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Face of Defense: Marine Shapes Silent Drill Platoon

By Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Austin Hazard
Special to American Forces Press Service

MARINE CORPS AIR STATION YUMA, Ariz., March 12, 2010 – The Marine Corps Silent Drill Platoon performs around the world, demonstrating discipline, precision and dedication to tradition.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
As drill master for the Marine Corps Silent Drill Platoon, Cpl. Robert Dominguez is tasked with memorizing, teaching and passing down the platoon’s unique drill manual, creating a new drill sequence for the platoon to perform each year, and selecting new members and the 24 Marines who will drill during performances. U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Austin Hazard
  

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

But who chooses these men? Who teaches them the time-honored tradition of representing the Marine Corps with their silent performances?

Marine Corps Cpl. Robert Dominguez, a 26-year-old native of Selma, Calif., serves as the platoon’s drill master. He is tasked with memorizing, teaching and handing down the platoon’s unique drill style, called “slide drill.”

“It’s a great honor to be the 62nd drill master of the Marine Corps Silent Drill Platoon, teaching the manual to Marines and passing it on,” said Dominguez, who became the drill master Nov. 4. “I am the keeper of the Silent Drill Platoon’s traditions.”

The drill master keeps the manual for slide drill and passes it to the next drill master, a rite of succession that has remained unchanged since its creation.

“Back in 1948, all the drill was choreographed and slide drill was created,” said Dominguez, who is in his third year with the platoon. “What I do as the drill master is use that manual and come up with a new sequence for the year. I think up some cool ideas and go back through old drill sequences and try to make a new, fresh sequence with some more flavor.”

Marines may remember drill from their boot camp landing-party manual, but slide drill is different. It uses no verbal commands and modifies common drill maneuvers, such as port arms, to best fit the platoon’s style and varying formations.

“It’s very difficult to learn,” Dominguez said. “You’ve got to have a lot of bearing, coordination and discipline to be able to learn slide drill.”

However, teaching drill is not the drill master’s only responsibility.

“To represent the Marine Corps, the Marine Corps wants the best, and it’s my job to select them,” Dominguez said.

Dominguez trains and chooses the platoon members during their initial training, determining who makes the cut and who gets cut. After that, he decides which members make up the “marching 24,” the two dozen Marines who actually perform.

If Dominguez believes the platoon’s proficiency declines, he can declare a challenge day, during which members audition for spots among the marching 24.

The drill master is a coveted and respected position among the platoon, and Dominguez is equally respected by his platoon. “As a drill master, he does demand the perfection needed of this platoon,” said Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Perry Bell, who is in his first year with the platoon.

The downside to being the drill master is watching from the sidelines and not being able to perform with the platoon, Dominguez said.

“Performing is an adrenaline rush,” he explained. “You can’t get that feeling anywhere else. It’s unfortunate that I’m not in the fight with them, not performing, but I get to critique them and make them better.”

For decades, the Silent Drill Platoon has been an American icon, personifying the discipline and precision of the Marine Corps through public demonstrations, recruiting posters and commercials. Now that responsibility lies primarily in Dominguez’s hands as the drill master of the nation’s most famous drill team.

“Nothing that we do is about us,” Dominguez said. “The picture is bigger than us. To the public, we represent the Marine Corps.”

(Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Austin Hazard serves at Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, Ariz.)

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