MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. - -- Since its inception more than 230 years ago, the Marine Corps has prided itself on a rich heritage of customs and traditions. During a birthday ball, it’s customary for the oldest Marine present to receive the first piece of cake and pass it on to the youngest Marine present, signifying the transfer of experience and knowledge from the old to the young of the Corps. During the playing of the Marines’ Hymn, it’s customary for Marines to stand at attention and render honors to the oldest official song in the U.S. military.
As for Marines living in the barracks, they participate in quite possibly the most unpopular tradition in the Corps. Though it is carried out neither in a field nor during the day, “Field Day” is the one night where Marines focus on cleaning their rooms.
“Throughout the history of the Marine Corps, more men and women have fallen to disease and sickness in combat than actual bullets,” said 1st Sgt. Michael Kagle, the first sergeant for A Company, Headquarters and Support Battalion, Marine Corps Base. “It’s my responsibility to make sure these Marines are living in as close to a disease and germ free environment as humanly possible.”
Kagle, who has been the A Co., first sergeant since Feb. 10, stepped on the yellow footprints at Parris Island Nov. 22, 1983. With 22 years of service his belt, Kagle has learned one or two things about the importance of field day.
“From what I’ve found through talking to health officials, mold and mildew, which primarily build up in showers and air vents, is the number one cause of sickness in the barracks,” said Kagle. “Field day plays a vital role in keeping Marines healthy and mission capable.”
One of the biggest issues Marines have with field day is, simply, the need for it. As grown men and women, some Marines feel they should be trusted to complete a task as easy as cleaning their room.
“I’ve walked through many a barracks room during my time as a leader in the Marine Corps,” said Kagle. “If you give a Marine the option to clean his room, nine times out of 10, he’s probably not going to do it. By having a designated day, I know the job will get done.”
The morning after field day, Kagle and Capt. Cheryl Armstrong, the A Co., commander, inspect all 44 occupiable rooms of barracks HP 55.
“We go by the three strikes (discrepancies) and you’re out rule,” said Kagle. “When I was a junior Marine, they used to go to the extreme and do things like making sure your pillow was fluffed to the proper volume. We don’t go that in-depth, but Marines still need to put forth an effort if they hope to pass.”
If a room does fail inspection, its occupants are required to re-field day on the weekend. Their staff noncommissioned officers must also be present to supervise and inspect the room upon completion.
“In my entire Marine Corps career, I never failed field day inspection once; I loved my weekends too much,” said Kagle. “I figured from the start that the more time I invested in doing it right the first time, the more liberty I would have. ‘Give me liberty or give me death.’”
But for some, the consequences of failing are not enough of a deterrent. Kagle had to figure out another way to get his Marines motivated for field day. Enter Mr. Ducky.
“We live in a generation of young people who ask the question ‘Why? What’s in it for me?’” said Kagle. “After watching the show Survivor a few times, I got the idea for an immunity idol, an incentive program for the Marines.”
Mr. Ducky, an inflatable duck given to Armstrong by a former inhabitant of HP 55, is awarded to the cleanest room each Friday. The winners of Mr. Ducky are given a free passing grade for the next week’s field day inspection.
“If we walk by a room and see Mr. Ducky sitting on a rack, we just keep on walking,” said Kagle. “It doesn’t matter if we see an unsecured wall locker or secretary, as long they did a general cleanup, then they’re good to go.”
Room 205, the first to claim the coveted Mr. Ducky, wasn’t exactly what you would call a model of cleanliness. In the weeks prior to their victory, they had failed field day due to an unsecured wall locker and flooded their room by hanging clothes on the sprinkler system. Needless to say, the win came at a critical time.
“When we failed, our staff (noncommissioned officer) made us field day on Saturday,” said Pfc. Craig Mittendorf, a legal service support specialist with A Co., Headquarters and Support Battalion. “He made us take everything from the room and stage it outside. Basically, we did it the way it should be done every week.”
Naturally, Mittendorf and his two roommates got the message loud and clear. When the following Thursday arrived, with glass cleaner in one hand and paper towels in the other, they were ready for war.
“From what I hear, it was our squeaky clean windows that put us over the edge,” said Mittendorf. “You never know what’s going to make the difference between just passing or winning Mr. Ducky, but as long as you pay attention to detail and take care of the little things, you shouldn’t have to worry about failing.”
Though field day may not be one of the most popular traditions among Marines, it is something that will surely be around for years and years to come.
“The barracks isn’t a college frat house,” said Kagle. “You can either work with me or work against me. But one way or another, the job is going to get done. Mission accomplishment is foremost.”