“Get Off My Bus!”

They harassed us, instructed us, and tried to find our weakness, all to prepare us for the arrival a day or two later of our leader, the One, He Who Would Be Our Idol, the Senior Drill Instructor (SDI).

The SDI normally had the additional stripes of a staff sergeant or gunnery sergeant. We knew he must be fearsome because the lesser gods parted the seas before him, screaming “make a hole,” meaning to move out of the way or be booted out of the way.

We all fell in (lined up) in front of our wooden, rectangular-shaped, scarred lockers at the foot of our racks (bunk beds), at attention, or what we then thought was the position of attention. We soon found out it wasn’t.

There were two lines of young men facing each other about eight feet apart, all sizes, all backgrounds, all colors. We soon learned there were only two colors in the Marine Corps–light green and dark green–and the Corps would treat us all the same.

The SDI strode down the middle of our ranks slowly, his hands cupped together behind his back, silent, deadly looking. He was probably not six feet tall, but to us he looked much larger. On his chest he wore ribbons and medals noting his combat service in Vietnam. As he took each step, he looked each of us in the eye, disdainfully, disgustedly.

When he reached the end of the squad bay, he pivoted perfectly and, without breaking stride, retraced his steps to the front, where he stopped, clicked his heels together, and executed what we later learned was an “about-face.”

He talked to us then, not in a scream, but in a low, slow, menacing voice that barely masked his intense anger: “You are by far the most pitiful bunch of maggots I have ever seen in my life. I cannot believe they would send you here to be Marines. You all belong home with your mamas.”

Then, turning on his heel, he barked over his shoulder as he left the room, “Drill Instructors, square these dirtbags away!”

At that point, we did look like a rag-tag bunch of misfits. Our freshly sheared, pasty-white heads made us stand out as recruits. Our rumpled, unstarched, unironed, sateen-green field uniforms resembled the clothing of a bunch of wayfaring refugees.

As a unit–at that point–we were a mob. We were still thinking in terms of “I” and “me.” Those two terms were banished from our vocabulary in short order.

We would learn that the strength of a unit is not in the individual, but in the group; this applies to any unit, from a Marine Corps training platoon to an entire country, like the United States of America.

We would learn that our focus had to be on helping our fellow Marines to be successful, because if they failed, we failed.

We would learn to never, ever leave our fellow Marines behind, whether on a three-mile run or on a battlefield. We started together, we finished together.

We would learn many things over the next 12 weeks, but the most valuable was the one Marines take to their grave, whether in for three years or 30: “Once a Marine, always a Marine.”

Male or female, white, black, red, or yellow, short or tall, fat or skinny, we would learn that once we earned that title, we could always turn to another Marine and say “help,” and hundreds of years of tradition would demand it be given.

We would learn that united we are unbeatable, but divided we leave gaps in our ranks that the enemy will exploit. This is a lesson America needs now.

Next issue: The real training begins.

Randy Gaddo, a retired Marine, who also served until recently in municipal parks and recreation, lives in Peachtree City, Ga., and can be reached at (678) 350-8642 or email cwo4usmc@comcast.net.

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  1. Leadership By Wandering Around
  2. The History And Tradition Of Recreation
  3. Second Chances
  4. Training Begins
  5. The Importance Of Employee Recognition

One comment on ““Get Off My Bus!”

  1. Kelli Witmer on said:

    Once a Marine, Always A Marine … is a fantastic story and I can’t wait until the 2nd part of the story. In one of our parks, we are creating an outdoor area that details American history, with an emphasis on the Constitution and the military branches. It’s always great to read a personal account of military service. Thank you, Mr. Gaddo, for your service.

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