School of Infantry was a real eye opener for me. Like I said, boot camp wasn’t really that challenging, mentally or physically, but SOI was different.
After MCRD I had ten days off, most of which I spent asleep. My mom thought it would be hilarious to play reveille at six in the morning while I was asleep on the couch. She was incorrect in this belief.
I checked into SOI at Camp Pendleton California after a long bus ride back from Northern California. When you check in to SOI you don’t usually start right away because Marines are checking in all the time, but the actual class cycle is set, so you generally have to wait around for a bit. Could be days, could be weeks. No one in the Marine Corps just waits around (unless you’re an NCO) so we were put to work. I ended up pulling guard, which wasn’t too bad considering the alternative was working in the kitchen or some other non-sense.
What I was not prepared for was staying awake for extended periods of time in the middle of the night, so for the most part we were living on coffee and shockingly large amounts of No-Doz, which is really just more caffeine. I mean shocking. If you took this much caffeine you would die instantly.
Being in the guard rotation actually helped prepare me for SOI itself, because I was a bit of a mess. After three NCO’s tried to stuff me into a wall locker (I successfully fought them off) I decided I needed to get better at my uniform maintenance etc. This led to me having utilities so starched and perfect you could actually take someone’s eye out with my collar point, and boots so perfectly shined they could be considered a range safety hazard if the sun reflected off of them and into your eyes.
While I was at the guard a Corporal went down on an NJP (non-judicial punishment) for putting a switch blade beneath a Marine he was forcing to hold a wall sit. So that’s a little snapshot of life in the guard.
Finally, my class picked up for SOI, and I was off to Bravo Company. I remember a sign up that had a recreation of the image of a Marine bayonetting a German soldier at Belleua Wood with the words “Get Hard or Die.” beneath it. That was the exact moment I thought: “Oh. This is for real.”
My evolution of SOI was the first class to get shortened down from 60 days to 30 days, and as we all know, the first version of something is always perfect. We basically just ran for thirty days straight because we were late for everything. This new timeline had been some sort of theoretical construct that seemingly had not translated to reality. To make matters worse, in the Marine Corps we have a tradition of giving the heavy weapons to the smallest Marines. Not really sure what the idea is there, but I was dragging around a 249 SAW with all the ammunition and inexplicably a .50 cal barrel at least some of the time. I’m not even sure why I had the latter or where it came from.
Camp Pendleton has a lot of big hills and mountains, which only seem to go up. Pretty cool trick and I’m not sure how they pulled it off, but I swear I only ever went uphill, unless it was steep enough for me to potentially fall down, in which case some downhill hiking was allowed.
I forget how long we were in the field, but it was a decent amount of time. Most of SOI was field work, but I’m talking about going out and not coming back for a couple weeks. We did a lot of land navigation, range work and of course MOUT town. Love me some MOUT town. Military operations in urban terrain. This basically means us running around with blanks and MILES gear that never worked, shooting each other in the face. Yes, we were shooting each other in the face with blanks, sometimes on full auto via your friendly neighborhood SAW gunner. Not me, that was foolishness. Now I know that you can be killed by being shot in the face with blanks. Chalk one more up to luck.
I’ll admit, SOI was a bit of a kick in the balls for me because while I had some endurance I was not very physically strong and hauling that 249 around sucked big time. Something important that I learned there was that I was capable of a lot more than I thought I was, and I carried that through the rest of my time in the Marines and throughout my life.
Looking back on it I can’t honestly say that going 0311 (Infantry) was the best decision, because it really doesn’t have a direct and clean translation into civilian jobs. I was rejected from two police departments in the Bay Area BECAUSE I had been an 0311. I was told directly by someone within the Oakland Police that we were seen as being too aggressive. Well, I can’t say you’re wrong about that.
So yeah, maybe I should have gone into Intelligence like the recruiter wanted me to, or something else, but I don’t regret my decision. I’m glad I went through everything I did, and even though I didn’t gain any marketable skills in modern society, I could argue I gained the most marketable skill in the history of the world.
The ability to kill while keeping others from being killed.
And also cleaning. I’m amazing at cleaning.