An Excerpt of "Far From Sanctity"
I awoke feeling weak and fatigued in my bedroom with the radio still playing at a low volume as I sat up at the edge of my bed and lit up a Marlboro. My room hadn't changed much since I got out. The green IR netting hangs from the ceiling. My uniforms hang in the closet collecting residue from the dimly lit, smoke filled room. My jungle boots collect dust as they sit on the shelf above with my cover placed upon them. My sea bag and trunk containing the rest of my ruck sits below. My certificates and discharge hang on the walls in their frames. The Marine Corps colors still draped on the wall above my bed. Empty bottles of rum sit on the dresser across the room. A few sandbags hold down a reel of old rusty barbed wire that is thoroughly spiraled around the outside of the window which is covered with the wool GI blanket that I picked up from the barracks in Camp Horno.
I get up and go to the dresser and make another drink, polishing off what is left of another bottle of Sailor Jerry's Spiced Navy Rum as I wonder if it is day or night in the real world. I look at my phone. It's 0330, so I'll just have to wait until sun up to go fetch another bottle to continue drowning out the feelings of detachment along with memories in which some seemed to have been missing for some strange reason. It almost feels embarrassing now and I feel like I don't fit in anywhere in the world. In the military community or society in general. No where to go. No one to accept me as I am. No one understands any of it and most people immediately dismiss my experiences and hardships as (just another one of those losers trying to gain glory through a youth program, like the video game addicts who try to tell you how combat is.) No matter. Never mind.
I don't know what had sparked my interest in the military as young as the age of five years old and I have always wondered what caught my interest or why I considered the military at such a young age. Maybe it was that at the age of about four I discovered that I had been born into an evil dog eat dog world when me and my nephew met our first two bullies Bobby and Timothy. They would shoot us with BB guns, beat us with plastic bats, and at times would pretend to be nice and give us a ride around the block in the wagon and then flip us over into the rose bushes. Perhaps I saw something on TV that gave me the idea that the military culture was my best option at defending myself in this cruel and fucked up world. Maybe the military just runs in my genes through a long history of military family since I was adopted and don't know very much about my biological family.
But as a kid, my friends and I would run around the neighborhood in BDU's with toy guns mimicking scenes from war movies and pretend that an enemy was chasing after us. Every time a car would drive down the street we would all scatter and hide behind either a trash can, another car, or deep in the bushes until it had passed. We would also have conflicts with other kids in the neighborhood that we didn't get along with and we would come up with ideas for weapons and hideaways throughout the neighborhood. But despite any military significance I always had trouble with being a victim of bullying as I mentioned. Being made fun of for the birth mark on the back of my neck, to being forced to lick the sidewalk by a group of other kids, to being held up in the air by my throat and slid up the wall, all the way up the stairs by my sisters ex boyfriend. I don't know what it was about me but people just always seemed to enjoy or feel the need to try and belittle me. I guess becoming a Young Marine didn't help much either like I thought it would.
From the ages of thirteen to fifteen I briefly lost interest in joining the military and thought that the military bravado had finally run out in me. For a brief time I decided that I wanted to start a career either with the railroad or to become a bartender since I had recently discovered alcohol at the age of fourteen. For those couple of years I just did my own thing until one day out of the blue, I randomly decided that I still wanted to join the military after all. I figured that after high school I would just serve the minimal four years in the Corps and that would be it. That I could get a head start by joining the Young Marines. So I spoke with my mom and her boyfriend Craig who was a Marine in Vietnam. We started looking for connections and one of the things that Craig had said to someone at YMHQ on the phone was, "We really need to find someone who can help us out with this because its usually never easy to get someone this young to agree to do something like this!" He was ecstatic.
For those who don't know. The Young Marines is the U.S. Marine Corps' focal point through the Department of Defense for Youth Demand Drug Reduction. It is a volunteer organization for boys and girls ages 8 through 17. The program promotes physical fitness, self-discipline, leadership, teamwork and a healthy, drug-free lifestyle among youth. The organization was founded in the United States in Waterbury Connecticut on October 17, 1959 and was chartered on October 17, 1965 which then became its official birthday. Female recruits were added to the ranks in 1975 and the organization has spread around the world in countries including Japan, Germany and Australia.
Although the program's mission is to positively impact America's youth through a military fashion, the military can be a dangerous place. I don't think I realized what I was getting myself into, and if I was able to get a glimpse of what my life was going be like in the next ten years because of this decision, I may have taken a different path instead. However, this was just another youth program wasn't it? I expected to gain knowledge about the military and my country, but I didn't expect to gain that much knowledge. I was never interested in any other organization within the Department of Defense. I just wanted to be a simple Marine. Nothing more, nothing less. I guess sometimes in life you just stumble upon things by accident. Life just happens but maybe I should have become a Firefighter instead.
In the program
As we sat there I couldn't stop shaking. The room was decorated with IR netting and had model planes hanging from the ceiling as Young Marines walked in and out of the classroom, moving textbooks. "Do you know anything about the military?" the C.O. asked. Beforehand I thought that I did but wasn't able to answer his question because I didn't know anything about the military besides maybe military time. Some of the things you may be told upon enlistment: "You will not be treated according to your age. You will be treated as an adult. You will be given tasks and responsibilities that you will be required and expected to complete. You are going to be challenged throughout your time in the program and may be ordered to complete tasks that you do not want to do, but you will do them anyway. You will learn close order drill and military customs and courtesies that you will become accustomed to. Are you sure that this is what you really want to do?" This is what the C.O. told me.
Little did I realize what was about to happen to me in the next few years was going to change my life forever.
I almost said no. But why would I have? I signed the contract and all other forms required and headed outside where I was taught the basics like close order drill, commands etc. Recruit training for me was pretty simple. Recruits wear the red Young Marine national T-shirt with blue jeans and Go fasters (regular shoes). Learning how to do the four man push up was pretty fun and I still remember the time at Mt. San Gregorio when we were waiting for chow and I suddenly felt sick to my stomach. As soon as I thought my morning chow was about to come back up, I woke up confused with Young Marines standing around me. "Get him in the shade! Get him in the shade!" the C.O. sounded off. So I sat under the IR netting until afternoon chow was served. Later on a Young Marine had told me that they could feel the ground shake when my head hit the pavement, and that just before I blacked out I stared at the ground and said, "Look how big that ant is." Rule of thumb: Do not lock your knees at POA!
Anyway thirteen weekends passed by and I could finally wear the Young Marine uniform. I learned how to press my uniform, blouse my trousers, polish my boots, how to wear the cover properly and how to roll my sleeves. Dog tags go under the skivvie shirt. Boot laces are tucked inside your boots. I wish I could tell you that I had the traditional Young Marine graduation with all the parents taking pictures and having the Marine Corps Hymn being played like most Young Marine graduations. But I didn't. The Green Knights was a very small unit at the time. In fact my grades in school weren't ideal for enlistment qualifications but since the unit needed more troops, they accepted me. When I got home that day, I told my mom and Craig that I had made it. Craig looks at me and says. "Hold out your hand." I held my hand out as he placed a golden Eagle Globe and Anchor in my palm. "Semper Fi Marine," he said.
Anyway I was now apart of the Green Knights, 3rd Battalion, California Regiment of Young Marines. Sherman Indian High School in Riverside was where we were currently located and sort of reminded me of what MCRD SD looked like. We stayed there until we relocated to American Legion Post 328 in Norco, California where they had specially installed a set of pull up bars for us to use which were still there the last time I checked.
"Congratulations Staff Sergeant. Here's your regimental certificate," I said. My SSgt was the motard of the unit. You could go onto his MySpace page and your computer would freeze up. His profile would stretch out at about 5'x5' if you could take his page from the screen and pin it to a bulkhead. He had that much bravado on his page. Pictures of this and that of the Marine Corps. Movies like Jarhead and Saving Private Ryan were all over his page. At the regimental encampment in 2005 all he wanted to do was hang out with the Marines who were attached to our regiment instead of staying on track and performing his duties. He was rebriefed on what his duties were and in spite of this, he became upset and went AWOL. The scuttle? It was said that the regimental commander was shocked when he found this out but still had the certificate signed and issued to him anyway. Which is why I said, "Congratulations SSgt! Here's your regimental certificate. You made it. You did make it didn't you?" Me and a few other Young Marines poked fun at him until he finally said, "Shut the FUCK up before I put you in the hospital!" He was always serious and took everything the wrong way.
During a unit encampment near Camp Morningstar in Big Bear, our bivouac flooded when a storm came through. So I dug through my ruck and got out my poncho and put it on. SSgt got jealous of this and began criticizing me about not being able to handle the rain until our C.O. put him on blast about how I followed the gear list properly and how he hadn't. But anyway our unit gathered everything up and headed to Camp Morningstar just up the road and stayed the night in the main lodge. SSgt had brought his laptop along and let us watch Supertroopers but said that if we laughed too loud he would punch us in the fucking face!
Well from Private to Private First Class, it was time to take the Lance Corporal exam. I passed the Physical Fitness Test and written exams and was promoted to LCpl. There's a special ceremony when getting promoted to LCpl called "Lancing" where your C.O. and SSgt place the chevrons on both lapels and without putting the butterfly fasteners on the backs of each chevron, they both punch the pins into your chest. My C.O. got one pin in and my SSgt got both pins dead on and almost knocked me over. He then gently lifted my lapel as the pins were stuck into my chest and then pulled the pins out. When I got home and debloused, my chest was bright red that had three pricks of dry blood below both collar bones. This moment was one of my proudest. But today it would be completely intolerable due to the pussifying of society. Most parents and staff seem to have this new idea that the Young Marines is another program of opportunity for their child to "Play Marine," instead of looking at it from an educational point of view. Everyone knows that babying and pampering your kids will help them grow up knowing how to cope properly with this tied up twisted world right?
The first airshow that I ever went to was at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar. It was pretty fun and it was also the first time I'd witnessed an explosion in person rather than just seeing one on TV. A few of us were standing at one of the booths looking at things being sold when suddenly I felt the ground shake beneath my feet. At the same time I felt a gust of heat blow against my body similar to when you open the door to a hot oven. I looked up and to my right and saw a giant mushroom cloud followed by a tremendous BOOM! that echoed throughout the air station. Since we weren't told that this was just a part of the show, we all panicked and ran back to our bivouac. I thought that something bad had happened that was going to be disastrous until our C.O. explained that it was just a MAGTF demonstration. It was pretty exciting. Though I must admit I felt kind of stupid for being caught off-guard.
Well I had brought it to the attention to my C.O. that our unit needed service uniforms. So he had brought a handful of service uniforms that he had stowed away in some sea bags that he brought to drill one night so we all dug in. I took Alphas, Bravos and Charlies which were all properly modified for Young Marines. I had also taken a set of Marine Corps Charlies that fit me perfectly but still had LCpl ranks on the shoulders. I'm pretty sure by now, you know where this is headed. The difference is Young Marine Bravos and Charlies have chevrons placed on the collar instead of the sleeves and have the unit arc and Young Marine insignia placed on the left shoulder.
The little Devil at the Gradu
In 2005 during my days as a Young Marine while off duty, I spent most of my time hanging out at the nearby Marine recruiting office that was walking distance from my house. Staff Sergeant Palos and Gunnery Sergeant Miller were the recruiters at the time. I had learned a thing or two about recruiting procedures and went on field trips with the Recruiting Sub Station. The office was always cool during the summer which reminds me of the time a couple of Marines tried pulling a prank on the Army RSS that was right next door. They attempted to cut the power to the Army's AC but instead accidentally cut the power to our AC. That was miserable for a while.
It was kind of funny when one of the Army recruiters came walking in one day, and I could tell by his posture that something was on his mind. "Can I talk to you for a minute?" the Army recruiter asked Palos. They both walked outside so I couldn't really hear their conversation but when Palos came back in he said that the Army recruiter was pissed off because he thought that Palos was trying to "steal" the Army's poolees. I sort of remember a girl coming in and looking around a little before this happened come to think of it. Another one of the funny things I noticed was not only were there photos of Marines who graduated boot that were pinned to the bulkhead but also those recruits who failed boot. A couple of poolees faces were up on the bulletin board that said things next to them like "Pussy couldn't hack boot." or, "If you see him, beat his ass."
But besides both recruiters who didn't mind my company, the Marines there would pick on me and I would pick on them back. Sometimes I would be a smart ass and one of the Marines would shout, "Palos! Can't I just kick his ass!" But Palos wouldn't allow anything to happen.
But there were three Marines at this office, Dady, Cassidy, and Garland. Garland was currently a Poolee and was about to ship off to boot. Time went by and a few of my neighbors down the street who also knew Garland, invited me to attend Garlands graduation. I had remembered a time when me and the RSS had stopped at the gas station in El Cerrito coming back from Pendleton. Garland was standing outside of the van, talking on the phone with Gunny Miller when I heard him say, "Gunny you have no idea how fucking badly I want this!" Apparently there were some legal issues putting Garlands ship out date on hold.
HERE'S WHERE IT ALL STARTED! Thinking back on this, I got the idea of pissing Garland off by (Drum roll)... Showing up at his graduation in Marine Corps charlies. Yeah my neighbor tried talking me out of it saying, "Don't do it John. Don't do it." But I really wanted to get under Garlands skin and honestly even though I was only 16 at the time, I was kind of jealous that he had earned the title Marine. So Mr. Valdez, his son Ray and I drive down to MCRD SD. As we're walking down one of the passageways, we pass by two fresh Pvts as they say, "Good morning LCpl!"
"Good morning." I say back, not really thinking anything of it. I was young and dumb and didn't realize how serious the crime was that I was committing and as a Young Marine I should have known better. Anyway Mr. Valdez went to find the viewing stands where Garlands platoon was to be placed as me and Ray see a squad of drill instructors marching. "I'm going to walk you right past those DI's!" Ray said with a chuckle. "What? NO!" I said.
We walk passed and I hoped they didn't notice but they did. "YOU! come here!" one DI sounded. I walk over and the Sr. DI points at my ribbons and says, "What are those!" I told him that I was a Young Marine and he says, "No you're not! No you're not! Where's your unit arc?! Where's the Brass emblem on your piss cutter!? You're impersonating a LCpl in the Marine Corps! Consider this a get-out-of-jail-free card!"
He asked me other questions like what high school I went to etc. But I'll admit, I got my ass handed to me for it. Anyway Garland graduated and when he noticed me he had the look of disappointment and disbelief on his face but continued to bask in all the cheering and compliments he was receiving. As we headed to the parking lot, another fresh Pvt in the back seat of a car who had just graduated noticed us walking by and when he saw me, he quickly sat at attention as we passed. I didn't expect to get any recognition or ass chewing that day and I certainly didn't expect what happened later on. Back at the RSS, everyone was talking about this and that and finally Garlands attention was drawn toward me. "And YOU! I can't believe you!" One of the Marines asked what I did wrong and he replied with, "He showed up at my graduation wearing charlies!" Dady leaned to her right and glared at me from across the room, "Is that true?" she asked.
I just started smiling, trying not to laugh as Garland tried lunging at me but the other Marines held him back as he started screaming that I had ruined his graduation and began crying. Gunny Miller then gave me a ride home and all he said was, "You made him cry bro." I feel bad today for doing that to a Marine, and I feel even worse about the events that followed.
Back at school the RSS paid one of the frequent recruiting visits. I walked into the front office and see Palos standing there in his dress blues talking to a few students. He looks at me, smiles and motions for me to come closer as he reaches for one of my ears. "Ok, ok, I'll take them out," I said. I was wearing earrings which is prohibited in and out of uniform. I took them out and handed them to Palos.
"You'll get them back later," he said. But anyway I was walking down the hallway towards the computer lab when Cassidy wearing her Delta blues walks past me and gives me an evil glare as we pass each other. "Watch your back Bell," she uttered. I thought nothing of it and just shrugged it off. Back at the RSS, I'm sitting on the same couch as Cassidy, waiting. Palos gets up and starts walking out the door as he says, "Come on Bell." Cassidy responds with, "Don't go anywhere Bell," and puts her leg in front of me to try to block me in. "Don't listen to her, let's go," says Palos.
So I quickly get up and double time it to the door. Palos and I walked over to what was once a Ralphs and is now El Tapatio to pick something up. Later on while Cassidy and Dady were gone, I'm sitting on the couch again as I look up to see Cassidy walk up to the door staring at me with a blank face.
"Palos?... PALOS!" I blurt out. Palos was about to make a phone call as he looks up to see Cassidy. He quickly hangs up the phone before he finishes dialing as Miller gets up and blocks Cassidy while Dady simultaneously comes through the back door as Palos holds her back. I quickly get passed and out the door as Miller held Cassidy. This was the first attempt they made at trying to get their hands on me. Anyway my C.O. had found out about everything and didn't seem too angry about it surprisingly. He just issued me some arcs and insignia's to put on the charlies that I wore at the graduation and had explained how Marines don't take it lightly about things such as what I did and even though I was just a sixteen year old kid, I had to learn this the hard way. The VERY hard way.
After the incident in Camp Pendleton
"I can't believe you just stepped into my office." says Palos as he looks up at me. Garland looks up as the bruises I caused were revealed all over his face. He looks at me and begins to panic, squeezing Palos' shoulder, "Oh God! Hide me!" he says as he dashes behind Palos and through the back door. Palos watches him run out the back then looks at me with a grin and says, "See what you did LCpl?... come on, sit down." So I sit down at his desk. "You guys kicked their fucking asses bro..... You're a fucking Legend!" says Palos. "What?" I responded.
"YOU'RE FUCKING FAMOUS FOR THIS SHIT!!!" Palos yells with a serious look, as he slams his hand on the desk. He then picks up the Marine Corps Times and reads the article. Unfortunately I never bothered to read the article myself so I can't remember what it said exactly. I asked Palos if I could keep that copy as he quickly pulls the paper to his chest and says with a grin, "This ones mine, get your own."
Suddenly the back door opens as Dady appears whimpering. She sees me and tries lunging over the desk at me, "MOTHER FUCKER! I'M GOING TO KILL YOU! I'M GOING TO FUCKING KILL YOU!" she screams. Palos quickly holds her back. "You're going to fucking DIE!" Dady continues as she finally goes limp and slumps down onto the deck in front of Palos' feet. Palos then pulls her up as she's inhaling and exhaling like she was having trouble breathing. Her eyes fixed staring into space overhead. She literally looked like she needed sickbay. So Palos drags her to the aft and then returns. He sat down as he sighed and rubbed his face with both hands. "I just came to apologize to Garland." I said. "There are no apologies in the Marine Corps bro. Whats done is done," a bald Marine replied who was sitting on the couch to my rear. There was a brief moment of silence until Palos said with enthusiasm, "That shit made the GAZETTE!"