By 1stSgt Crouch
1stSgt Crouch served in the United States Marine Corps for 23 years, including four years as a Drill Instructor at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island and two years as a Drill Instructor at Navy Officer Candidate School in Pensacola, Florida.
My first speculations of becoming a Marine Corps Drill Instructor began when I was about ten years old. I was a big fan of Gomer Pyle and loved the role of Sergeant Carter played by Frank Sutton. Then there were the stories my father would tell of his Drill Instructors from 1956 coupled with some great movies I stumbled across in my teens such as The DI, Tribes, and The Boy’s In Company C.
Sowing The Seeds
As a recruit I was in awe of the Drill Instructors, I wanted to be like them. Later in my career I was selected to be on the drill platoon for an upcoming Commanding General Inspection. GYSGT Thomas Dawson ran the drill platoon; he was fresh off the drill field and really knew how to motivate Marines. After those two months of daily interaction with him I was hooked, and I solicited orders for the drill field.
I went and got my hair cut even though I had not received a confirmation of my request for orders to DI school. I went from carrying a comb to a flat top. My wife knew nothing of my desire to be a DI and was not impressed with the haircut; she looked at me like I was a stranger. When I told her I had solicited orders to DI school, support from her was not something I got in return. Unfortunately HQMC would not grant me my request until I served one more year in my new MOS. I had attended a school for F/A-18 engine rebuilding the year prior and I was told to wait another year. I spent the next year preparing for the physical challenges that I knew would be present at DI school. It seems regardless of the preparation time available, it is never enough.
Finally I Get My Orders
A year later, I got my wish and I was slated for Drill Instructor Class 1-87, which would start on October 13th, 1986. The day before school, I was full of apprehensions and thought I would seek out some good advice from my neighbor who lived two houses down across the street. In fact, on my block there were four Drill Instructors but I had never spoken to any of them. They were rarely at home, but that day I noticed the one who lived closest to me was in his driveway washing his car. I began my trek to introduce myself and seek advice. As I reached the halfway point I felt this strong intuition to turn around and go back to the house, something just did not seem right plus I did not want to feel like an insecure wimp.
My orders instructed me to report to DI school at 0700. Knowing the Marine Corps doctrine of always be fifteen minutes early I decided to be twenty minutes early. As I neared the steps, I heard complete chaos from the school instructors. They were chewing some butt on some of my fellow students who thought they would be super early too. I halted in my steps and skedaddled to the shadows of a nearby tree until it was about 13 minutes before start time.
There were ten Drill Instructors at the school and students by the droves were marching in. I was fortunate to get through and into the large classroom without being noticed. Those who waited until the five-minute mark to show up got reamed real good. You could hear several Drill Instructors ripping them apart for being so damn lazy, showing up at the last minute. Then there were those Marines who showed up with hair long enough to require a comb and worse yet were the few who wore a mustache. Although there were no regulations prohibiting long hair or mustaches, it was common knowledge that Parris Island Drill Instructors had clean shaven faces and sported either a flat top or a high and tight.
In all there would be 120 students of which only a few of us were volunteers. A clipboard was passed around and we were to indicate whether or not we were volunteers. At that time in the Marine Corps, you had more to lose than gain by going to the drill field. Incredibly long hours at work, sleeping in the office every 3rd or 4th day, no family life, high divorce rates, and being punished via the UCMJ for small infractions resulting in ruined or stagnated careers. This seemed common knowledge to all Marines attending.
Marines understood one thing on the first day: life would no longer be the same as a Marine. Any student who failed a test twice was dropped and sent back to their command with an adverse evaluation affecting retention and promotion. All events required an 80% to pass. You could also be dropped from the school for attitude or having lost too many points on personnel inspections at any time throughout the school. The only safe way to squirm out of the hardship duty was to be found psychologically unfit or to be injured. Of course to ensure that you did not scam the system, they would not give you the psychological evaluation until a week before graduation. We were asked questions about our childhood, were we physically abused, our own boot camp experience (we train the way we were trained concept) and our own fist fighting experiences. Then they would ask you hypothetical scenario-based questions “If a recruit were to cuss you out and spit on you, what would you do?” or “What would you do if a recruit punched you?” and other leading questions as such. Of course we lied; we wanted the doctor to think we had complete control of our emotions. Even those who hated the concept of being assigned DI duty involuntarily wanted to graduate at this point after all the hell they had been through.
Realizing How Close I Came To Screwing Up
After the first hour of administrative issues conducted by the S-1 Administration Chief, the school staff was introduced to us. The Director of Drill Instructor School, First Sergeant, Chief Drill Instructor and the ten Squad Instructors. Each Marine could have walked off any Marine Recruiting poster. Their military bearing, fitness and intensity seemed legendary. Then my heart sank. The Drill Master was SSGT Eldon Brisbin. I recognized him as living on my block about four houses down, I passed his house every day, although we never spoke to one another. Then GYSGT Stanley Wiggins was introduced. He was the Marine who lived across the street from my house and to whom I was going to seek advice. What a close call. Seems that the good Lord is always looking out for me, and kept me from making an embarrassing error in judgment.
Meeting My Squad Instructor
We were broken up into ten squads and assigned a Squad Instructor. I was assigned to 3rd squad, GYSGT Kelly. We were all told that after the next break, we were to line up outside our Squad Instructor office and report in for initial counseling. When I reported into GYSGT Kelly, he stood up from his desk and said “Sergeant Crouch, welcome to Drill Instructor school …” and he continued to rattle on for about three minutes about what I can expect from him and this school. I answered questions he had about my career experience to date. At the end of this initial meeting, he really pissed me off as he gestured to shake my hand and met me half way before pulling his hand back and saying “On second thought, I will shake your hand if you graduate”. How pompous, I thought. From that point forward I had little respect for the man. I was an outstanding Marine who had an exemplary record, one of only a few volunteers and he wants to act as though Drill Instructors are too good to shake the hand of common Marines?
In that first week he broke his leg and really became useless. They should have divided us up and given us to the other Squad Instructors but they did not. He was never present. Other classes were getting great guidance from their Squad Instructors and our class was left in the dark. Finally after three weeks, a couple of the other Squad Instructors realized our plight and began sharing information with us
Sergeant Crouch is Naïve
Thursdays throughout the Marine Corps are when Field Day (cleanup of barracks and work places) is conducted. My squad was assigned outdoor cleanup. It was about 20 minutes before dusk when my body ached all over from the PT program and lack of sleep. I had been vigorously raking leaves for an hour in the hot, humid South Carolina weather when I decided to take a momentary break. I stood for a period of maybe ten seconds with one hand on my hip and the other supporting my body as I leaned on the rake, when I heard the window crank open from one of the Squad Instructor offices.
GYSGT Wiggins: “SERGEANT CROUCH, COME HERE”.
SGT Crouch: I ran over to the window about 25 yards away and halted and reported “SERGEANT CROUCH REPORTING AS ORDERED GUNNY, I MEAN GUNNERY SERGEANT WIGGINS”. I was still having a hard adjustment to this regimented Marine Corps approach to protocol, as I had spent seven years in the laid back aviation community.
GYSGT Wiggins: “Do you know why I called you over here Sergeant Crouch”?
SGT Crouch: “WHY YES GUNNERY SERGEANT, WE’RE NEIGHBORS. I LIVE ACROSS THE STREET FROM YOU AND YOU WANTED TO GET TO KNOW ME”.
GYSGT Wiggins: With a look of total astonishment (I realized at this moment before he replied I screwed up again) “NO SERGEANT CROUCH, THAT IS NOT WHY I CALLED YOU OVER HERE. YOU HAD YOUR HAND ON YOUR HIP. YOU COME SEE ME AFTER PT TOMORROW MISTER “I WANT TO GET TO KNOW THE DRILL INSTRUCTOR””.
The Next Day
The following day after another grueling 2 ½ hour PT session we were told we had 30 minutes to be in the Charlie uniform for inspection. I reported directly to GYSGT Wiggins’ office as instructed in my PT gear. After executing the office entry procedure I was standing six inches and centered from his desk.
SGT Crouch: “Sergeant Crouch reporting to Gunnery Sergeant Wiggins as instructed Gunnery Sergeant”.
GYSGT Wiggins: “What is the uniform of the day Sergeant Crouch”?
SGT Crouch: “Gunnery Sergeant, the training event that just ended is the PT uniform and is the yellow PT shirt, green shorts, white crew length socks and running shoes. The uniform of the day for the next event is the Charlie uniform with ribbons and no badges”.
GYSGT Wiggins: “Is PT over Sergeant Crouch”?
SGT Crouch: “Yes Gunnery Sergeant”.
GYSGT Wiggins: “Then come see me in the uniform of the day before the scheduled inspection”.
SGT Crouch: “Aye Aye Gunnery Sergeant”. I executed my office exit procedure and ran as fast as I could to the barracks across the street, showered and threw my uniform on and got back to his office just before time was up.
SGT Crouch: “Sergeant Crouch reporting to Squad Instructor Gunnery Sergeant Wiggins as Instructed”.
GYSGT Wiggins: “BEGIN”
SGT Crouch: I was dumbfounded, what the hell was he asking me to begin. “Begin what Gunnery Sergeant”?
GYSGT Wiggins: “I SAID BEGIN”.
SGT Crouch: I was still as clueless as I was ten seconds ago “Gunnery Sergeant Wiggins, this Marine does not know what he is to begin, would you please explain so I can begin”.
GYSGT Wiggins: He chuckled and looked at his partner in crime who shared the office GYSGT Marshall and then looked back at me and said “PUSHUPS YOU IDIOT”.
SGT Crouch: I looked at GYSGT Marshall in disbelief and he instantly replied “HE SAID PUSHUPS NOW YOU GET ON YOUR FACE AND PUSH”. I thought about it for a brief two seconds thinking I had never known a Marine to have to do punishment PT after graduating boot camp but obviously things were different outside of the comforts of the air wing. I dropped to the deck and started pushing. Of course my failure to count out the repetitions only added to the scrutiny I was receiving. After about one minute I was told to get up and I thought to myself “This wasn’t so bad, I am not even tired”.
GYSGT Wiggins: “Shut the door and resume pushups, I don’t want you distracting students”. I would know the meaning of tired after this office visit and I also thought students doing punishment PT was not a sanctioned event, but who was I to challenge right from wrong, I wanted to be a Drill Instructor and would do just about anything to earn the coveted title.
We were told prior to the first PT session that we were to always keep one of our ID tags safely pinned to our PT shorts. This allowed Squad Instructors to demand the tags from us whenever they identified any discrepancy in cover, alignment, instep, or volume of cadence singing. The Squad Instructors ran beside the platoon, often backwards, and were looking for any screw-up on our part. They would shout “GIVE ME YOUR PT TAG MARINE”.
At the end of the 2 ½ hour PT session, all students who had surrendered a PT tag had to earn it back by doing wind sprints and other exercises, which would add another 20 minutes of misery to our day. I only had to surrender my tag once. I was singing cadence in formation on a run when I inhaled a bug. In the brief couple steps it took to clear my throat, I had failed to sing loudly and therefore was accused of lacking motivation and endurance. Trying to explain yourself was only seen as belligerence or being argumentative and would serve no purpose other than to highlight yourself to the Squad Instructors.
DI school during this era was eight weeks long. A couple years later it would be extended to 12 weeks. We were told there would be 20 personnel inspections of which 8 inspections would be scheduled and the remainder would be unscheduled. Inspections would be conducted at either the beginning of the first class in the morning or at the first class after lunch. For those 12 unscheduled inspections, which days and which part of the day was the big secret.
The standards were high. You had to have several uniforms ready at all times because you never knew what the uniform of the day was going to be. Frequently, the uniform of the day on the schedule was marked TBD (To Be Determined). Using the dry cleaners was not good enough. You had to press out the uniform to the standard set by the Squad Instructors.
School started daily at 0430 with roll call by our Squad Leaders and PT kicking off at 0515. School ended daily at 1800. Then it was several hours of uniform preparations and memorization of the drill manual and many other manuals that were being tested that week. Most students hit the rack around midnight or 0100. Since I lived in the local area I was not allowed to sleep in the open squad bay barracks directly across the street from DI school. Brown baggers, as we were called, were told we had to sleep at our house but we did have a wall locker in the recreation room that we had to use for storage of our uniforms. This was an added burden as it took 15 minutes to drive home and once at home there were the constant distractions of raising a family and being a spouse.
In later years the student barracks would be changed to real nice three-man room barracks about ¾ of a mile away. All students were required to sleep in the barracks regardless of whether they lived locally. During my eight weeks, I lived on about 2.5 – 4.5 hours of sleep daily. Sometimes I would still be up until 0200. Saturday and Sunday were our only days of rest and I would spend virtually all of it preparing for the next week.
Bonus points were given to those Marines who wore polished brass and spit-shined shoes. Being a nostalgic Marine and wanting to set the example, I opted for the bonus points. After all, I had been wearing polished brass and leather shoes for seven years. However, for each inspection I was getting dinged for my shoes and no bonus points for the polished brass. Not once did they ever ask if the brass was polished. I felt it was likely they had never seen such excellent brass and assumed it was gold anodized. I volunteered the information at the next inspection and I was chewed out for lack of military bearing and lost points for bearing and brass.
Then I was told that a special board would be convened to see if I had any potential to finish the school, as my poor performance on personnel inspections indicated I would likely fail the course before the end of the eight weeks.
I felt it was unfair. Very few of us Marines had the courage to try wearing polished brass, and by the fifth inspection only I and maybe two other Marines were still attempting the lofty goal of wearing polished leather and brass.
Having given up on my worthless Squad Instructor who was never available, I went to GYSGT Wiggins and asked for advice. His first reply was why I was not taking this up with my Squad Instructor and I told him GYSGT Kelly is never here. He looked at my brass and shoes and did not believe the brass was polished and had me remove my belt for closer inspection. He thought for certain it was gold anodized and as much said so. He was very impressed with the brass but said my shoes could use some work. He told me to take my shoes off and both he and GYSGT Marshall began polishing them.
GYSGT Wiggins: “You just stand there and watch, there are several methods to get a quality spit shine, you have to find out what works for you, we will show you our own techniques”.
What an important lesson I learned that day, be firm but fair. The same Marines who harassed me in the beginning were helping me. It was a lesson I never forgot: firm but fair. From that point forward, I never lost points for brass and leather and graduated DI school. I have this feeling GYSGT Wiggins said something to the other squad instructors regarding Crouch and inspections.
Becoming a Team Player
I started off with the goal of wanting to graduate number one. I had a pretty good chance at it, but around week four we had our first of two speech demonstrations called a TMI (Techniques of Military Instruction). I had tremendous confidence in my ability to do an excellent job, so I short changed myself in preparation time. I had never given the speech aloud when rehearsing. I also did very little practice time on it.
Instead I spent a lot of time working with three of my squad members who were not very good at conduct of close order drill. I was helping them master the art of drill. In doing so, I failed my TMI by speaking too long. I was asked at the end by the instructor what the hell happened, how is it that I could have spoken too long? I told him I spent all my time helping my squad mates practice their close order drill, and during my few TMI practice speeches, I did not speak aloud. I retested the TMI the following day and got a perfect score. However, my grade point average was in the gutter. I would finish the school with about a 94.6 GPA and that was at the lower half of the class standings.
It was also near the very end of week four that I reflected on my fatigue, marital pressure and constant stress from the school that I contemplated quitting and taking the adverse fitness report. However two things happened. One, in conversations I learned two other Marines were having the same thoughts. All this time I thought it was only me who was burnt out. And two, I just could not face the embarrassment of telling my father I could not hack it. He was a Marine for two years. He was my father and still a very proud Marine. That would have been just too difficult to handle: me letting him down. His frequent praise for what I had done in the Marines was too big of a hurdle to get over. So, I got over my self-pity and graduated on December 18th, 1986.
We had a mess night the evening before graduation. It was a fantastic time. When the kangaroo court was opened for fines, Mr. Vice stood and called my name:
Vice: “Sergeant Crouch”.
Me: “Sergeant Crouch, third squad Mr. Vice”.
Vice: “Sergeant Crouch, the entire class, class 1-87 and all of the Squad Instructors have requested that you be fined for suffering from a condition known as spring butt. It has been told to me that every Friday afternoon at 1600, when students were about to be dismissed for the weekend, you took up valuable time asking stupid questions delaying their departure, some visiting their families in North Carolina. Do you have anything to say for yourself”?
Me: There was no denying this, I did have a spring butt, seems that in every class or opportunity to interact with the staff I would stand and announce Sergeant Crouch, third squad, my question is . . . “Mr. Vice my only fault is having the courage to ask questions that many others had wanted to ask but they lacked the courage to ask”.
Mr. Vice: “I award you a fine of ten coins to the realm”. This meant that I had to give up ten dollars to the cash being collected. It was one of the few times I ever saw the Drill Master, SSGT Brisbin smile.
During our very last personnel inspection, three days before graduation, two of the Squad Instructors – GYSGT Marshall and SSGT Trudell – told me that I was going to graduate but did not feel I should be a Drill Instructor. They said I had a soft, weak demeanor and was unsuitable for the temperament of training recruits. My reply was “If you are judging my potential to train recruits based upon how I treat my fellow Marines I can understand this. I don’t treat Marines like recruits; they have already earned the title”. During our last two weeks it seemed that the other students could not wait to play the DI role, and were chewing out each other and any other Marine they saw for the slightest reason. I did not get into that mindset.
About six months later, I crossed paths with GYSGT Marshall and he said, “Sergeant Crouch, I was wrong about you. I have heard what a fine Drill Instructor you have become. I heard you are really good”. That compliment meant the world to me.
I Still Don’t Know Squat
Of all the schools I had attended, I noticed one commonality: I was still in need of On-The-Job-Training (OJT) upon graduation. However, when I graduated DI school, I felt so confident of myself I actually thought, “Finally I have attended a school which prepared me to do the job I was trained for without the need for OJT”. I would learn in the first week on the job how foolish I was to think that way.
What They Don’t Teach You at Drill Instructor School
I had expected to learn the secrets of how to get inside the mind of recruits and manipulate them. What I would soon find out is that the psychology of human behavior is learned in the trenches, training recruits by observation of the more experienced Drill Instructors, and through your own discovery of understanding what makes people tick.
Returning to DI School
After my two years as a Drill Instructor, I went back to the fleet and worked on airplanes again. However, after six months I began the process of requesting a second tour as a Drill Instructor. I finally got my wish and in October 1990, I was assigned to class 1-91. During the first day, I was asked, “Sergeant Crouch, are you going to be a course challenger or attend the entire three month course”? I opted for the course challenger approach.
Since I had already proven myself as a Drill Instructor, I would be afforded full privileges as a fellow Drill Instructor and not have to do anything but scheduled PT with the class. I would be fast tracked and out of the school in two weeks. Each day I would be taking one or two tests with the understanding that if I failed any event there would not be a retest, I would instead be rolled into the course as a full time student and have to endure the whole three months. What motivation to excel. I certainly did not want to do three months in DI school.
There were two other Marines with me as course challengers, a SSGT and a GYSGT. About the third day, the three of us were in our Charlie uniforms walking in step. When we were about 50 yards from the front of the school steps, an Instructor stepped outside:
Instructor: “STOP DEVIL DOGS – HOW ABOUT UNSCREWING YOURSELVES”.
Us: We looked at our uniforms, at each other and talked quietly about not seeing anything wrong when the Instructor barked, “HOW ABOUT GETTING IN ORDER BY SENIORITY OF RANK”. We looked like the Three Stooges as we changed places and resumed marching towards the school. I kept thinking, “Damn these Drill Instructors just don’t stop looking for errors”.
Setting the Example
When I checked into my room on Saturday, I spent the entire day organizing my wall locker and suggested my roommate do the same. Sgt Dixon’s reply was not what I expected, “I’m not worried, they can’t do anything to me until they give me the uniform preparation class,” he said.
“Look Sergeant Dixon. I am here for my second tour and I know what I am talking about,” I said with veteran authority. It fell upon deaf ears.
On Monday, check-in day at DI school, he had the audacity to park his vehicle (with a U-Haul trailer attached) in the First Sergeant parking spot. Everyone was told to walk to school, leave your vehicles at the barracks, but for some reason my roommate was off in his own world making up his own set of instructions. The First Sergeant walked on stage and shouted “WHO PARKED THEIR VEHICLE WITH A U-HAUL TRAILER ATTACHED OUTSIDE IN MY PARKING PLACE”?
Sergeant Dixon meekly stood up and replied, “I did First Sergeant”. The First Sergeant called him outside the classroom and the sound of Sergeant Dixon getting chewed off by an angry First Sergeant had a surreal feeling to it.
I Missed a Question on the Exam
Near the end of my two weeks of daily testing, I took the weapons written exam. I passed the test scoring in the mid 90s, but when reviewing the few questions that I did miss, I disagreed with the answer on a question regarding grenades. GYSGT Scott Booth, who was not only my neighbor across the street but also a friend from my first tour as a DI and now working as a Squad Instructor at DI school said, “Who cares, you passed”.
“Your test answer sheet is incorrect Gunny, and I can prove it,” I said.
“Look Gunny, I missed the same damn question a year ago when I was a course challenger and I chose the same answer as you. I too challenged the question but lost. You missed the question,” said GYSGT Booth.
I took my time and spent maybe five minutes looking for the answer and I found it. I waited for him to return to the break room where I had taken the exam so I could show him. When he arrived I said, “here it is,” as I pointed to the weapons manual.
After about ten seconds of him studying what I showed him, he lost it and threw the book across the room. I was taken aback because I did not see why this was a big deal. So I asked, “Scott, what’s wrong with you”?
“I failed the weapons exam when I was a course challenger last year, and this one question I knew I had answered correctly. But I could not find the proof. If I had found it, I would have passed the test and would not have been recycled into the regular class for three months”.
I laughed because I thought it was funny it took him a year to learn he could have passed the test. Scott, however, was not seeing the least bit of humor in it.
I can only speak of DI School Class 1-87 (October 13th, 1986 – December 18th, 1986). Although I attended DI School two more times for each subsequent tour, I was a course challenger, not a student. Therefore, as a course challenger, I spent two weeks total taking all the tests – physical, performance and academic.
We had 13 squad instructors, one of whom was a female. Parris Island always had a female squad instructor because they needed to be a role model for the future female DIs.
Each squad instructor was a GYSGT, however, the female position was allowed to be a SSGT. Female squad instructors would be assigned male students as well. We did have one male SSGT squad instructor with broken time. He was allowed to be at DI school, which turned out to be a wise choice. SSGT Brisbane was the most professional Marine I have ever witnessed to this day.
The role of the squad instructors was to be the subject matter expert on an aspect of being a Drill Instructor. This subjects included drill master, SOP, physical fitness, inspections, and others. In addition to teaching classes, they also conducted a weekly counseling evaluation of your performance each Friday, and should have behaved like a good mentor to help you succeed. My own squad instructor was worthless, but a few of the others were absolutely awesome, GYSGT Wiggins, GYSGT Marshall and SSGT Brisbane were of tremendous help.
DI School was 8 weeks of hell when I went through. By 1990 the course changed to 12 weeks.
Attrition was high. You could quit, but then you would have an adverse performance evaluation. Any chance of future promotion or retention was ripped from your hands. You would also be sent back to your old unit – another layer of shame!
If you failed any test, academic, physical or performance, you would be retested in 24 hours. Fail it again and you are kicked out of school, bad fitness report (performance evaluation) and back to your old unit with likely your terminal rank or lagging a few years in promotion from that point on.
DI School Attrition
Most attrition was from failure to memorize the drill manual. Each week, you would have to memorize 5-7 new drill movements. They started out at about 3/4 of a page in length. By the end of the school, the movements were each about two pages in length. You never knew which drill movement card you would pull from the instructor’s hand. When you pulled your card and looked at it, chances are it was not the movement you were hoping to get. The first Marine would be given 5 minutes to prepare (study his notes). Then as he or she was about to march out 25 yards to be tested, the 2nd Marine would pull their card from the hands of the squad instructor and have until the 1st Marine was finished to be prepared.
You were graded on your ability to memorize verbatim, in proper sequence, each word and sentence. Your military bearing, command voice (hence why the 25 yards away) and overall effectiveness was evaluated. Every error, regardless of how minor, was a lost point. Lose 21 points (on a 100 maximum score) and you fail. The verbatim sequencing caused the most errors.
The second most failures came from personnel inspections. You would receive 20 graded inspections. Only some were known, others were random. You had to be ready for inspection twice a day with a fresh shave each time, 1st class after PT and 1st class after lunch. No arm fold wrinkles in the sleeves, no sit down creases in the trousers, fresh edge dressing, perfect brass – these were all expectations.
Sleep deprivation was the rule. I maintained about 3.5 – 4.5 hours of sleep daily. The rest of the time was 100% focused on passing school. Weekends were ours to do with as we please. For me the pace really didn’t change.
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