MARINE CORPS AIR STATION YUMA, Ariz. --
A young man, dressed in a white and dark blue uniform, claps against wood as a glint of spinning steel flashes across his face. He is a member of the Marine Corps Silent Drill Platoon, which performs across the world, demonstrating the Corps’ discipline, precision and dedication to tradition.
But who chooses these men? Who teaches them the time-honored tradition of representing the Marine Corps with their silent performances?
Cpl. Robert Dominguez, a 26-year-old native of Selma, Calif., serves as the platoon’s drill master, who is tasked with memorizing, teaching and handing down the Silent Drill 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, 2009. “I am the keeper of the Silent Drill Platoon’s traditions.”
The manual for slide drill is kept by the drill master, who passes it to the oncoming drill master, and has remained unchanged since its creation.
“Years back, 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 their drill manual from boot camp, called landing party manual, but slide drill is very different. Slide drill uses no verbal commands and modifies common drill maneuvers, such as port arms, to best fit the platoon’s style and varying formations.
“You really can’t compare slide drill to LPM,” said Dominguez. “It’s very difficult to learn. 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,” said Dominguez.
Dominguez trains and chooses the platoon members during their initial training. He determines which candidates make the cut and which ones get cut. Even after that, he decides which members make up the “marching 24,” which are 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 Lance Cpl. Perry Bell, who is on 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, said Dominguez.
“Performing is an adrenaline rush,” he said. “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,” said Dominguez. “The picture is bigger than us. To the public, we represent the Marine Corps.”
By selecting the Marines who make up the platoon, teaching them and choreographing the drill sequence for the year, Dominguez effectively determines who will be the face of the Marine Corps.