For his continued service in supporting the troops beyond the silver screen, Marine Corps General James L. Jones officially promoted him to the rank of Gunnery Sergeant in 2002, making him the first retiree to receive this honor.
On May 15, 2014, he accepts a new mission: “Saving Private K-9 With R. Lee Ermey” on the Sportsman Channel. G&A had the chance to talk with the Gunny about his military experience, movie career, firearms and Saving Private K-9 with R. Lee Ermey.
Wipe that disgusting grin off your face and check out our exclusive interview and a sneak peek video of the Gunny’s new show:
<h2>Q: When did you enter boot camp?</h2><strong>A:</strong> I arrived to Parris Island on April 3rd, 1961. I was a farm boy, so I was plenty strong, and I was very wiry. Weighed only 145 pounds. When I got out of boot camp, I weighed 160 pounds and was a little stronger even. It was a good experience. I was certainly not top of my class, because I was a little small. However, I could get the PT done and hump as well as anyone.
- <h2>Q: When did you enter boot camp?</h2><strong>A:</strong> I arrived to Parris Island on April 3rd, 1961. I was a farm boy, so I was plenty strong, and I was very wiry. Weighed only 145 pounds. When I got out of boot camp, I weighed 160 pounds and was a little stronger even. It was a good experience. I was certainly not top of my class, because I was a little small. However, I could get the PT done and hump as well as anyone.
- <h2>Q: Did you channel any of your own drill instructors’ traits into the character of Gunnery Sergeant Hartman?</h2><strong>A:</strong> Yes, I did. In fact, I can still close my eyes and they’re there right before my eyes. Their names were Staff Sergeant Spottenberg, Sergeant Deborg and Staff Sergeant Freestone. They loomed before my eyes any time they loomed. One of them was always there to straighten me up.
- <h2>Q: What were you issued as Recruit Ermey, and how did that compare with what you were issued at the end of your service?</h2><strong>A:</strong> I was initially issued an M1 Garand and herringbone utilities. At that time, those utilities were just being phased out. They had also gotten rid of Sergeant E4s and incorporated the lance corporal rank. Looking back, the M1 was my favorite. I had malfunctions with the M14. I realize the M14 is nothing more than a dressed-up M1 Garand, but Garands were built differently. The gas system was better.
- <h2>Q: Were there rifle and pistol expert badges on your uniform in those days?</h2><strong>A:</strong> Absolutely! Well, I didn’t have the chance to earn a pistol badge in boot camp. The M1911A1 was only issued to NCOs. If you were not an NCO, you just fam-fired the pistol. Once you made corporal, then the .45 was considered a firearm you had to qualify with.
- <h2>Q: You served 11 years during the Vietnam War in the Marine Corps. You arrived in Vietnam in 1968 and were a drill instructor for two years. How did you go from being a DI to landing a role in “Full Metal Jacket”?</h2><strong>A:</strong> When I was retired from the Marine Corps, I found myself outside of the Recruit Depot. I never really had any real friends. Growing up, brothers were the only ones I had to play with, so I didn’t have a reason to go home right away. Instead, I appeared in a couple of comedy clubs, but nothing really serious. Then, a buddy said [film crews were] shooting Vietnam War films in the Philippines. I got over there and worked as technical advisor on a few sets, including “Apocalypse Now.” I did five Vietnam War films by the time I got the call from Stanley Kubrick to work on “Full Metal Jacket” as an advisor. It was a chance to get my foot in the door and score the role of Gunnery Sergeant Hartman. They had already hired another actor to play the role, but real Marines don’t give up. You see, they filmed that backward. They shot the scenes about Vietnam first, then went back and shot the scenes about training at the Recruit Depot. I memorized the first scene, and, as technical advisor, I interviewed all of the extras. I gathered a bunch of them together and put them in a platoon formation such as they would be on the yellow footprints at the receiving barracks. I stopped by wardrobe and put on the uniform and Smokey Bear. I interviewed those extras as a drill instructor and had Leon Vitale, Kubrick’s right-hand man, tape it. When Stanley heard the recording, he called me to his office and asked if I’d like to be Gunnery Sergeant Hartman. Once Kubrick saw the scenes, he said he wished he had known I could act. He wouldn’t have killed off Gunnery Sergeant Hartman the way he did so early on in the movie. He would have sent Hartman to Vietnam.
- <h2>Q: Did you bring back any war souvenirs?</h2><strong>A:</strong> I brought back a lot of money. I did have an AK47, but they didn’t let me bring it back. I collected a few odds and ends when I went back to Vietnam a few years ago. I started buying lighters. There were a lot of soldiers’ lighters still over there. A few were engraved, and I had this idea that I could come back and deliver them to their original owners. But then I realized they were mostly engraved with a rank and last name. Who knows how many Corporal Browns were over there.
- <h2>Q: Looking back, what are the most significant differences between the military then versus what it is now? Do you have any concerns for America’s fighting capability? </h2><strong>A:</strong> I do believe in the adage “There’s nothing tougher than a 20-year-old pissed-off Marine.” All the services have changed. I’ve been with the Marine Corps for 53 years. Most of the changes have been beneficial. We’re on the verge of a very huge step, and that’s females serving in combat. I’ve met a few female Marines who have graduated infantry training. It will be interesting to see how they sort out toilet facilities and unit cohesion. How are they going to billet male and female Marines? Certainly, these issues are going to be addressed, but I think that’ll create major changes in the near future. Life goes on.
- <h2>Q: Are you going back to the National Matches at Camp Perry this summer?</h2><strong>A:</strong> I always try to get back to Camp Perry every year. It doesn’t always work out with my schedule, but I hope to get back on that firing line this summer. I hope to be using a .223 space gun for Highpower matches that Dennis DeMille at Creedmoor Sports built for me. He was a Marine and national champion. When people look at his groups, they just cry. I call him “The Machine.”
- <h2>Q: Do the Marines at these matches ever sweat and worry that you’re going to snap back into drill instructor mode and lock them up?</h2><strong>A:</strong> They want me to! I’m probably the only guy in the world that gets asked to choke them. I’ve even had a guy ask me to choke his wife for a picture. I told him, “That’s your job.”
- <h2>Q: You now host “Saving Private K-9 With R. Lee Ermey” on the Sportsman Channel. Did you ever serve with K-9s during your time in service? </h2><strong>A:</strong>: I remember seeing K-9s, but not a whole lot. They were mainly working with [military police] as drug dogs. Today, K-9s are an important member of various teams, whether it’s with members of our military or law enforcement. Handlers develop an amazing relationship with their dogs, and that’s a part of what you get to see on the show. Guys would give their life to save their partners and vice versa. You’ve got to tune in to see it for yourself. Who doesn’t support our men and women in uniform, and who doesn’t love dogs? It should be a great show.
- <h2>Q: What can viewers expect to see on “Saving Private K-9 With R. Lee Ermey” when it launches on the Sportsman Channel May 15th?</h2><strong>A:</strong> This is a show that gives the audience the untold stories of working canines serving our military and police. K-9s are an important member of various teams. Handlers develop an amazing relationship with their dogs, and that’s a part of what you get to see on the show. These guys and their dogs would give their lives to save their partners. You’ve got to tune in to see it for yourself. Who doesn’t support our men and women in uniform, and who doesn’t love dogs? It should be a great show. From Afghanistan to Vietnam to the streets on our own soil, working dogs have protected their handlers and offer the teams they work with unique skills. The handlers finally get to share their stories.
- <h2>Q: How does it feel when you arrive at the Glock booth at a trade show and there’s a never-ending line waiting for an autograph or a grip-and-grin?</h2><strong>A:</strong> It’s always been that way. I’ve been working with Glock for 11 years now. The reason I choose to work with Glock? I don’t have to lie about it. If it’s not the best product, they won’t put it out. I’m not disparaging other pistols. I’ve got them all, including SIGs and Smiths. But I have 13 Glocks in my collection, and I’ve never had a malfunction with any of them.
- <h2>Q: More than 2 million have tuned in online to watch the “Wrong Guy” Glock videos on YouTube.</h2><strong>A:</strong> Have you seen those yet? They’re a lot of fun. After the tragedy at Newtown, everything was serious. But people need comedy. My manager of nearly 30 years, Bill Rogin, came up with that. Basically, it introduces comedy in sending a serious message about personal defense that makes sense. We’ve done about a dozen, and they’re always funny … “<a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a2gCFOtaZPo" target="_blank">Wrong Girl</a>,” “<a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6RNcFs-JwOQ" target="_blank">Wrong House</a>,” and everyone has seen “<a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vsVCHE7ayPE" target="_blank">Wrong Diner</a>.” On May 2nd we’re launching “<a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vTiLkkMCMQ4" target="_blank">Wrong Taxi</a>.” Guess what part I play?
- <h2>Q: You’ve hosted other history shows that spotlight interesting firearms including “Mail Call” and “Lock N’ Load With R. Lee Ermey.” Are there any guns that you want to experience shooting that you haven’t gotten around to yet?</h2><strong>A:</strong> I can’t think of a gun that I haven’t shot, except the black gun Dennis Demille at Creedmoor Sports built for me that I’m itching to shoot! I think I’ve shot just about every type of gun that’s been made.
- <h2>Q: What’s your go-to long gun?</h2><strong>A:</strong> That’s easy. M1 Garand. It’s the best rifle ever made.
- <h2>Q: What’s your go-to pistol?</h2><strong>A:</strong> Well, I’m partial to an M1911, but it requires a lot of maintenance and needs to be cleaned and cared for. It can’t hold a candle to the Glock, and the new G41 is my favorite .45. It was introduced at SHOT Show. I love it because it has the recoil of a 9mm. The recoil is designed to come straight back at you. There’s little muzzle rise.
- <h2>Q: You’ve traveled the world, most recently providing entertainment to our troops deployed in the Middle East with a sanitized version of Gunnery Sergeant Hartman’s monologue. Do you have plans to deploy for another tour and brave overseas comedy?</h2><strong>A:</strong> I would like to, and I don’t do it for money. The big problem is that it’s very difficult for any civilian to get over there right now. However, if the Commandant of the Marine Corps asked, I’d be the first one on the bus. I want to do another show because meeting troops every day was a great memory. We’d go to a unit, spend several hours and hand out a bunch of [challenge] coins. I’ve been over four times, and I can’t count the number of coins I’ve come back with. A good trip is usually worth 150 coins. I probably have more challenge coins from more interesting people than I’ll ever remember. I have two regulation footlockers filled with coins. My office is 3,500 square feet, and it has a chair rail with coins imbedded. I’ve got coins from Commandants and two coins from [Secretary] Rumsfeld. Sometimes I wonder how I’ll ever be able to display all of those coins.
- <h2>Q: What would you tell your younger self?</h2><strong>A:</strong> If I could do this sh*t over again, I wouldn’t change a thing. When I die, I want to come back as me. Maybe I’d tell myself to stop smoking earlier; maybe I’d get rid of the dip. There are a few bad habits I could do without. But life has been great for me.