A popular bumper sticker with the Eagle, Globe, and Anchor of the Marine Corps states, “When It Absolutely, Positively Has To Be Destroyed Overnight." The Marines locate, close with, and destroy the enemy. In other words, the Marines are really good at ruining the bad guys’ plans. You know what else the Marines are good at ruining? The great outdoors! It’s true. Many veterans, infantrymen, in particular, tell stories of the recruiter’s response. “Oh, you like camping? Did you know in the Marine Corps you can get paid to go camping?” Battalions are filled with (former) outdoor enthusiasts.
Here are 5 ways the Marine Corps ruined the great outdoors
Prior to boot camp the idea of hiking was a wonderful, outdoor experience to scenic destinations such as mountain overlooks with a majestic view. Then Uncle Sam’s Misguided Children introduces humping, rucking or the official term: conditioning hike. Let me assure you, it sucks. No great view awaits you at the end. In fact, the end is either exactly the same as the starting point (say, the barracks) or some desolate training area to commence a week-long field op. The rigors of military environs required rugged, durable gear made by the lowest bidder resulting in some pretty heavy equipment. The packing list includes mission essential equipment (also heavy), which add to the individual load. The pack is carried over body armor, increasing physical comfort. To top it off, combat boots are heavy too. Even when they are broken in, they leave blisters. This is no stroll in the woods in trendy, synthetic fibers while wearing a fanny pack. It is essentially the same grueling experience foot soldiers have experienced for a millennium, cementing the lingering thought, “I should have joined the Air Force."
2. Digging in
After enduring the hike, you arrive at the training area (what your recruiter called the campsite) and are told to dig in. Digging in is the vernacular for establishing a fighting hole. (Note: Marines don’t dig foxholes; foxholes are for hiding, fighting holes are for…you guessed it, fighting). You dig in on your knees with an 18-inch folding shovel called an e-tool, short for entrenching tool. Much like humping, digging in sucks. The misery of the physical toil is compounded by emotional anguish knowing that tomorrow morning you will fill the hole in, patrol through the bush all day, and dig a new hole somewhere else the following evening. To top it off, after digging the two-man hole (exactly two rifles long, two helmets wide, chest-deep to the tallest man) you have to dig an alternate and a supplementary position. Hopefully, your platoon leadership is seasoned and established sectors of fire before you start shoveling. If not, you will be a couple of feet into the ground before you are told to shift your position 15 yards to the left. Miserable.
After humping to the field, digging in, and going on a security patrol, it finally gets dark. Think you are going to snuggle into a sleeping bag and drift off to sleep to the sounds of crickets? Negative Johanson. You may or may not have to go on a night patrol, but you will definitely stand firewatch. I don’t know why the Marine Corps calls this guard duty firewatch. You most certainly will not have a fire nor roast marshmallows on this camping trip. You will be awakened 15 minutes before your shift, get fully dressed, put on your deuce gear, and grab your weapon. You either swat mosquitos or shiver for the next hour or two, depending on the season, only to be relieved late by the next guy. Just as you drift back off to sleep your team leader will wake you so the entire platoon is alert for the pre-dawn attack, from the pretend enemy force that never happens.
4. Site Count
Not everyone in the infantry is a dumb grunt, but there are enough of them to make life hard for the rest of the unit. Morning and evening a small unit leader will come around for a site count. This is a deliberate inventory of all serialized gear. You occasionally hear the phrase “big boy rules apply” but don’t think for a second you will be trusted to maintain accountability of the weapon, optics, and miscellaneous gear assigned to you without being inspected. There’s no use complaining about it because inevitably some idiot in your platoon will lose his rifle. Here is an insider tip: your rifle should NEVER be more than one-arm’s-reach from you. It’s simple but for some unexplained reason, it ain’t easy.
Prior to the military, the company you kept in the woods was either your dad or your buddies. You know, either your role model, mentor and teacher or the dudes you like to be around. Not so in the Marine Corps. You don’t choose what unit you are assigned to, and neither do the other suckers in your outfit. Guaranteed you are not going to like many of them, including one of the small unit tyrants reigning over you. It gives you the same feeling Napoleon Dynamite had for Uncle Rico. “You’ve been ruining all of our lives and eating all our steak." Another small part of you dies as you realize how little control you have over your life. These experiences are seared in your soul, re-lived in traumatic flashbacks when asked, “Have you thought about reenlisting?”
In summary, the Marine Corps, the finest fighting force on the planet, knows how to completely ruin the outdoor experience. While enduring one of these field ops, one begins to question why did they really join in the first place? Either way camping will never be the same again. Thanks, Chesty.