Boot Camp Letters 2

You may recall the letter I sent my parents after arriving at Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego dated May 9, 1992 .

Upon arriving at the depot our first stop was at Receiving. This term is somewhat misleading as we were “received” with the same enthusiasm reserved for an infectious mob of plague victims.

“What are you miserable $&#@ doing here? Did you walk in the wrong hatch? Women’s boot camp is in Paris Island!”

Around this time we were introduced to the famous yellow footprints. My memory of this is rather vague but I do remember hearing my inner voice trying to be heard over the booming voices of the Drill Instructors: “Just do what they say! Do what they say! For the love of…faster fool!

Early on in Receiving, Drill Instructors made us understand in no uncertain terms that even our absolute obedience was woefully inadequate and unsatisfactory. It was also when we began to learn interesting things about our fellow recruits. There was the guy who showed up to boot camp with a bag full of Star Trek magazines. Despite the fact our instructions stated we were to show up with tennis shoes on our feet, there was the cowboy who decided his hat and boots just had to come with him. My personal favorite was the recruit with the USMC tattoo on his shoulder. Note to those who may be considering joining the Corps, nothing will infuriate your DI more than sporting a USMC tattoo when you have not earned the title.

After days of not sleeping and being unable to convince my colon that Marine Corps toilets were safe for use, we were transferred from Receiving and dropped into our actual training platoons. Thus began training day one and brings us to my second letter from boot camp dated May 17, 1992:

Dear Mom and Dad,

I have reached recruit training safely and have since been assigned to Platoon 1039. I have one senior drill instructor and three drill instructors who are with me at all times and take care of all of my needs. I receive eight hours of sleep per night and three well balanced meals per day, therefore it is not recommended that I receive any other food items as that would upset the balance of nutrition that I already receive. I also receive one hour of free time per day at which time I can write and read letters. My address is:

America’s Recruit
[Here we used to actually put our full social security number] Plt 1039 C Company
San Diego, CA

You may notice how lifeless and banal this letter is. This is because it is the scripted letter every recruit writes home so his poor mother is tricked into thinking her son is actually at summer camp vice boot camp. Let’s look at that letter again accompanied by translation in parenthesis:

I have reached recruit training safely and have since been assigned to Platoon 1039. (Where I have learned that safety is a relative term meaning “I’m still breathing” and Platoon is another relative term actually meaning Gulag.) I have one senior drill instructor and three drill instructors who are with me at all times and take care of all of my needs. (The Commissars never ever leave us alone. Needs is yet another relative term meaning “shut your trap!” ) I receive eight hours of sleep per night (whereupon we are violently awakened in new and interesting ways each morning) and three well balanced meals per day (which we are forced to consume far faster than the human gastrointestinal system was designed to digest), therefore it is not recommended that I receive any other food items as that would upset the balance of nutrition that I already receive (and may incite banned emotions, like joy). I also receive one hour of free time per day at which time I can write and read letters (while the drill instructors retire to the duty hut to laugh at us).

Parents be warned. What your children experience and what you are allowed to perceive are two wildly different realities. As a mater of fact, boot camp is infested with strange reality-warping vortexes. For instance, Drill Instructor time is different than regular lazy civilian time.

DI: “You have 30 seconds to get your gear on! 30, 29, 28, 25, 20, 15, 12, 10, 9, 5, too slow!! Take all your gear off now!”

Other physical laws of boot camp: No matter how vehemently the DIs bellow in your ears to sound off louder, you will never be as loud as they are. Even in boot camp it amused to me to watch Recruits attempt to mollify DIs by yelling at the top of their lungs only to have DIs, with spit misting the air, drown them out with: “Louder!!! Looooooooooooouuuder!!!

Once, I had a DI on each shoulder attempting to enter my ear canal to ensure I heard their instructions clearly. Those instructions? Merely: “LOUDER!! LOOOOOOOOOOUDER!!!” Having witnessed this same scenario a few times already a small hot flame of rebellion somehow managed to burn through the concussive auditory blasts and my brain ordered my mouth firmly closed. I waited for the squall to pass. As the DIs stared at me a clear fluid began to leak from my ears, a sure sign of traumatic brain injury.

Finally one of them calmly spoke: “Well?” This was my cue to speak and as soon as my lips parted they emptied their spleens into my eardrums again. There was an audible click as I clamped my mouth shut  refusing to waste my energy. When they finally caught on that I wasn’t going to play their game they allowed me to speak. But by then I had forgotten what in the world I had to say in the first place.

A week later they made me the guidon bearer for the platoon.


America’s 1stSgt

/ / / /


  1. Oh my gosh! I have not laughed so hard in such a long time! I have a friend who is just about finished with bootcamp and I have been trying to explain to his wife what exactly is going on and why but I don’t want her to worry… maybe I’ll just direct her to your blog, 1st Sgt ;p

  2. Ahhh, now I get it. No wonder the local recruiter couldn’t be presuaded to give me a list of things those ‘headed to boot camp next week’ could use. They can’t use anything, poor souls. His exact words, “The Corps provides all.” I keep wanting to add “they need” onto the end of that but I don’t know that he said that part.

    Thank you for a wonderful story! Methinks you should write a book or three, yes yes.

  3. Compared to this, Army BCT for non-combat MOSs is cake. 😀

    My recruiter lied to me. (Yes, I know this is shocking.) He said drill sgts were not allowed to swear, or personally insult recruits anymore, since it wasn’t PC.

    I figured out that was a lie the minute I got off the bus.

  4. If you had known your 1st handler back then she could have made your recruit training easier by supplying your DI’s with brownies. You know it would have worked. Have you pulled a DI assignment yet?

  5. Red, spouses worry, it’s their job. I do find life is easier for everyone, especially 1stSgts if husbands TALK to their wives about what they are doing so that they are not left in the dark. The spouse rumor mill is particularly annoying. I don’t know how many times issues with spouse have begun with: “I was told…” My response:”By whom?”

    Ally, there is something to be said about spartan living. As far book writing goes that is some crazy work I am only daydreaming about. Don’t anybody get their hopes up.

    Saker, swearing is actually a violation of the USMJ too. If we enforced that one we’d all have been NJP’d by now.

    Coffee, no it wouldn’t have. They would all be standing around me eating brownies while I flapped around in a puddle of sweat doing some kind of push up related physical self abuse.

  6. They YELLED at you? *looks grumpy*

    I get that it’s a psychological step in the whole “no original thought – follow my orders” training process but still.. how rude of them


  7. Top,
    Dang it…now I’m having flash backs to the old “OD Green Fatigues” from my Army Basic Training days…. Nov 1974.
    I never knew any part of Calif could be so danm cold in the winter as Fort Ord, CA was.
    I couldn’t figure out why they built our barracks so far from the ranges and training areas–which forced us to run miles and miles ever day to get to “work.”

  8. Kanani, I try. This writing stuff is work!

    Pax, you crack me up! Once I had someone’s wife say: “Marines are so mean. Why are you guys always so mean to each other?” I burst out laughing. Mean? Marines are the best friends you could ever have!

    Akelamalu, there is no stopping mothers from worrying no matter what their babies are doing. I was speaking to a Marine’s hand wringing mother once who explained to me that her son was in Iraq. I asked what he did and she said he was a mechanic with an air squadron there. I inwardly rolled my eyes and explained to her that he probably never left the base. “I know, but he’s in IRAQ.” America’s 1stSgt would be more worried if he was in DETROIT.

    CI Roller, the School Of Infantry in Camp Pendleton was like that. We hiked every day to where ever we were training and in my memory it was more like a sprint.

    Levant, stereophonic Drill Instructors are best avoided trust me. You people are obsessed with books!!

  9. I remember that letter when my stepson went to boot camp. I was seriously creeped out by it. Now I know why. Couldn’t be prouder of him now, though. Thanks for shedding light on why he sent me that. 🙂

  10. Ah boot camp (or in my case ocs) biting my tongue bloody to keep from laughing as the Sgt instructor anointed the candidate next to me’s face with soot from the inside of his M14s gas cylinder – note to self – make sure said gas cylinder cannot be unscrewed without a wrench and 6 foot cheater bar.

    Flash forward – sitting in a theater watching “full metal jacket” trying to explain to spouse that the howls of laugher from the darkeness were from Marines who had actually had each and every one of the DI’s insults directed at them…

  11. Quoting letter from Son&Heir in Phase 2 at Pendleton receive yesterday,

    “They are still treating us like Phase 1 recruits. The only difference is it does not really make me mad anymore. It’s just annoying now.”

    /heh Priceless. I woulda’ paid the freight for his training to hear him say that of his own volition.

  12. Ah, memories. In 1966 swearing by Drill Instructors was mandatory,useful and creative. I learned a whole new vocabulary. My recruiter didn’t have to lie, my
    father told me what to expect and what not to do (got thumped anyway).

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