate them to avoid returning there.

Drill instructor: Get up. Go away.

Narrator: And they soon get a chance to redeem themselves. All recruits face off again in one-on-one body sparring.

Drill instructor: Break his ribs! Just break him in half!

Qiokata: I think this is a way to just kind of keep them on their toes and keep them cognizant of their actions or the other person's actions.

Narrator: Recruits are only allowed to strike the body, with no punches allowed above the neck. But stray punches do sometimes land.

Narrator: And injuries can occur.

Instructor: Now I've gotta throw all this gear away.

Drill instructor: All right, what company is this?

Recruits: Hotel Company, sir.

Drill instructor: Hotel Company?

Recruits: Yes, sir.

Narrator: There's a saying in the Corps that every Marine is first and foremost a rifleman. Recruits spend two weeks devoted to marksmanship during boot camp.

Instructor: Good to go?

Recruits: Yes, sir.

Narrator: During the Crucible, recruits combine the skills they've learned on the firing range with movement in a simulated squad attack.

Instructor: All right. So, first, it's gonna be cover and move. All right? And then automatically you're going to movement under fire, right? If people are shooting at you, you're automatically going to go to the prone, right? You're not going to give yourself that easy target, right?

Recruits: Yes, sir.

Narrator: The squads move together through a wooded area before they reach the entrance to the range.

Instructor: Go ahead and send them in.

Instructor: So, you're gonna stay tight to this tree line. You're gonna run to that black shirt. Go.

Recruits: Yes, sir.

Instructor: Go, go, go, go. Go right here.

Recruit: Move!

Narrator: Recruits fire blank rounds during the event, which simulates providing cover for their fellow recruits while they advance.

Instructor: You're gonna combat-glide to that berm. Stay aligned.

Recruits: Move out. Move!

Narrator: By now, these recruits have worked up an appetite.

Recruit: What is that?

Recruit: It's supposed to be Santa Fe rice and beans, but I literally don't taste the rice.

Cimino: They're used to going to the chow hall, getting three square meals a day. Now they're going to be receiving essentially field rations, right? Our meals ready-to-eat, MREs.

Recruit: These are spicy.

Recruit: It's jalapeño.

Recruit: I know they're jalapeños.

Narrator: Typically, a single MRE counts as one meal. For the Crucible, recruits have to ration five MREs over the course of the event.

Recruit: Dude, if you put a lot of water in it and you mix it up just right, it's like pudding. It's the best pudding you will ever taste in your life. That pudding right there!

Narrator: There are no naps during the Crucible. During breaks for chow, recruits are tasked with posting security. Over the course of the 54-hour event, recruits sleep only three to four hours a night.

Recruits: Yes, sir. Narrator: And this is where it happens, in structures known as SEA huts.

Drill instructor: Let's go! Hurry up.

Producer: How tired are you right now?

Lazaro: For now, I have, like, good energy left to complete the day. I've been trying to ration my food and been trying to keep a steady mind. Three more days before becoming a Marine.

Narrator: For Lazaro, his day comes to a close with one of the most intense events of the Crucible.

Drill instructor: Let's go, you gotta save his life!

Recruit: Aye, sir!

Drill instructor: He's bleeding out and dying!

Narrator: A simulated casualty evacuation in a combat scenario.

Drill instructor: It only takes 40 seconds to bleed out! Listen, listen to him. You're freaking out! You're not making the right choices!

Recruit: Aye, sir.

Drill instructor: No choice is still a choice. You just stand there looking at me confused! He's already bleeding out! You just helped him slow the bleeding.

Recruit: Aye, sir. Drill instructor: You're being too slow. You're not communicating. Where are you even going? You came from this direction.

Recruit: Aye, sir.

Drill instructor: Fox, you're breaking down.

Recruit: Aye, sir.

Drill instructor: Now I know that if you ever need to help anybody, you can't even help! You can't do anything!

Recruit: Aye, sir.

Drill instructor: 'Cause he's not OK, 'cause half his leg just got blown off! And he's got a tourniquet on! And he's scared! And he doesn't know what's happening! Their lives are in your hands, Fox!

Recruit: You'll be all right, bud. We got you. Let's go. Cisneros, let's go.

Lazaro: I've been learning a lot lately. Combat training, combat care. This recruit noticed that he still has a lot to learn.

Narrator: Meanwhile, Mayra attempts to negotiate one of the most intimidating obstacles on Parris Island, the 30-foot-tall Stairway to Heaven.

Recruits: Ready, step. Step, together.

Narrator: Which all recruits must attempt without any safety equipment. Recruits: Ready, step. Step, together.

Mayra: I joined the Marine Corps with my older brother because of financial need. I was going to college. I needed the money. And the career I want to follow is pediatrician, so obviously I have to go to medical school for that. And I obviously thought, well, I need the money. And so I went to the recruiting station and I told them in the phone call, "I have a brother. Do you remember him?" And they asked me to bring him over. So we went both together. They just convinced us. And we joined.

Narrator: It turns out that having a sibling in training at Parris Island isn't that uncommon. We met another pair of siblings in Hotel Company.

Oscar: The relationship has grown stronger, because at home we kind of just separated. We only played Xbox together from across the hall.

Michael: Until we came here, we knew each other, but we didn't really, like, talk every single day like we have been for the past three months.

Oscar: It's a pretty great feeling, because whenever you think that you can't, like, turn to someone, you can always just turn to your actual blood brother.

Drill instructor: They're in the rear right?

Recruit: Yes, ma'am.

Lazaro: Tonight, I'm going to basically pray a little bit for strength.

Narrator: As the sun sets on day one of the Crucible, these recruits are in for a long night -- and an even longer day ahead.

[birds chirping]

[combat sounds]

[recruits screaming]

Narrator: Simulated casualties play a big part in one of the most challenging Crucible events, the Battle of Hue City, named after one of the bloodiest battles of Vietnam where an estimated 10,000 people died, including more than 100 Marines. Loudspeakers play sounds of gunfire and explosions to create a more realistic combat environment, [explosion] along with simulated mortar explosions that occur when a spark plug ignites a combination of propane and oxygen triggered by the push of this button. [explosion] The goal of the event is for each fire team to maneuver across the area with all casualties and gear intact.

Drill instructor: Hey, Squad Leader!

Recruit: Aye, sir!

Drill instructor: Yeah, you just got shot in the right shoulder 'cause you didn't turn around.

Narrator: Drill instructors designate recruits as casualties if they fail to conceal themselves during their approach. It's the responsibility of the still-healthy recruits to transport the casualties. Recruits must climb over walls, crawl through sand...

Drill instructor: Get into the wire now!

Narrator: And barbed wire.

Drill instructor: Get the casualty off the X. He's bleeding out!

Narrator: All while slowly moving the casualties.

Recruit: I need assistance. Help!

Marcus Gada: "Embrace the suck" couldn't have been more true here. Once you embrace the suck and you look to your left and your right and you see the guys actually doing it, it just makes you want to push even harder. And some of them will crack a smile, and then you'll crack a smile, and it just keeps you going, sir.

Drill instructor: He's bleeding out!

Recruit: Aye, sir!

Narrator: Recruits who stay healthy and who don't have to tend to casualties are free to negotiate the course, as long as they don't do anything that catches their drill instructor's attention.

Drill instructor: You're dead! Grab her!

Narrator: The event gets even more grueling in the rain, which is where we found Mayra and her squad. Thanks to a passing storm, what began as dirt quickly turned to mud.

Mayra: My hip is starting to hurt, and I had trouble keeping the weapon off the sand. So it was really hard this morning.

Narrator: The recruits move into the woods.

Recruits: Ready!

Mayra: Jumping!

Recruits: Jump away!

Narrator: To navigate a series of obstacles as a team.

Recruit: Aye, sir!

Narrator: Which, in the rain, made things trickier for Lazaro and his squad.

Lazaro: It has been very exciting pushing through since the beginning of boot camp to the end. And happy to be here with my sister, having a once-in-a-lifetime moment.

Recruit: I've seen a lot of improvement in myself. I've tried to work on myself, like - more thn just physical.

Narrator: Recruits are invited to share their personal stories in sessions called Core Values.

Recruit: I've been pushing myself as much as I can, everywhere I can. And while I had the smarts for college, I never had the motivation. But somehow, the Marines is the one thing I always had motivation for.

Recruit: You know that one thing that everybody says that helps push them through? That's my mom, and that's my dad. He passed away two years ago, and it's been hard on her. So it's kind of hitting home, and I'm here, so I can't wait to call her and be like, "Yo, Mom. I finally did it."

Recruit: I feel like I found a part of myself that I didn't have before. And I never really fit in anywhere else.

Narrator: As day two winds down, all that stands between these recruits and officially becoming Marines is a 9-mile hike back to the parade deck.

[recruits singing]

Narrator: For Hotel Company, the Crucible has come to an end. But one last step remains: Each recruit receives their Eagle Globe and Anchor emblem, symbolizing that they have officially become United States Marines.

Cimino: For the recruits, it's what they've been battling for for these past 12 weeks. And a lot of times it's what they've wanted ever since they were a child. It is absolutely amazing to see these men and women who have fought so hard for what they want and to finally see them achieving it.

Mayra: We started this together. We were gonna end this together.

Lazaro: Yes.

Producer: What did that feel like, when you put that in your hand?

Mayra: It felt like hope. A new future for our family.

Producer: Are you proud of her?

Lazaro: Yes, she has accomplished, maybe surpassed me. I'm her older brother, so, I see she has grown to become a very strong woman and Marine.

Producer: Are you guys hungry?

Lazaro & Mayra: Yes, sir.

Producer: How excited are you for this breakfast?

Mayra: Oh, very, sir. Very excited.

[Lazaro grunts]

Narrator: While the Eagle Globe and Anchor ceremony is the most anticipated moment of boot camp, the Warrior's Breakfast may be a close second.

Cimino: They're so happy to be indoors at that point. And they get steak and eggs. For them, it's probably the closest thing to a home-cooked meal they could get while they're here. They're incredibly happy.

{{}}