Second Chances

Anyone who has had an earlier form of hernia operation is aware that a month after surgery, one is still sore, still tender. I was, but I didn’t think the drill instructors (DIs) would really care, so I got in line to run the obstacles.

I did fine on the first few, but when I approached the 7-foot-high wall where I had to pull myself up and roll over it on my belly, I stalled.

On my first try I hit the wall at a run, getting halfway up, when my recent surgery began screaming at me. I dropped down, ran back a few paces, and drove toward the wall again, slamming into it and pulling up. No good.

I did this several times until one of the DIs noticed me and yelled, menacingly, “What the heck (not the word he used) is your problem, recruit? Are you having a darned (not the word he used) bad day?”

He ran over, prepared to urge me to keep trying. He asked, “Who the heck (not the word he used) are you?”

I gave him my name. He said, “Where did you come from?” I told him.

“What were you in the hospital for?” I told him.

“And you’re trying to run the obstacle course the first day back? Are you (expletive) crazy? I like that,” he said with a smile. “Can you finish this course, recruit?”

“Sir, yes, sir, I can,” not really sure I could, but believing that trying would be better than being screamed at by this banshee.

“Go around the wall and finish the course,” he said. I did both.

Afterwards, the same DI pulled me aside and asked, in a normal tone and with seemingly genuine concern, “How are you feeling?”

“Sir, OK, sir,” I replied.

“You did good finishing that course,” he said. “Not everybody would have even tried. But I don’t want you to end up back in the hospital, so if you’re hurting, you let me know, understand?”

“Sir, yes, sir,” I said, knowing that it would be a cold day in hell before I admitted more pain. I was going to finish what I had started, and I didn’t want another injury to stop me. I was in this for the long haul.

After a week or so, I had forgotten about my surgery and was back at full throttle.

While in the hospital, I received some helpful advice from a gunnery sergeant who was recovering from surgery. He told me that boot camp was like Little League or any sports game–there were rules, and once you learned to live by the rules, you could have a good time.

And so I did.

Next month: Earning the Eagle, Globe, and Anchor

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

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