DC, UNITED STATES --
"What do you do when you hit a goal?" asked Staff Sgt. Anthony Havens of his new Marines, January 22, 2024. "You set another one! This is just one milestone along your journey as a man and a Marine."
For six weeks, the Marines standing before him on the snow-covered Annex field at Marine Barracks, Washington, D.C., competed for the opportunity to serve in the storied U.S. Marine Corps Silent Drill Platoon. The 24-Marine platoon is known for its ability to execute a precision drill sequence, all without verbal cadences or commands. The culminating display of their drill exhibition is a sequence of rifle inspections, showcasing intricate rifle spins and tosses. Since its founding in 1948, the unit has conducted performances with utmost precision and discipline, gracing parades and ceremonies within the National Capital Region and throughout the world.
John Anness of New Braunfels, Texas, who served on the Silent Drill Platoon from 1981 to 1983, remembers Silent Drill Selection as a "very grueling process and required a tremendous amount of self-discipline."
"Something that I think is really prevalent among all of us who made it this far is just the ability to grit your teeth and get through it," Lance Cpl. Trey Earls, a Marines selected to serve on the Silent Drill Platoon this year.
"From the time you arrived, to training in Yuma, Arizona, to the selection of the marching twenty-four, it was consistently hard work and preparation," said Anness. "Whether it was the constant drill, inspections, and critiques, you truly learned what attention to detail meant!"
When reflecting upon his years with the Silent Drill Platoon from 1960 to 1963, Robert Skolnick, now residing in Naples, Florida, fondly described them as "the proudest years of my life." He was recipient number two of the rifle inspection and remembers the emphasis on drill proficiency and maintaining a squared-away appearance.
From the early 1960s to the 1980s and beyond, the commitment to pride and professionalism remains the unchanging thread that binds the Silent Drill Platoon's history to its contemporary legacy.
Today, Marines are still assessed on their talent and character. Each training day starts at 0500 with accountability and a rifle draw at the armory. After the students mark the stocks of their rifles, they move to the chow hall for breakfast. Morning training is filled with the fundamentals of Marine Barracks Washington drill and followed by "slide drill," where students receive instruction on the more elaborate drill movements performed by the Silent Drill Platoon. In the afternoon, Marines are trained and evaluated on rifle spins, one of the hallmark movements of the Silent Drill Platoon performance.
"Ultimately, it comes down to the ability to learn, adapt, and become proficient," said Cpl. Jack Conner, a native of Compton, California, and Silent Drill Platoon squad leader.
Lance Cpl. Trey Earls, a native of Conway, Missouri, was one of the Marines selected to serve on the Silent Drill Platoon this year.
"Something that I think is really prevalent among all of us who made it this far is just the ability to grit your teeth and get through it," said Earls. "It almost feels like recruit training. We're expected to sort of start back at the bottom. It's a hard pill to swallow as far as your own self pride goes. I realized, 'Okay, this is only going to get worse or better, and it is strictly based on my performance,' and I put my pride behind me and focused on looking out for the guy to my left and my right."
At the conclusion of Silent Drill Selection, Marines chosen to serve on the platoon are presented with a black t-shirt adorned with the Silent Drill Platoon logo, symbolizing their dedication and achievement.
Timeless Traditions: Silent Drill Platoon's Legacy
Photo by Lance Cpl. Chloe McAfee
U.S. Marines selected to serve on the Silent Drill Platoon pose for a photo at Marine Barracks, Washington, D.C., January 22, 2024. Silent Drill Selection is a course designed to assess the capabilities of prospective Silent Drill Platoon Marines.
"The black shirt means something different to each Marine," said Lance Cpl. Nicholas Lewis, a native of Spring Creek, Nevada. "For Cpl. Conner, it is a testament of what he has spent so much time working for as he goes into his third year at Marine Barracks Washington. When he thinks about being a junior Marine and an NCO, he'll remember the Silent Drill Platoon."
Lewis will serve as a team leader in Silent Drill Platoon's second squad this year.
"But to me, the Silent Drill Platoon is a reminder that I have to be able to do my job regardless of what my job is," added Lewis. "I would like to go to the fleet, and although I didn't get that opportunity, every time I put it on, it's a reminder that there is something bigger than me that I get to work for."
This profound connection to duty and tradition extends to other aspects of the Silent Drill Platoon, such as the timeless tradition of passing down buttons from dress blues, a practice that underscores the enduring legacy and meticulous attention to detail that defines this unit.
Generations of number-one rifle inspectors have passed on the buttons of their dress blues to their successors. Marines proudly wear the once gold "silver brass" that has evolved over time due to meticulous cleaning and polishing.
"I've had the opportunity to speak with multiple Silent Drill Platoon alumni, dating all the way back to the sixties, and what I've learned is that there are a lot of traditions we still uphold, including the way we prepare our uniforms, the way that we polish our rifles, and just the way that we hold ourselves and represent ourselves and the Marine Corps," said Conner.
When asked what advice he would offer Marines of the Silent Drill Platoon today, John Anness shared, "You are representing the Marine Corps, your family, friends and your fellow platoon members. Do not take it lightly or for granted. Give everything you have and you will get back more in appreciation and admiration."