My Marine Corps Boot Camp "Daze"
A Different World
When I arrived at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot at San Diego, California, at zero dark 30 one morning, life as I had known it abruptly changed. There were no more patronizing recruiters promising you a “Rose Garden” if you enlisted. Instead there was a crew of rude, ill tempered drill instructors screaming and yelling to get your butt off “their bus ” or face any number of unpleasant alternatives. From that point on you learned to move immediately when commanded.
San Diego was much warmer and in stark contrast to the cold of Milwaukee, WI. I had just left after signing on the dotted line. The DI’s (drill instructors) quickly assembled us on yellow footsteps painted on the asphalt from tallest to shortest. I was at the end being only 5’4”. And that turned out to be a blessing.
The First Question
The first question came from the biggest, meanest DI of them all. “Do we have any prior service people here?” he bellowed. Since I had previously served in the U.S. Army, my hand instantly shot up. Finally, I was going to get some recognition, I reflected. Fortunately, the DI didn’t spot me since I was at the rear of the formation. Instead, a fellow enlistee in the front who came with me from Milwaukee shouted in the affirmative. He had been in the Army also.
This individual was promptly ordered to “give him 50 push-ups” for having the audacity to have been a “dog face”. My Army uniform shirt I wore, thinking it would alert them to the fact they had a natural born leader in their midst, quickly made it into a nearby trash can. The fantasies I had entertained on the trip there of becoming platoon leader or gaining of any prominence due to my extensive military knowledge vanished. I never brought the subject up again. The others who had admitted previously having been in some other “2nd rate outfit” were continuously harassed during the rest of basic training.
I soon discovered why all prior service individuals from other branches of the armed forces are required to retake recruit training. They have to learn where they are. No matter where they’re at, Marines think they are on a ship! So, if you’re not familiar with naval terminology you’ll quickly find yourself a very confused individual.
Your hat is now a “cover”. You can’t lean on the “bulkhead” (wall). You have to swab a “deck” (floor). “Top side” is upstairs and things are located “portside”, “starboard” “aft” and a bathroom is now a “head”. And never pay attention to “scuttle butt” (rumors). Get the picture?
The first lesson learned is humility. As a new recruit you are immediately downgraded to a position of “the lowest form of life on the planet”. Without further ado we were ordered to tie our shoe laces together with the person whoever was next to you. This was done to teach us our right from our left. Then we began a long, slow, arduous march to our new living quarters with the DI literally commanding “left, stop, right, stop”, until we reached our destination. I remember this as being an extremely humiliating experience for me. After all, I had been in the Army before.
However, I was somewhat confused. The DI was issuing commands, but in a completely unintelligible language. The Marines have a unique style entirely all their own when calling marching cadence. They are actually speaking English. But the accent and pronunciation placed on the words leave them very hard to understand until you get accustomed to them.
Early the next morning found my platoon (approximately 60 men) undergoing preliminary physical fitness testing. They wanted to know what kind of shape our herd was in. Other new platoons around us were doing the same. The tests consisted of pull-ups, sit-ups and a 3 mile run for time. There was always a fair amount of competition between the different platoons making up our company. Fortunately, I had kept myself physically fit.
I breezed through the first 2 events doing 20 pull-ups and 90 sit-ups in 2 minutes to score 100 points in each. My DI was duly impressed. He immediately marched me over to an adjoining platoon where he proudly stated to their DI, “Here’s my ‘Mighty Mouse’, where’s yours?” This DI hollered for Private so-and-so who hastily appeared. He was a tall long-legged individual to say the least. He was also to become my fiercest competitor in the final physical fitness tests for graduation. He bested me by 4 points in the finals. His advantage was those long legs in the 3 mile run. My short legs just weren’t built for that. However, I made an exceptional showing of 2nd place out of over 600 other participants.
The following weeks were spent getting immunizations, haircuts, fitness training, occupational specialty testing (determines what type job you are best qualified for) and a variety of educational classes required to graduate. The weeks swiftly passed and although I had been through boot camp once before, I still found Marine training extremely challenging.
As graduation day approached our company DI’s and commanding officers began examining our test results and other pertinent information. During this process, the secret I had so far managed to conceal came to light. The senior Drill Instructor wasn’t a happy camper. But then again I don’t think he ever had been.
I was summoned to his office and the “Spanish Inquisition” began. “Why didn’t you inform us you had been in the Army?” he asked irately. “Don’t you realize you could’ve been promoted when you graduated?” I answered I was fully aware of that fact. “Then why didn’t you tell us?” he asked quizzically.
My answer summed it all up. “It wouldn’t have been worth all the extra aggravation sir…things were tough enough already!”