Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island --
Ashley and Francesco Marzio have never been married outside of recruit training.
Ashley, a staff sergeant, and Francesco, a sergeant, have spent their entire marriage serving as drill instructors at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, S.C, a roughly three-year tour spent balancing the demands of making Marines and sustaining a relationship.
Now, as their time as DIs comes to a close, they are looking forward to the next step in their relationship while leaving behind a legacy of having helped create hundreds of Marines.
Although Ashley and Francesco are at similar points in their careers, they both arrived via very different means. Most DIs are volunteers, but Ashley was selected to be a DI via a selection process from Headquarters Marine Corps. Francesco was also selected, but had planned to volunteer anyway as being a DI was one of his career goals.
“I wanted to be a drill instructor because I wanted to wear the campaign cover at some point in my career,” he said. “I also lost a close buddy of mine in Afghanistan...[him and I] went to recruit training together. When our senior drill instructor asked who wanted to be a drill instructor, out of 70 or 80 recruits he was the only one who stood up. So I’m doing this not only for myself but for him.”
Ashley, an intelligence specialist by trade, and Francesco, an individual material readiness list asset manager, were both stationed at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar when they were selected to attend Drill Instructor School in January 2017, although they had never previously crossed paths.
During DI school, both would be temporarily sidelined while recovering from minor leg ailments. During this time, the two would meet and their relationship developed.
“We were crutch buddies,” said Ashley. “We’d always wait for each other, so we'd start talking and communicating. We grew to be great friends. We didn’t start talking on a romantic level until after about a year on the island.”
Ashley’s story paints a more complex relationship that slowly grew over time. Francesco’s version differs slightly and is hotly contested by his wife.
“So we were there in DI School and the day of check in and I walked into the main classroom and I looked over and my now wife looked at me and one of her ribbons was messed up,” said Francesco.” So I walked over and was like “um, Ma’am your ribbon is messed up” and boom, she looked at me and got googly-eyed and here we are now.”
Regardless of which version one believes, both stories end with the two getting assigned to their respective battalions in April 2017. Francesco would be assigned to Hotel Company, 2nd Recruit Training Battalion, while Ashley would be assigned to Papa Company, 4th Recruit Training Battalion. They would be wed in November 2018.
During their respective tours, the Marzios went through many of the regular stresses that DI families go through. DI duty is tough and demanding and it’s not uncommon for DIs to work 90-120 hours a week depending on which phase of the training cycle they are on. Being a dual-DI family, the Marzios had both unique challenges and advantages compared to other DI families.
Due to the work hours, the two rarely had days off together. The Marzios would take every chance they could to spend time together, even if it was a simple lunch break. The two will joke about their house often being empty due to their demanding work schedules.
“Our dogs live in our house,” Ashley joked. “We don't live in our house. We pay the dogs’ mortgage.”
There were also advantages to both being DIs. The Marzios were able to understand the challenges they were facing individually and were able to help each other undergoe the rigors of recruit training.
“We don’t have to explain much to each other,” said Francesco. “If she tells me she is on duty, I understand the process. We see other Marines struggling to explain things to their spouse and it gives us an advantage because we understand each other.”
“We have yet to be married outside of being drill instructors,” said Ashley. “So we’re probably the best married couple while being drill instructors because that’s all we know. We both understand each other’s jobs and what's demanded of us. It made us stronger and more united.”
The two would even help each other train recruits on occasion. Francesco, having obtained the billet of senior drill instructor during his tour, would give Ashley advice from a SDI perspective.
“Just recently he came to help me with my platoon and teach drill,” she said.” He’s had so many platoons he can talk to them in a different manner than I do. We’ve done that a couple of times. We [collaborate] on a lot of things.”
Although the depot can be a physically small place, the Marzios only occasionally crossed paths while on duty. They have speculated as to whether any recruits have figured out the connection between the two.
“I wonder if anybody’s ever put two and two together,” said Francesco. “I wonder if anybody ever looked at her blouse, seen Marzio, and then looked at my blouse and seen Marzio and tried to figure it out in their head. I can picture the recruits with hamsters spinning in their head trying to figure it out.”
Francesco’s final platoon graduated Jan. 24 and Ashley’s final platoon graduated Jan. 31. They estimate combined they have trained roughly over 800 recruits into becoming U.S. Marines. Both Marzios will be transferring to North Carolina, with Ashley being assigned to 2nd Intelligence Battalion at Camp Lejeune and Francesco being assigned to Marine Aviation Logistics Squadron 26 at Marine Corps Air Station New River.
Both agreed that their times as DIs left a deep impact upon their lives.
“I’m trying to create legacies, a future for the Marine Corps...like my drill instructors did for me,” said Francesco. I learned about time management. How to manage your time, people, and personnel. Time is not something we have a lot of.”
Ashley, who initially wanted to be a recruiter instead of a DI, grew to love the job during her time at MCRD PI.
“I love the process of recruit training,” said Ashley. “I love being a drill instructor. I love that you have a raw civilian on forming day one and training day 70 they are a completely different person. The process is magical in a sense and sometimes a miracle.”