Second Chances

This is the third in a series depicting the author’s experience in Marine Corps boot camp; the story continues just after the “recruit” is injured in training and is given two choices.

A little surgery didn't slow Randy down for long.

After discovering I had popped a hernia during the third week of boot camp, my drill instructors quickly shipped me to the nearby naval hospital for examination.

The next morning a Marine Corps major strode into my ward, which I shared with several others–collectively called the “sick, lame, and lazy”–and stopped at my bed.

Now understand, to a “boot private,” a Marine Corps major is a lofty being, a member of the Mount Olympus club. The only other major I had run into thus far in my three-week Marine Corps career had chewed me out for rendering a totally inadequate salute.

So I scrambled to get out of my hospital bed and come to as good a position of “attention” as possible under the circumstances. But the major put his hand on my shoulder, lightly pushed me back, and said, “At ease, recruit, don’t get up.”

“Sir, aye, aye, sir,” I said, having learned that as a recruit, the first and last word when addressing anybody but another recruit was “sir” or “ma’am.” I tried to resume at least a respectful sitting position of attention, which wasn’t easy to do with a hernia.

A Fork In The Road

“Recruit,” the major said in a quiet and friendly tone, “you have a hernia, and you need surgery to fix it,” confirming what I already suspected.

“You have two choices,” he said casually, as though he was giving me a choice between mashed potatoes or French fries.

“You can go home today and have this surgery with a civilian doctor of your choice, and not have to come back. The Marine Corps would release you from your contract. You could stay home and carry on with your life. What would you think of that?”

At first glance, it sounded great. No more trash can-banging wake-up calls at zero-dark-thirty by drill instructors who loved their work. No more two minutes to shave and shower with 40 other guys, all at the same time. No more “duck” meals, where you “duck” into the chow hall, inhale a plate full of food, then “duck” back outside to do max pull-ups.

Sitting in that hospital bed, this choice was appealing.

“Sir, what’s my other choice, sir?” I asked hesitantly.

“You can stay here, get the operation, and we’ll send you back to a medical rehabilitation platoon until you’re mended, then send you back to a new platoon on their third week of training, and you can become a Marine,” he said, stopping abruptly and looking me dead in the eyes.

“What’s it gonna be, recruit? I don’t have all day.” His tone had changed dramatically.

I was faced with a Yogi Berra moment. Yogi said, “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.”

I didn’t realize at the time my decision would define me from that point forward.

Do I take the easy way out and go home, where I would probably regret quitting? Do I take the hard way out and go back to 10 more weeks of hell, which I would probably regret at some point?

I could see the major wasn’t going to give me much more time.

“Sir, I’ll stay,” I said, as every inch of my body and brain screamed, “What did you just say?!”

I had taken the fork. Right, wrong, or indifferent, the choice had been made.

“That is a good decision, son,” the major said, his voice now smooth and friendly again. “You will come to understand that you just made a man’s choice, not a boy’s.”

So I stayed, had the operation, spent a month on light duty, and then was assigned to a new platoon three weeks into its training.

Hitting A Wall

On the day I joined my new platoon of about 40 men, they were running their first time through the Marine Corps obstacle course, a gut-wrenching series of walls, ropes, hurdles, logs, and other torture devices to test agility, strength, and tenacity.

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