Photo: Cpl. Octavia Davis/USMC
Here was my experience at Marine Corps Boot Camp in San Diego, California.
As has been said there is no way to describe boot camp or even the Marine Corps accurately enough to really make them feel what it is like. But, I will give it a shot. I began writing this and realized it was turning into a short story, so I will shorten it to the first 36 hours of boot camp, and it will give you some idea of how it is in boot camp.
Boot camp is the time when a teen, or young adult, is taken and slapped in one of the worst places to be. That kid is broken down to that of a whimpering boy, then rebuilt into what the Marine Corps wants in its warriors.
The first time I asked myself "what am I doing here?" was basically my first run in with a drill instructor. This was at the USO in San Diego's Airport, yep that's right an airport. All recruits are flown to the airport and staged in the USO, effectively out of ear shot, or sight from the flying passengers. Everyone there is basically thinking the same thing, holy crap what is about to happen! There will be people there who pretend to act calm and collected, that's fake. Everyone is terrified, and waiting for that minute to get there. They told you the time, I assume to mess with your head! 7:25 p.m. I will never forget it.
So, there I was, 17 years old, one month out of high school, sitting on the couch watching T.V. I have no idea what was on because that wasn't what I was worried about. There were other soon to be recruits playing pool, drinking soda, eating the free food that was given. All of the workers at the USO had a look of "oh honey, you are about to have a bad three months."
Photo: Lance Cpl. Rodion Zabolotniy/USMC
7:25 p.m. on the dot I heard, "Everyone going to MCRD get on your feet and get outside!" Not a scream, but just enough fire to make your heart race. I jumped up, and saw the drill instructor, about 6 feet tall, service charlie uniform perfect to every thread, that iconic campaign cover aka. smokey bear, and wouldn't you know it, an eye patch! This dude was scary.
I ran outside as the Drill Instructor (DI) signed the paper work for the USO. We were all just standing around with no direction, or any idea of where or what to do. Then there was that voice again, "Get in a single file line at the side of the bus, have your SRB (service record book) ready to give me when you get on, do you understand?!" There were a lot of reserved "yes sir's," some said nothing, other's snickered. "THE CORRECT RESPONSE IS YES SIR, DO YOU UNDERSTAND!" This time we all said it!
As I stood in line something caught my attention to my right (at this point any Marine reading this is probably saying don't do it man, don't do it), but I looked over to see what it was, and quickly looked forward. "HEAD AND EYE BALLS TO THE FRONT!" I said nothing, because I didn't know he was talking to me.
Side note: Every single person who goes through boot camp is, at some point, a blubbering idiot. All common sense leaves!
"YOU, OPEN YOUR MOUTH!" Still I said nothing, and now he was approaching. This was about to be my first, to put it into Marine jargon, ass chewing of my new career.
Photo: Cpl. Caitlin Brink/USMC
The DI was directly in front of me, slightly at a 45 degree angle, seeing as there was another recruit in front of me. "I GUESS I DON'T RATE A RESPONSE, IS THAT RIGHT RECRUIT!" Then I looked at him, you are taught to look at anyone who is speaking to you, in boot camp this is suicide. As I looked I answered with a "nyes sir" Yep, a no and a yes combined so elegantly into recruit words. "I GUESS I SAID LOOK AT ME RIGHT, KEEP YOUR HEAD AND EYE BALLS FRONT, AYE AYE SIR!" DI's would sometimes give you the correct response at the end of their belittlements. So I shouted "Aye aye sir."
Finally on the bus were we could take a simple breath, still too petrified to look anywhere but forward, my eyes burning from fear of closing them. "PUT YOUR HEAD IN YOUR LAPS!" We did without saying a word. "THAT RATES A RESPONSE, AYE AYE SIR!" We all shouted "aye aye sir" as we kept our heads in our laps.
"You will keep your heads in your laps until you are told otherwise, do you understand?" "Yes sir" we all shouted. The bus started driving to our new home, MCRD San Diego, California. The drive was probably only about 5 minutes, seeing as the airport is literally attached to MCRD. Not one person dared raise their head in defiance, even though the DI wasn't on the bus with us, we wouldn't even chance it.
The bus stops, and the air being released from the brakes was almost deafening. My senses were all in over drive, my body telling me to get the hell out of there. There was a squeak from the door and footsteps up the ramp. "EYEBALLS!" This was the command given to recruits that instructed them to look at the DI. We all somehow figured that out without any prior knowledge because we all looked. This started the phase known as receiving.
"You will stand up and quickly exit the bus, you will find yellow footprints on the pavement outside, you will fall in on those footprints from front to back, you will do this as fast as humanly possible, DO YOU UNDERSTAND ME!"
"GET OFF MY BUS!"
The iconic yellow footprints, you hear about these things in tales of the past, this is the same spot where every Marine has stood. You never knew if you were standing on the same prints as any of the hero's of old. Perhaps these belonged to a Medal of Honor recipient. You are told so much about these footprints that you expect you will be on them for three months. NOPE!
Photo: Lance Cpl. Vaniah Temple/USMC
As soon as every recruit was on the foot prints we were taught the position of attention. Once that was accomplished we were gone. After being taught Article 86 of the UCMJ, dealing with hazing, we were off into the building. We had numbers written on our arms, our head was shaved, any and all personal belongings were taken, excluding money, credit cards, IDs, etc., we were issued our gear, and our identities were effectively removed. From this point on I was recruit Evans, the lowest of the low. There wasn't one thing on the planet that I was above. Trash was more important than me, or so this is what they make you believe. We were turned over to our receiving DI's, these would not be our permanent ones of course, that is later.
The first 36 hours are the worst, well the worst part of receiving, because you don't sleep, and are herded around so quickly you don't have time to even think. From line to line, desk to desk, room to room, the DI's had us processed in every system, on every piece of paper, and in every way attached to the United States Marine Corps. By hour 30 I was closing my eyes just to wish I could sleep, but I was standing most of the time. You dare not fall asleep. I guess the recruit next to me didn't get that memo because he fell asleep, while standing, fell over, and didn't wake up until he hit the ground. I didn't even know that was possible.
Finally, FINALLY a bed. In the deep recesses of MCRD, in squad bays that looked, and probably were, condemned. This was the time when you go to sleep and think, tomorrow will be better. It can't be this bad the whole time.
The next morning, Wednesday, we were awaken in a very peaceful way, by our drill instructor throwing metal trashcans, shaking the beds, screaming things I wouldn't say to my worst enemy, and banging anything that made noise. It was 3 a.m. or at least that is what I assume because we didn't have watches, and I felt as though I had slept for about an hour. We got dressed as quickly as possible in the very noticeable attire of a Marine Corp recruit.
Basically it is hell, and anyone who says it isn't or wasn't is lying. Or just had a really easy time in boot camp. Also, anyone who says that they couldn't do boot camp because they would just laugh at the DI's yelling at them is ignorant in every way. These are US Marines who are trained to destroy your soul. We had a couple of those people in my platoon, they didn't last long with their laughing. Only a drill instructor can make holding a pen the worst experience of your life.
Photo: Cpl. Octavia Davis
To give some examples of life in boot camp I will list a few of my experiences.
- My shortest shower was 4 seconds long. Impossible? DI's made it work.
- House turnover . . . I just cried a little. Imagine someone coming into your house with the soul intention of destroying it completely. This means taking clothes and putting them in the shower, moving 100 pound bunk beds from one side of the room to the other (the room being big enough to hold 130 recruits), pouring anything and everything they want on any clothing or gear, throwing everything in every drawer or cabinet anywhere they wish, pouring soap, detergent, or anything else they could get their hands on all over the place. Just imagine walking into that mess. Now, imagine someone forcing you to do it all the while screaming at you, then imagine having to clean that up.
I lost things I never got back, I had someone else's shoes for the remainder of boot camp. It was a mess. Thankfully this only happened only 3 times.
- Pushing the Nile:
My DI came up with this one. There were two rooms: The squad bay, and the head (bathroom). No door separated the two rooms, just a 6 foot wide opening. The tiles on the bathroom floor were different from the cement on the squad bay floor. In the bathroom there were two nozzles on which hoses could be attached. Why? I HAVE NO IDEA! The DI would turn the nozzles on and pour buckets of dirt on the floor. The recruits job? Never allow the water or dirt to touch the squad bay floor. His tool?
Basically this. Recruits brushes look a little different, but I couldn't find a pic of one. It's a handheld brush.
- My shortest meal was on graduation day; I sat in my chair, and got back up immediately. That was the meal.
- How many people do you think can fit in one standard Porta-John, now imagine how many can fit wearing a flak-jacket, and a kevlar helmet? Got your number? Our DI accomplished 9. He once made a platoon of 89 recruits disappear in 10 porta-johns.
Now, this may all sound harsh and unnecessary, but I wouldn't have had it a different way. It teaches you more than you can imagine. Including showing you that your limits are in your mind. There are tons of experiences any Marine can offer, but as I said it is impossible to know what it is like unless you live it.