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I’m proud of you maggots

March 13, 2011

A few weeks into Marine boot camp, the D.I.’s chose me to be platoon secretaryI

never found out why, but I salute whatever criteria they used.  The job helped me

immensely in keeping my sanity.  As I silently did paperwork in the duty hut at

night, I’d overhear the D.I.’s talking.

“Did they get their 200 squat thrusts today?”

“How many miles did you run them?”

“Any problems on the obstacle course?”

I soon realized that what seemed like spontaneous punishment for miniscule mis-

takes was really just part of an exercise plan.  It was nothing personal.  That some-

how brought great comfort to me, and I shared it with my fellow maggots.

But there was a down side to the job.  One day a D.I. told me to give another recruit

a test of push-ups, pull-ups and such.  The guy was quite overweight.  If he failed,

he would have to go to motivation platoon, which meant he’d be in with the very

worst boots on the base.  They ran constantly — until they got thin, got their minds

right, or simply broke.

“Flunk him,” the D.I. told me.  He wanted him out of the platoon.  So no matter how

much he tried, I had to tell him it wasn’t good enough.  He didn’t do very well and

likely flunked anyway.  But I felt terrible about it.  I took him back to the D.I. and

he was gone by lunch.

The rest of us pressed on.  We went to Camp Pendleton for two weeks on the rifle

range. It was a little bit looser schedule with some nice scenery, even if we were

humping the hills every day.  Then a situation arose.  Two guys in our unit were

hopeless shooters.  If they failed to qualify, it was a big black mark on the platoon,

the D.I.’s and the range instructors.

So another boot and I were asked to shoot for them.  On qualifying day, it was all

arranged.  He and I would shoot early as ourselves, fade into the crowd, and shoot

last as the other guys.  I barely qualified us both as marksmen, the least of the three

qualifying levels.  The other recruit qualified himself and his charge as experts, the

highest level.

Back as San Diego, we started marching better.  We settled into something similar

to a routine.  We were unpleasantly surprised less and less.  We even started to find

some humour in the plodding sadism of our D.I.’s.  One of them had us do set-ups

on the pavement right after we’d had our butts pierced like pin cushions with huge

gamma globulin shots.

We had our heads shaved two more times, but were actually allowed to show some

creativity by making our very utilitarian utility caps into jaunty shapes with starch

and clothespins.  It occupied our Sunday mornings.  Marines typically tucked those

ute caps in their belt behind them when they entered a building.  None of us left

boot camp without loosening our trousers in the head and bombarding our cap

now floating in the stool.

The only thing I ever got away with in boot camp was cheating in the tear gas

chamber.  We were required to pull the gas mask away from our face, then let it

snap back, so we’d get a good whiff of the gas.  Instructors made sure everyone

did it.  When my turn came, I flung my elbows up as far as I could and tugged on

the canisters that look like Basset hound jowls.  They jostled just enough to look

like I’d fulfilled my obligation.  I was escorted back out into the sun-kissed San

Diego air.

After eight weeks we were lean, green and mean.  We had a graduation ceremony.

I was hoping that at least one of our D.I.’s would say “I’m proud of you maggots,”

but none did.  They were thinking about the next group, I suppose.  Again, it was

nothing personal.

Just before we left for our next part of training, we finally got our boots.  I made

sure mine fit better than my tennis shoes.  We piled onto another bus.  As we rode

through the base, we saw motivation platoon running in place at an intersection.

The guy I had to flunk was in the front row.  He had lost at least 60 pounds.  He

recognized us, smiled and saluted.

  1. March 13, 2011 7:48 am

    This Marines stuff amazes me. I’m so glad you’re sharing it!

    • March 13, 2011 11:50 am

      Thanks, Coach. I may stay with it awhile, at least until we build the chicken coop.

  2. March 13, 2011 11:54 am

    I’m really enjoying it!

    • March 13, 2011 4:19 pm

      Thank you, Joan. I wasn’t sure how it would be received, but results have been positive. I’ve got plenty of Marine stories left. They’ve been fun and cathartic to write about, but I’m so glad that I don’t have to do it again.

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