Mids toe his line


When Marine Gunnery Sgt. Terrance Slaughter orders 4,000 men and women to salute him, they salute. They also do what they're told when he orders "forward march," "fix bayonets" and that most welcome command, "parade rest."

But none of this has come easily.

Slaughter is brigade drillmaster at the Naval Academy and, he noted, "responsible for all drills and ceremonies on the Yard." His charge is to make young people do what they're not disposed to do naturally: walk in a straight line.

Most immediately, he is responsible for the Color Parade at 11 a.m. tomorrow on Worden Field -- a major feature of Commissioning Week ceremonies, which conclude with Wednesday's graduation.

He saw his first parade at the academy in 1997. He doesn't come right out and say it, but one senses he was taken aback. The Mids, after all, weren't Marine.

"It was a learning experience for me," he said. "I first assumed it was all military. But really, it's military and academic. You have to deal with the fact that midshipmen are in class from 8 until 3: 30, that they have 15 minutes to dress in their parade uniforms. I had to learn to be more sensitive to their schedules, classes, activities and all the rest."

He will march his troops in the rain, if necessary, simply because "there's never enough time" to work with them. On these soggy occasions, he'll hear bellyaching from the ranks -- "lots of it. They'll tell me drill is a Marine Corps thing."

Tomorrow's parade will attended by admirals and civilian bigwigs who will fly in by helicopter from Washington. And more retired admirals and captains will be in the grandstands. They expect to see their midshipmen standing tall and looking good.

Can Slaughter handle the pressure? "I think you can be a little intimidated by the brass," he said. "I found it a little scary at first, but you gain confidence over the years."

Slaughter said some things never change on the parade ground: The left foot comes down on the beat of the bass drum; to prevent keeling over in the heat when standing at attention, you shift your weight imperceptibly from one leg to the other; and you never lock your knees.

"We tell them about being properly hydrated," he said. Hydration, he added, does not include tossing down lots of alcohol the previous night.

Slaughter has been in the Marines for 18 years. He had four uncles in the military -- Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines -- and three brothers who served.

As a Marine, Slaughter has mostly been a teacher, including stints as a dreaded DI -- drill instructor. In that role, he said, "I felt I was ultimately building the future of the Corps."

Marines are obliged sometimes to wear several hats simultaneously. During Desert Storm, he worked in staging areas to get Marines ready for combat. And then he processed Iraqi prisoners. "I said to myself that they were human just like I was, and I treated them that way, with maybe a little sympathy."

It's apparent that he brought some of that concern to his Naval Academy charges.

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