Marine Bootcamp: The Real Deal
You Can't Handle The Truth
Jack Nicholson plays a great Marine Corps officer but movies like "A Few Good Men" and "Full Metal Jacket" often lead to misconceptions about The Corps. As an honorably discharged and proud Marine I would like to set the record straight about Marine Corps Bootcamp.
Recently I came across an online product that claims to prepare Recruits for the rigors of Marine Corps Bootcamp. Although the product may actually have quality content, I was disturbed to find a picture of what appeared to be an Army Soldier on the website. You might be thinking what's the big deal but as a Marine who earned the designation, I know no self respecting Marine would ever allow an Army image to be used in representation of a Marine.
No disrespect to the proud Army Soldiers who have served and are serving our fine country, I would suspect they would feel the same way if the tables were turned.
I am going to take a stab at reconnecting with an experience that has shaped every day of my life.
13 Weeks of Hell, it made me a man.
I am going to use the Marine Corps Recruit Parris Islands Website as a reference for recalling my experience, some of the terms have changed but for the most part the training of Marine as Basic Rifleman is the goal of bootcamp.
You're Now Property of United States of America
Most websites about Marine Corps Bootcamp often skip this key part of the process. It's called shipping, and when I mean shipping I mean the raw product, the future Marine. In this case the story happens to revolve around my shipping experience to Parris Island S.C. But this is not Fed Ex Story.
This actually is the best part of Bootcamp. They put you up in a high class motel like the Days Inn, presumably to ensure you are staying out of trouble on your last night of Freedom. You will soon find it only gets worse from here.
You get picked up by your recruiter at "o" dark thirty and they take you to the closest MEPS station. This is where they process all the paper work.
They give you your "orders" which they place in a big bright orange envelope, you retake the oath and you are on your way to the airport.
When I shipped for Parris Island I flew with a few fellow recruits from Cincinnati. We were given food vouchers for the airports and we had a layover in Chicago en route to Charleston, SC. It was my bright idea to save our vouchers for Charleston so we could have one last nice meal.
Boy did I screw up. As soon as I got off the plain with my bright orange envelope there was a Marine who already expected my arrival. He barked out "Hey You, get overhear, follow me and sit in these chairs, face forward and no talking."
While sitting face forward..."I was thinking but what about my vouchers, I still have vouchers." I now was starting to get a feel for what was going on. They took us in a room in the basement and we waited with our heads down. You see this is a well oiled machine. They know who is coming and when. We were just waiting for enough Recruits to fill a bus.
I remember this night like it was yesterday. It was 1992 and the night of the NCAA Final Four Championship game. The Marines who were on duty collecting recruits were watching the game and we had to keep our heads down. Luckily, so to speak my team the UC Bearcats had lost in the Final Four. I would be missing the game so I guess that was the only redeeming thing about missing a Final Four Championship game.
You're getting the picture, you are now a piece of property!
After nearly a 2 hour bus ride you are now at the Main Gate of Parris Island. You have seen the pictures and heard the stories but quite honestly the tree lined Malecon Drive, it's more like an ambush.
This is where the rubber meets the road. You have probably seen the pictures of the yellow footsteps painted on the pavement. A Drill Instructor hops on the bus and shouts those famous words "Get OFF My Bus" you start to get the picture. You can check your soul at the door. You are now property of the USMC.
At this point you are pretty much in processing phase and learning basic "Recruit" protocol. "Yes Sir," "Aye Aye Sir" and "This Recruit," which are some of the ways you respond or address the Drill Instructor. You find out quickly there is no "I" just "Aye, Aye." You soon get the feeling that "Recruit" means scumbag. I also have the distinct pleasure to have served as Permanent Personnel on Parris Island so I have been able to view this from the other side.
Speaking from the otherside, as permanent personnel I realized recruits stink and have bad breath and often are yelling at you "Yes Sir" in fear that everyone is just another Drill Instructor. It gets a little bit old and you to can help in the training by giving them a little attitude once in a while.
I fondly remember staying up 24 hours straight on my first night on Parris Island...no Bed and Breakfast. Just straight to Breakfast.
I remember getting my first chow hall experience. It was breakfast at something like 4 or 5 am. I was still in my stinky civilian clothes I had been traveling in since the 5 Diamond Days Inn. No Mountain Dew to keep this recruit going, just some scrambled eggs, some corned beef hash, a piece of toast and a cup of juice.
While in receiving you are always on the go. Final background checks. They try to trick you into admitting something you left out. It's called the moment of truth. The truth is, if you gotten something in your past and you haven't brought it up...you better do it now because your going home or going to the brig. I remember a couple of Recruits who nearly finished training and something showed up on their record. Now that sucks. You've done the training and guess what your still going home.
After nearly a week of receiving you are now approaching the Pick Up. 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Battalions are the Mens Recruit Training Battalions. I don't know much about 4th Battalion which trained Women Marines, known as W.M.s, I encourage one to create a lens.
4 Weeks of Hell
Now this is your first real day at Bootcamp. I was a member of 3156 Lima Company 3rd Battalion. You have a Senior D.I. (Drill Instructor) and 3-4 D.I.'s in your face at all times during Phase 1.
During this phase they are very focused on weeding out the weak. First stop is the IST (Initial Strength Test) this will tell if you are ready for the training. You have a combination of Pull ups, Sit ups and 1.5 mile run that you will be graded on.
If you do not pass you will be placed in Physical Conditioning Platoon or PCP to get you ready. It is affectionately known as Pork Chop Platoon. You don't want that. 13 weeks is enough. Get in shape before you arrive at Bootcamp. Luckily I was relatively ready.
During Phase 1 there is an assortment of important Marine Corps Knowledge to soak in. You are constantly studying, in classes and training. Between these training periods your Drill Instructor is training you on "Drill." Drill is used to move Marines around in an orderly fashion. Drill includes rifle manual as well as marching.
In between these periods of Drill and Training there is another opportunity called the Quarter Deck. The Quarter Deck is at the front of the Squad bay and is an open area. Just enough room to do some push ups, leg lifts, run in place or whatever might entertain your Drill Instructor. You don't want to go to the
Quarter Deck because you just don't know how long it will last.
I almost forgot about the cousin of the Quarter Deck the sand pit. Outside every barracks on Parris Island there is a sand pit and yes it's a place to play. That is a place for the Drill Instructors to Play. One of my favorite games in the pit was making sugar cookies. If after a bad day of practice on the Drill Field a D.I. wants to get your attention, nothing better than some sweaty recruits rolling around in the sand. You get the picture. We looked like sugar cookies when we were done. This made for a long day with sand in all of your special regions.
One of my other favorite parts of Phase 1 was hitting skills. You may call it boxing. I was a pretty tame boy going into the Marines and I lucked out when I got to box a hard-charger from the streets of New York. While swinging away in a 4x4 enclosed area I think I might have landed one punch but was the recipient of about 40. It was an embarrassment. The instructor told me never to return to LeatherNeck Square. I informed my Senior D.I.that night. If I am honest I was kind of glad I was banned from Leatherneck Square but my Senior D.I. was having none of that crap. I was back in the ring the following day. Luckily, Day 2 I couldn't feel the left side of my face (Which Actually is an Advantage, No Pain, No Pain) and my boxing partner was not so experienced.
Swimming & Rifle Range & Mess Duty
I actually enjoyed this part of the training. The days went fast because we were engaged in more of the physical aspects of being a Marine.
Although you continued with the knowledge, During Swim week you are in the pool a lot learning to trust yourself with your "floating 60lb pack."
During this phase is where you natural physical skills came into play. If you grew up playing sports your hand eye coordination or conditioning could really make a difference for this phase.
The Marine Corps is unique from other services in that it trains all its members to be Basic Rifleman. This means that you spend 2 weeks of marksmanship training. In fact, you spend an entire week practicing "DryFire" techniques sitting around a painted barrel.
On to Range Week, this was by far my favorite week.
I had some challenges at the Rifle Range. I had the big brown glasses called B.C.s short for Birth Control glasses. You see you weren't going to be sleeping with anybody wearing B.C.s. and they weren't an asset when trying to look down the barrel of a M-16 Rifle at a target 500 Yards away.
There are three levels of qualification. I had the lowest called Marksman. It was a medal with a square target. It was affectionately called the Pizza Box.
On to Mess week. This is the hardest week of Bootcamp. You are up at 3am working the chow hall and home after 8pm. Its a long day and you oddly miss your days on "The Quarter Deck."
BWT, Grenades and Crucible, Graduation/Marine Week.
This is when you get to put your training to the test. you are out at BWT, Backwoods Training for nearly 3 weeks. During this time you get to test some of the training you have learned in simulated combat exercises.
It gets a little nasty out there after just a few days. You look forward to using a real "head" bathroom as soon as possible.
The Crucible is something new that I did not experience when I went through Bootcamp but is basically like a final exam over 3 days. You are out in the woods, almost like a simulated 3 day war.
From the Marine Corps website:
The Crucible is a rite of passage that, through shared sacrifice, recruits will never forget. With that memory and their core values learned in recruit training, they can draw upon the experience to face any challenge in their path.
You have now earned the right to the title "United States Marine" hopefully your family is visiting. Parris Island has a great program to entertain your family with tours of the Island and you get a few hours off on your first liberty in 13 weeks with our family.
During this week there is a motivation run and other confidence building activities. You have only just begun.
You are now "The Few, The Proud, The Marines"
A few other thougths on Bootcamp
I don't claim this to be the end all description to Marine Bootcamp. It is a very condensed but accurate account of what you might expect. Almost anybody can be a Marine if they are willing to do the work but the truth is few are willing.
I would like to share a few stories from my bootcamp experience.
My Bootcamp Birthday Party!
I was lucky enough to have my 21st birthday party fall in the middle of bootcamp. I had sent home numerous letters to my family encouraging them not to send any gifts or cookies.
Not understanding the consequences...my family felt uncomfortable not sending any gift (Now they might).
I did not announce my birthday but one evening during mail call, I received well over 10 colored envelopes and a box. This is pretty much the tip off its your birthday. As standard protocol I was required to open the box in front of the Drill Instructor.
At this point we were well into Bootcamp and they had began to loosen a bit ...mostly in a harassing way. The drill instructor offered me an opportunity to have a birthday party.
Here's the catch. At my birthday party I needed to invite 5 "friends" to the quarter deck. In fact I was required to. This is a no win situation. Do you invite a "friend" or an "enemy" because when the D.I. is done pushing your friends with Push ups, Sit UPs and Side Straddle Hops (jumping jacks) for 30 minutes you are in a bit of a predicament.
So I invited a few Recruits that were more on the meek side. While they pushed I was required to eat the whole box of cookies and drink a canteen of water. I was in heaven for a few minutes but the sugar buzz began to kick in. Rest assured...those cookies didn't last very long. Hence the term "Tossed Cookies."
But I never forget my 21st birthday.
As a safety measure you were required to drink at least 10 canteens of water a day. The drill instructors were very on top of this. Often times during the day they would require you to take out your two 32 once canteens of water and finish them on the spot.
You would then hold them out in front of you and tip them over to show you had finished.
This often challenged the laws of physics and 64 ounces of water often was just about up to the back of you throat.
We had a young drill instructor in training join us mid training and he knew that I would run to the garbage can every time I filled up with water and had to release so to say.
On one particular day after requiring me to finish 2 full canteens he got in my face and said you are not to move. You will stay put until I say so. He was using some other vernacular I am sure but, I am sure he never did this again. Since I could no longer hold it down. My stomach rebelled and water went flying all over him.
The other drill instructors saw what happened and actually started laughing, a rare glimpse at their human side. In future weeks I never had any challenges to my need to find a garbage can.
High and Tight!
Bootcamp, after you get over the initial shock (which is the idea) is actually quite comedic. The Drill Instructors Job is to always find a new twist to keep you down or play with your mind.
During the first 10 or so weeks of Bootcamp all of your haircuts are the basic buzz cut on the verge of being bald. But a there was nothing basic about the High and Tight (exactly as described) High on top, tight on the sides...after 10 weeks of basically no hair.
The high and tight is kind of like a reward for hard work and a status symbol that you are ready to graduate Bootcamp.
You have earned your High and Tight.
So we go to the barber and do our training exercises for the day. When we get back to the barracks everybody is dying for the opportunity to get to a mirror and see their new hair cut. So we thought we were about to get our opportunity to check out our new hair doos but instead of the the normal squad by squad approach the let us use the head all at once.
You start to get the sense something is up, so as we all rush to the head, we quickly get the picture. The mirrors have been covered with paper and the D.I.s are going crazy yelling. They know you are just itching to get a peak at that new haircut but they once again have put you in your place.
At the moment I was a bit aggravated but as I get older I really get a kick out of the humor behind who came up with this one.