“Confessions of a Marine Corps sensitivity trainer”


Courtesy of Martin van Creveld’s blog, I discovered an article with that title published in 2000.  It made me laugh out loud, both for the incongruity of its title (after all, the Marines are known for breaking things and killing people, neither of which requires exceptional sensitivity!) and for its humor.  Here’s an excerpt.

Back then, there was racial tension. Lots of racial tension. So the Marine Corps decided that everyone should have Human Relations (HumRel) instruction, 20 hours worth, spread over five mornings. Unfortunately, I was hanging around the battery office, looking for my early-release papers, when the quota for a HumRel trainer came in. So they shipped me off to a weeklong instructors course. I graduated first in the class, having gotten a 98 on the true-false test, and they sent me back to teach the gun bunnies what was to become known as sensitivity.

We had a text. Actually, an “Our American Values” quasi comic book. In the 1960s, most basic manuals had gone comic book, including the M-16 rifle disassembly and maintenance guide (Chapter One: “How to Strip Your Sweet 16”), but that’s another story. First four sessions, we sat around a conference table and reacted to the drawings and balloons.

“What do you think, Private Smith?”

“Dunno, sir.”

“What do you think, Corporal Jones?”

“Oh, I agree with Private Smith.”

Fridays were different. That’s when we discussed conditions at the local base, including self-segregation, interracial sex, dapping (elaborate black-power handshakes), et cetera. When we got to the dating stuff, the scrawniest brother at the table made a comment about white male sexual prowess, as explicit as it was uncomplimentary. The nearest Caucasian immediately reached over and began acquainting his head with the tabletop, and there ensued several minutes of mass violence and general bad manners.

Once was nasty enough. When it happened the second cycle, I figured there was a pattern emerging. So did my captain. So did my colonel. So did a general or two, who suggested via the chain of command that a bit more decorum, and no more incident reports that had to go to headquarters, might be nice. Especially if I wanted to avoid being held on active duty for the investigations, which might take forever. So Thursday evening before my final class, I called the area guard shack.

“This is Lieutenant Gold. I’ll be teaching sex education tomorrow and would like the reaction force standing by.”

Next morning, 20 or so Marines sat around the table, revving up. I announced the subject, then opened the door. In marched a dozen Marines in riot gear. They surrounded the table and made not a sound, save for a discreet tapping of their batons on the wall behind them.

We had a fascinating seminar, an open, genuine, and informative exchange of views. I subsequently spent 14 years as a college professor. Would that all my classes had been so… well received.

There’s more at the link.  It’s well worth a read, and will amuse you.

Odd thing, though . . . based on a number of Marines of my acquaintance, from the armed forces of three different nations (USA, Britain and South Africa), I’d have thought the last area in which they needed instruction was sex education.  In fact, I’d have thought (to judge by their comments) that most of them were pretty well qualified to serve as instructors in the field!  Oh, well . . .



  1. Reminds me of a couple of ex-AF friends. One of whom, the answers to stories about him are: "Yes, he did that; yes he did, but it was really like this; no he didn't do that; and I don't know if he did that, but it sounds like him."
    They deployed to Bagram early on, and were sent to see whether an Iraqui diesel fueling point still worked. It did, sort of. When the diesel spewed all over N, M got him out of his uniform, washed down with what water they had, and back to the barracks to wash and get a new uniform.
    Following standing orders, 1, that ruined uniforms be burnt, and 2; that if you were burning anything, that you go by the Classified Documents office and get anything they needed to burn and burn that also, M complied in his own way, stuffing the uniform with the shreds of Classified documents, leaning up against the side of the burn pit at the end of the runway, and setting it on fire.
    The Tower, seeing flames, smoke, and an Airman apparently watching another one burn, sent a response force out with MPs, a fire truck, and a Colonel, who asked M "What the F is going on here?"
    M anseered " Burning Classified Documents and a ruined uniform, Sir, in compliance with standing Orders, Sir."
    The response party left.
    Later, their Reserve unit recorded orders that the two of them were never to be deployed to the same place, at the same time, ever again.

  2. Funny! I am humbled, having gone through racial awareness training
    without the need for troops in armor.

    And no real need for a fire response (it was ONE time! I was young.) when I burned the expired crypto codes in the crypto vault's wastepaper basket. Who knew the ventilation was so anemic?

  3. My cousin gave the 'sex' talk to the Marine recruits at Camp Pendleton for years. I'm sorry to say that a lot of them needed it. Oh, the stories she could tell…

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