MARINE CORPS RECRUIT DEPOT SAN DIEGO --
As the recruits of Company E scaled the mountainous terrain of Edson Range, Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Calif., they anxiously anticipated one hill that would grant them the title Marine, the Reaper.
On the final day of the Crucible, a 54-hour field event in which recruits apply all they have learned during boot camp, Co. E stepped off at 2:30 a.m. to tackle a 9.7-mile hike that includes a 700-foot tall mountain dubbed the Reaper.
“Recruit training is full of stresses and physical challenges that all lead up to the Crucible,” said Gunnery Sgt. Wilbert Hill, chief drill instructor, Company E. “The Reaper is the final test in the Crucible, and finishing the Reaper hike is a major accomplishment.”
The Reaper is a legend at Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego’s boot camp because of how steep it is, said Hill. He said the recruits know about it before they arrive to the depot.
“Before I came to the depot I heard that even though the hike is only 10-miles, the Reaper was very challenging and the entire platoon would be hurting after it,” Pvt. Travis Duncan, Platoon 2102, Company E.
In preparation for the Reaper hike, the recruits tackle 3-mile, 5-mile, 5.7-mile and 8-mile hikes, carrying full combat-loads throughout training.
The amount of gear the recruits carry depends on the season, said Hill. During the winter, the recruits’ packs weigh between 65 to 75 lbs each because they must carry heavier cold-weather clothing.
“Most of the recruits are intimidated by each the hikes, but as they complete each of the conditioning hikes they build their confidence to tackle a longer one,” said Hill. “By the time they reach the Reaper hike, they are eager and ready to get through it.”
During the Crucible, the recruits are tested on their teamwork and leadership skills, said Hill. They read award citations at each obstacle they face on the Crucible to learn from other Marines heroic actions, said Hill.
At the peak of the Reaper is Col. Merrit A. Edson’s Medal of Honor citation. Edson Range was named after this heroic Marine.
After the recruits storm the final hill of the Reaper, they read his citation.
During the battle of Guadacanal, Edson’s Raider Battalion, consisting of two companies from the 1st Parachute Battalion, was guarding an airfield when they were attacked by Japanese forces. Under Edson’s leadership where he was encouraging, cajoling, and correcting as he continually exposed himself to enemy fire, his 800 Marines withstood the repeated assaults of more than 2,500 Japanese soldiers. Edson was later awarded the Medal of Honor for his honor, courage and commitment.
“When I finally made it to the top of the Reaper, I was so proud of myself,” said Duncan. “It was a great to finally accomplish something I never thought I could do.”
Although all recruits strive to make it to the peak, due to the physical rigors, some may not.
Dehydration is one of the major safety concerns during the hike. The recruits must fill two canteens before beginning the hike. The company stops four times throughout the hike to allow the recruits to adjust their gear and drink water.
During the hike, there is a lead safety vehicle that carries extra water and sets the recruits’ hiking path. A rear safety vehicle follows the platoons in case a recruit gets injured and cannot complete the hike.
“If a recruit does not complete the final hike, his reason for not finishing and past performance in recruit training will be reviewed. The series commander will determine whether they graduate or not,” said Hill.
Upon completion of their final hike, the recruits are awarded their Eagle, Globe and Anchor emblem and are officially declared United States Marines.
“When I received my eagle globe and anchor, I had tears in my eyes,” said Duncan. “It was strange to hear our drill instructors praise us on our performance during the hike. That moment made all of the hardships, stress and physical pain worth while.”