Boot Camp Advice

I received an e-mail from a young lad getting ready to ship off to boot camp. In it he asks for any advice I could give him, as well as his parents who are quite naturally worried about his well being. I wrote him back and then began to reflect on my own boot camp experience nearly 20 years ago (holy smokes!). What follows is my general advice to anyone on their way out the door to boot camp. Included are a few boot camp gems starring yours truly.

 – First bit of advice, write to your parents.

 – Remember, as a recruit, you have the easiest job in the world: do what you are told. Pretty easy when you think about it.

 – Never pass up an opportunity to take a leak, even if you don’t have to go.

Before I went to boot camp I figured I’d graduate a squad leader. Then I asked myself why anyone would do what I told them. At 140lbs soaking wet I wasn’t exactly intimidating anyone into compliance (I’ve gotten pretty good at it since).  I decided if I were in a leadership position others would do what I said simply because it was me telling them. Oddly enough, this seems to have worked pretty well for 20 years. No false fronts, be genuine. Be your own man.

At MCRD all the clowns were crawling over each other to be squad leaders and the guide or foolishly trying to suck up to the Drill Instructors. They’ll probably be doing the same in your platoon. I decided they looked ridiculous and refused to participate in their shenanigans.  Figured it would be best to just do what I was told and give everything my best effort. Two weeks later I was the platoon guide. Go figure.

 – Write to your parents.

 – Help your buddies. At first you will all be strangers but this will change quickly. There is no such thing as a one man gang and Marines are successful only because we do things together. Once you and your fellow recruits figure that out, things get better. Well, maybe not better but at least you are doing it right.

In the squad bay I had a top bunk and my buddy to the right of me had the bottom bunk in the rack next to mine. Carter was a short black guy built like a fireplug. At all of five feet tall as well as wide, he resembled a sea bag full of bowling balls.

At night we would get on line next to our bunks and “mount the rack” to go to sleep. Of course, everything was done by the numbers as none of us could be expected to go to sleep in a proper Marine Corps manner without step by step instruction.

“Prepare to mount!” We sharply turned and faced our racks as ordered.

 “Mount!” On this command we leapt or dove into our racks as required by the laws of physics. Mine was a top rack and vertically leaping at the position of attention was difficult at the best of times. Stupid gravity.

“Too slow! Get back!”

Wearily I got back on line. Then failed to move quickly enough and we got back on line to try it again. I was so tired I couldn’t physically get in to the top bunk quickly enough. I remember clinging futilely to the side as I tried to scramble into bed only to be told to “Get back!” This happened at least three times. Frustrated I got back in line one more time believing I was holding up the entire platoon from blissful rest.

This time, on the command, “Mount!” I felt Carter’s hands around my waist. He hurled me into the air with so much force I nearly flew over the other side of the rack. Landing immediately on my back into the position of attention we were finally ordered to go to sleep. Carter and I dozed off snickering at our victory. I don’t know if the DI on duty saw what happened or not. I do know Marines condone team work in any given situation so we may have gotten a pass. 

 – Having said that, remember not everyone buys in to the “band of brothers” idea. Be wise and look out for yourself too. This was advice my Senior Drill Instructor gave me in boot camp. At your first duty station the guy who approaches you first and asks if you want a beer is probably the biggest dirt bag in the unit. Decline his offer and bide your time. The squared away guys are sizing you up before they talk to you.

 – Write to your parents.

 – Speaking of your parents, there is nothing you can do to keep them from worrying, especially your mother. In my experience parent’s reaction to their child joining the Corps varies. My father for instance, was a 33 year Marine veteran of Korea and Vietnam. When I told him I joined he did back flips up and down the street. This was quite a feat for a 62 year old man. My mother on the other hand, had been a Navy Lt and a nurse at Balboa Hospital during Vietnam. Having cared for many a wounded vet during this timeframe her reaction to my enlistment was: “Those bastards got my baby!” When your mother does this remember she is just doing her job (well in fact). Besides, if it wasn’t for mothers there might not be much worth fighting for in the first place. 

The only way to combat their worry is to, wait for it, write them letters. This may sound strange in the electronic century we live in but trust me. Write your parents and tell them about your adventures in boot camp even if it’s only a one page letter. Remind them boot camp isn’t dangerous (combat is, but you don’t need to remind them of that).  You are taking the rudder of life in your own hands and making adult decisions now. They’ll get over it, provided you drop them a line.

 – In summary:
Do what you are told.
Look out for your buddies.
Write your parents.

Sometimes the Marine Corps is the hardest thing I have ever done and sometimes it is the time of my life. So in the end, have fun. 

Semper Fi and write your parents!
America’s 1stSgt

/ / / /


  1. 1. Great advice.
    2. What I have told a couple of generations of aspiring young Marines and soldiers is: keep your mouth shut until you know what is going on.
    3. In my case, that took a couple of years.
    4. Not following that advice cost me.
    5. Your father would be very proud.
    V/R JWest

  2. Top,
    I was lucky…I had a buddy from highschool…who was kicked out of highschool and went into the Army. He told me how the Drill Sergeants mess with you etc, so I knew what to expect…and was prepared for it.
    What I wasn’t prepared for was some very sick and violent privates we had who would beat others up for no reason…(they all got kicked out)…so when one of them hit me one morning, I came up off the ground with a helmet and beat the crap out of him.
    When the Drill Sgt asked why I used a tool to hit him, I said; “His neanderthraly head looked pretty hard, and I didn’t want to break my fist.”
    Later, the drill sgt asked me what neanderthral was.
    At that point I understood I would use my brain to get through…and my fist only when needed.

  3. JWest, thanks. Yeah, when it comes to being swift, silent, and deadly, it’s that silent part that always gets me too.

    CI Roller, a Marine DI would have given you a pat on the back for your use of expedient weaponry. That or destroyed you for getting blood on your helmet cover.

    NavyOne, I KNEW you wouldn’t let that comment slide. Ha!

  4. There were times when basic sucked, but a lot of it was actually fun. When I joined the Army I was a waitress with about $30 to my name. Spending 9 weeks camping in the woods and going to the range- and getting paid to do it!- seemed like a pretty good deal.

  5. NavyOne, it was a piece of intel which heretofore had not been released to the general public.

    CI Roller, must have sounded like the tolling of a bell.

    Saker, I cannot think of boot camp without smiling. It wasn’t always fun but in retrospect it was pretty hilarious.

    Sisu, couldn’t tell you where I picked it up but feel free. At the other end of the spectrum there are those who look like a “bag of smashed ass.” Enjoy.

  6. Hmmm, it may sound difficult, just like in the film Full Metal Jacket, but it seems everything will be fine if I know the rules. I may write to my parents so I can end up just running on an open field.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

you may like this post