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My Life in the Marines: Let’s all go to bootcamp

Growing up I was the exact reverse of what you would expect a future Marine to look and act like. I was a loner, I focused mostly on my graphic art, writing and music, and most of the time I tipped the scales at a whopping 100 pounds. My father had been a Green Beret in Vietnam, but we never saw eye to eye, so if anything that only pushed me further away from any future in the military.

Fast forward to the post-high school era and I had secured myself a nice job at the city planning department in Sonora, California. No one seemed to notice that I had no idea what I was doing, so this made me perfect for public service. Pun intended. I was playing in a band with my friend Nick, living in the haunted hotel and working for the Man. All was good, relatively speaking.

Except for the part where I was bored out of my mind and had no idea what I was supposed to do next. I would walk down the street to grab lunch a couple of times a week, and this route always took me past the armed forces recruiting station. People always want to hear the grand story of how I joined the Marines. The years of waiting until I was old enough to march into the recruiting office, or the swelling of patriotic pride that led me to serve my country.

I literally dropped in on my lunch break and a week later I was at Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego. To be fair I did have some feelings about doing my part and needing to toughen up a bit, but there wasn’t much more to it than that. I requested infantry because I figured if I was going to do it I might as well go all the way. Back than in 1997 03 (infantry) slots were pretty dried up, at least in my area. There really wasn’t much going on in terms of wars etc. so the 03 field wasn’t where it is now. I know this was legit and not some BS I was being fed because I talked with a few guys out front who were pretty pissed that they couldn’t get an 03 slot. One guy had been waiting for one to open up for six months. I don’t really know why I got one, but I do know things change minute to minute. I probable just walked in to the door at the right minute. They tried pretty hard to push me to Intelligence because of my ASVAB score, but I wasn’t having it.

I popped up to MEPS (military entrance processing station) in Sacramento and went through the ringer, where I found out I was physically and medically completely unremarkable. It was a bit of a wake up call, giving me a taste of what I was in for. Just a cog in the machine, keep moving along. Hurry up and wait.

I hadn’t been on a plane in about ten years, but there I was a few days later on a plane to Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego, rapidly heading to the point of no return. The reality is there are actually a bunch of ways to get out of the military in the first twelve months with no consequences, you just aren’t supposed to know about them, and for good reason. There were only a few of us on the plane coming down from the foothills of Northern California, and we were met by a Marine who unceremoniously ushered us onto a bus that was already packed with a bunch of other weirdos just like us. From there it’s a pretty short ride to MCRD, because it’s literally attached to the airport. Yes, you read that right. Hop the fence at MCRD and you’ll quickly be on the runway at San Diego Airport. We could have walked there.

By the time we reached MCRD it was nearly midnight, and these guys were waiting for us.

During this in-processing one of the most hilarious moments of my life occurred when they put me on the scale. The drill instructor looked at me and then looked at the scale again.

“Get off the scale.” So I got off the scale and he got on it, then stepped off and looked at me. “How in the hell do you weigh a hundred and fourteen pounds?!”

This recruit does not know.

That’s right sports fans. I checked in to MCRD standing five foot eight and weighing a one hundred and fourteen pounds. How is that possible you ask? It’s called being chronically malnourished. I was immediately put on double rations and was probably about two pounds away from being shipped to what’s called the Medical Rehabilitation Platoon, which would most likely have extended my boot camp stay by at least a month or two. This is where recruits go who have some kind of correctable medical issue like breaking a leg or something like that. I knew one guy who was in MRP at boot camp for a year. A. Year.

The second funniest experience was when the Drill Instructors yelled at us to take a knee. I had never played a sport in my life aside from some little league when I was like nine, so I did what anyone would do. I lifted up my leg and grabbed my knee. I was immediately smacked in the back of the head. Good times. BTW I now know what “take a knee” means.

My overall experience at Marine Corps boot camp was positive. I learned some stuff, got yelled at every waking minute of every day, and quickly got used to it. Everything in boot camp happens for a reason, and the stress level is intentional, because if you can’t handle getting yelled at without losing your cool, how are you going to handle people shooting at you?

My weight problem improved a bit and I exited around 125 pounds, which wasn’t bad.

That’s me in the front, and that is what spending your life hunched over a drafting table does to your posture. It’s better now.

The culmination of boot camp was a little anti-climactic for me. I was twenty when I entered, so I think I had a better understanding of the full journey we were on than most of the guys who were kind of living day to day. To be honest, I really wasn’t that much different when I exited from when I entered. I’d get ten days of leave and then would be checking in to the School of Infantry at Camp Pendleton CA, and that would be the experience that would change me forever.