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:
[Here we used to actually put our full social security number] Plt 1039 C Company
1st RTBN, MCRD
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.