Marine Corps boot camp is a slice of hell that turns civilians into modern-day Marines.
With constant physical training, screaming drill instructors, and so much close-order drill recruits eventually have dreams about it, spending 12 weeks at boot camp in Parris Island, South Carolina or San Diego, California can be difficult for most young people.
Having stepped off a bus and onto the yellow footprints at Parris Island on Sep. 3, 2002, one of those young people was me. While in hindsight, boot camp really wasn't that bad, I thought then that it was the worst thing ever. While writing this post, I thought I would speak in general terms, but since my mother kept all my correspondence home, I figured I would go straight to the source: my original — and now-hilarious-to-read — letters back home.
Drill instructors are the worst.
Having a crazy person with veins popping out of their neck scream in your face and run around a barracks throwing stuff can be quite a shock to someone who was a civilian a week prior. Although I later learned to greatly respect my DI's, I didn't really like them at the beginning, as my first letter home showed.
"Our DI's are complete motherf---king a--holes. There's no other way to describe them," I wrote, before including a great example: "Today they sprayed shaving cream and toothpaste ALL OVER the head and we had to clean it up. Yesterday, threw out all of our gear, had to change the racks, and sh-- was flying."
Sounds about right.
Photo: Cpl. Octavia Davis
My recruiter totally lied to me.
It's a running joke in the Marine Corps (and the greater military, really) that your recruiter probably lied to you. Maybe they didn't lie to you per se, but they were selective with what they told you. One of my favorites was that "if I didn't like my job as infantry, I could change it in two years." That's one of those not-totally-a-lie-but-far-fetched-truths.
In my initial letter, I took issue with my recruiters for telling me that drill instructors don't ever get physical. Most of the time they won't touch you, but that's not exactly all the time.
"Oh, by the way, recruiters are lying bastards. They [the drill instructors] scream, swear a lot, and choke/push on a daily basis," I wrote. (It was day three and I was of course exaggerating).
Mail takes forever to get there.
Getting mail at boot camp is a wonderful respite from the daily grind at boot camp, but letters are notoriously slow to arrive. In my letters home, I complained about mail being slow often, since I'd ask questions in my letters then get a response of answers and more questions from home, well after I was through that specific event in the training cycle.
"Sometimes I write more letters than everyone back home and I have way less time to do it," I wrote in one letter.
The other recruits were terrible.
I'm sure they said the same thing about me. Put 60-80 people from completely different backgrounds and various regions of the United States and you're probably going to have tension. Add drill instructors into the mix constantly stressing you out and it's guaranteed.
Then of course, there's the issue of the "recruit crud," the nickname for the sickness that inevitably comes from being in such close proximity with all these different people.
Throughout my letters home, I complain of other recruits not yelling loud enough or running fast enough. "They don't sound off and we are getting in trouble all the time," I wrote. No doubt I was just echoing what the drill instructor has given us as a reason for why he was bringing us to the dreaded "pit."
Getting "pitted" is the worst five minutes of your life.
Marine boot camp has two unique features constantly looming in the back of a recruit's mind: the "pit" and the quarterdeck. The quarterdeck for recruits is the place at the front of the squad bay where they are taken and given "incentive training," or I.T. — a nice term for pushups, jumping jacks, running-in-place, etc — for a few minutes if they do something wrong.
But for those times when it's not just an individual problem — and more of a full platoon one — drill instructors take them to sand pits usually located near the barracks for platoon IT. Think of them as the giant sandboxes you played in as a kid, except this one isn't fun. For extra fun, DI's may play a game of "around the world," where the platoon is run from one pit to another.