Today, those hoping to become one of the few and the proud are facing a higher set of standards.
Sgts. Cory Smith and Joel Slaymaker, of the U.S. Marine Corps' recruiting substation in Cape Coral, estimated that they sit down and interview between 25 and 30 potential recruits each month. However, only a small percentage of those interviewed will be eligible to enlist, be a good fit and be interested.
"Probably about seven or 10 will end up actually making it," Smith said.
Prior to enlisting, Slaymaker thought people just signed up and handed given a uniform.
"That's totally a big misconception," he said.
There are various reasons for why a large percentage of those interviewed do not become Marines. Sometimes people pick a different path, while others simply may just not be right for the branch.
"We're the gateway to this organization," Smith said, noting that it can be as basic as attitude.
With recent cuts to the U.S. military, the bar also has been raised for recruits.
"With the budgets and everything going on - standards have gone up quite a bit," Smith said.
For example, potential recruits undergo an entry level exam as part of the enlistment process. A score of 30 or higher was once considered passing. Today, recruits must score 50 or higher to be eligible.
Eligibility requirements in other areas have become more stringent, as well. Medically speaking, certain allergies or prior injuries that were once acceptable can now result in a disqualification. Even tattoos, depending on subject matter, size and placement, can disqualify a potential recruit today.
"The tattoo policy used to be a lot more lenient," he said.
The Cape substation, at 1242 Pine Island Road S.W., Suite 16, opened in 2009. When the Fort Myers substation closed two years ago, the operations were relocated to the Cape site, according to Smith.
About three months ago, the Marines opened a new substation in Fort Myers.
Along with focusing on their recruiting efforts, staffers at the Cape location are responsible for developing the young men and women who have enlisted physically, mentally and socially.
"We want to put in the best and the brightest, the finest and the fittest," Slaymaker said.
Recruits must be at least 15 years of age and a high school graduate or on track to graduate.
The Marines offers a delayed entry program that enables high schoolers going into their senior year to enlist, Slaymaker said. By signing up a year in advance, recruits can lock in when they leave for boot camp and their job of choice. It gives the Marines a year to develop recruits into mature individuals.
The Marines are the Force in Readiness. There are currently about 180,000 actively serving.
Recruits are required to serve a minimum of four years active duty. Following three months of boot camp, they can go into the School of Infantry or undergo a month of combat training then enter school for job training. There are more than 360 occupations, from legal and mechanics, to meteorologists.
Whether an infantry or supportive role, recruits are stationed once their schooling is complete.
The U.S. Marines have air, land and sea capabilities.
"There are things that make us pretty valuable," Smith said.
"The Marine Corps is the smallest branch, aside from the Coast Guard," he added.
Marines can be anywhere in the world within 24 hours.
Slaymaker explained that the Marines is unique because recruits have the opportunity to grow.
"The discipline and the leadership that we install into our Marines, we don't wait until they're in their higher ranks," he said.
For example, Slaymaker enlisted at age 19 and focused on aircraft maintenance, knowing nothing. After a few years, he took over a shop of about 12 Marines. By age 24, Slaymaker was overseeing a division of about 60 Marines and an operation valued at having $5 million to $10 million in assets.
"They have a lot more potential for success when they get out," he said of Marine recruits.
While on active duty, tuition assistance is available for those serving. According to Slaymaker, 100 percent of the tuition is covered and Marines can enroll in a local institution, online or on base.
He noted that inactive Marines are covered by the post-9/11 GI bill. The bill covers 36 months of tuition, plus housing, for those who have completed the minimum four years of active duty.
Those interested in enlisting in the U.S. Marines can contact the Cape substation at (239) 458-1162, (239) 458-0482 or (239) 458-0605 and speak to a recruiter. Walk-ins are also always welcome.
For more information about the Marines, visit: http://www.marines.mil/.