Earning the Eagle, Globe, and Anchor

This is the fourth in a series depicting the author’s experience in Marine Corps boot camp; the story continues just after the “recruit” is injured and returns to training, but with a different platoon.

Making a difference in a recruit's life.

Upon returning to a boot camp training platoon following a hernia operation, I heeded the advice of a Marine gunnery sergeant I had met in the hospital–treat boot camp like Little League; learn the rules of the game, then have fun playing it.

I had learned the drill instructors (called DIs in Marine Corps lingo) were flesh-and-blood humans and the raging-bull attitude was an alter-ego for most of them. They used that attitude to get the attention of the mostly 18- and 19-year-old recruits.

Many DIs in 1976 were fresh from the war in Vietnam. Their goal was to give recruits the benefit of combat experience, to prepare the next generation for the challenges ahead. Many were married, had children, or at least had extended families.

I learned the trait they were looking for above all others was tenacity. They wanted to know that, when something impossible was presented, the first impulse was to overcome it. The word “can’t” was not allowed to be used.

In some measure, DIs are similar to teachers or youth-sports coaches; they want to know their students and players are attentive, listening, learning, and benefiting. When they see great effort from students, those teachers, coaches, and DIs will all work harder and enjoy the experience even more.

Farfetched Fun

When I returned to a new platoon, I brought a totally different attitude with me. I began to decipher the rules of the game, which often had to be learned through trial and error. Once I had a grip on the rules, I began to have fun.

Understand that “fun” is a relative word in this case, and one that can only be used after the fact, having survived the experience. If I had been asked during one of our frequent trips to the sand/mud “pit,” where we did endless physical exercises to pay for someone’s mistakes, “fun” would not have been the first word out of my mouth.

If I was asked, “Hey, you having fun yet?” when I emerged from the gas chamber after being exposed to tear gas … well, I wouldn’t be able to answer at that moment, but one can guess my response.

No, “fun” is not the right word. More accurately, I began to learn the benefits of what was being taught there. I learned that, with the proper motivation, I could push myself mentally and physically well beyond where I thought I could.

I learned being a member of a team means I shed “me” and adopt “we.”

It became clear that when one member of the team failed, we all failed, and we all paid the price. So, it behooved all team members to help others to be successful.

Marching To The Beat Of F-Squad

About a week after joining my new platoon, I was put in charge of what I mentally called “F-Squad.”

The members of the fourth squad of this four-squad platoon, four weeks into 13 weeks of training, consisted of all the screw-ups. Some couldn’t march, some couldn’t shoot, some couldn’t get their racks (beds) fixed properly, and some had attitude issues. All had one problem or another that might have resulted in their being dropped.

At age 23, I was the second oldest man in my platoon; another recruit was 29. Maybe that’s why I was chosen for the job. Maybe I could be a big-brother figure.

My assignment, as designated by the senior DI, was to “get them squared away.” This was somewhat vague and seemed like one of those impossible missions, but I didn’t skip a beat. I went about getting to know each squad member, what their individual problems and strengths were.

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Related posts:

  1. Leadership By Wandering Around
  2. “Get Off My Bus!”
  3. Second Chances
  4. The History And Tradition Of Recreation
  5. Training Begins
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