19. Marine

Marine

Put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires… put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.

Ephesians 4:22, 24

With second phase now over, we returned to MCRD to finish out our final month of boot camp. In third phase, we were given more freedom and hazed less. Things began wrapping up as we prepared for and completed our final fitness test, drill and uniform inspections. I will never forget our final dress Alphas inspection. 

We stood on the grinder1 at parade rest with our rifles2 wearing our full Alphas uniform with our jacket and barracks cover. This process took about two and a half hours as the entire company of eight platoons stood motionless until approached by one of the many inspectors. At this time in mid-October, the San Diego sun shined bright, heating the area to about eighty-five degrees. The heat wasn’t the worst part.

At that time many fires raged in southern California for weeks. The blazes were so widespread and intense that Fox company missed the Crucible. We were outraged upon hearing this because they still graduated and became Marines even though they skipped the Marine defining moment. I’d have felt like an imposter if that was me.

The blue sky hung tainted with gray, most noticeable as it touched down to the hazy horizon. The otherwise sapphire blanket above peppered us with ash as they delicately drifted like polluted snowflakes across our formation. As the inspection dragged on, tufts of soot collected on our covers and shoulders. 

The air was laid thick with the scent of smoke. My lungs, accustomed to fresh Washington air, communicated disgust to my now churning gut after wafting in unfiltered particulates. The queasiness never abated.

To make things worse, I hadn’t properly broken in my barracks cover. There is a stiff, circular metal ring connecting the cover to the bill that a head is supposed to fit into. Mine however, rather than being formed to my noggin, was oval-shaped in the wrong direction. The front and the back of the support were tighter than the sides, which painfully pressured my forehead. I could tolerate it for a few minutes, but after about thirty, I thought it would cut to my bone. 

The culminating discomfort of the situation reached its peak. I had to relieve something. I couldn’t run out of formation, I couldn’t snatch away the smoke and ash and I couldn’t even puke for that matter. I could, however, adjust my cover.

For this ceremonial inspection, we were required to be statues unless approached by an inspector, and even then, we could only perform a small set of strictly rehearsed movements. I nervously observed the drill instructors as they approached other recruits. Without being able to turn my head in either direction, I strained my eyes to my left and right to see if any threats flanked me. None were seen, but any sudden movements would single me out like an arterial bleed in shark-infested water.

When I could observe no safer scenario, I snapped my hand to the bill of my cover, grabbed and moved it up an inch to relieve my gouged forehead. My cover, now balancing on my head, could be toppled over by a light breeze, but at least my scalp’s circulation returned. I immediately swooped my left hand to the small of my back, wondering if Jaws would consume me. No shark fins were seen. I made it.

At this point the finish line of boot camp could be seen and felt. The final days were spent readying our uniforms, performing our final drill routine and then the day before graduation the Eagle Globe and Anchor ceremony occurred. After that event, we no longer were raggedy recruits. We had earned the title. From that point and forever after we are Marines. 

Before the Eagle Globe and Anchor ceremony began I spotted mom and Lee in the crowd, but couldn’t find dad.

“Hey, where’s dad, is he here?”

“He said he couldn’t make it,” Lee said.

“Wow… seriously?”

“Yep, said he didn’t have the money.”

“I see,” I said, my eyes shifting downward.

He could have made it, there was no reason not to. Two aunts lived less than three hours away and would likely have helped him out with the travel costs. Hell, had I known, I’d have handed over some of the money saved up from boot camp. If he wanted to be there, he could have been. 

After the ceremony we were joined by our family for a platoon lunch. At this potluck we could speak to our drill instructors for the first time as Marines. I sought Staff Sergeant Esquivel, Sergeant Colston and Sergeant Taylor to shake their hands as if I were a college football player thanking my coaches before being drafted into the NFL. 

Staff Sergeant Esquivel’s once terrifying, gaping mouth now shown an enormous grin directed at me as I approached him. 

“Hey, Crank! I know you’ll do great things man, I’m proud of you!” I smiled and thanked him. I found Sergeant Taylor and shook his hand. He congratulated me with a more tightened smile and a few words. Sergeant Colston found me before I could find him. He appeared over my left shoulder. I proudly shook his hand. 

“Hey Crank,” he said as I caught one more smile on his face, “I was hard on you because I believe in you.”  

“Wow, thank you sergeant.” Perhaps my unbearable punishment for a minor offense served as an opportunity for him to impart confidence to me. I mean hell, if I can do Smurf jacks for an hour, I could do anything. I stood a bit taller after hearing his words.

The following day was graduation. Family had already arrived to attend the Eagle Globe and Anchor ceremony and I ran to meet mom and Lee afterward. Lee’s sister, Donna greeted me in her dress whites. She at that time served in the Navy. After gaining a new understanding and appreciation for military rank, I noticed she had anchors on her collar.

“Hey Aunt Donna, what rank are you?” I asked.

“I’m a master chief, Ryan,” she replied. My eyes widened. 

“You’re an E-9?” 

“Yes I am!”

“Wow, so you’re like a sergeant major. Holy crap, a sergeant major is in charge of the entire MCRD base. I had no idea.”

After my shock wore off from meeting a high ranking official, I chatted with mom and Lee. Realizing I needed to update dad, I asked mom for her cell phone to give him a call. He picked up after several rings.

“Herlo?” he answered. 

“Hey dad I’m done, I finished boot camp. I’m a Marine!”

“Oh…Hey, Rrryan, that’sss great.” Although I didn’t immediately notice his impaired speech with his greeting, by now I caught on. 

“Yeah, I will have ten days of leave before I begin more training, I’ll be able to see you soon.”

“Yyyeep, sssounds good…I’m still here nnot doin’ much.”

“Well… Okay, I’ll see you soon. I love you.”

“I lllove you too bud,” I heard rustling on the other end as he fumbled to hang up the phone. 

His drunken attempt at a conversation splashed out much of my recently overflowing joy. Dad was piss drunk barely past noon. Now at one of my proudest moments he couldn’t even speak proper English to me. Perhaps he was subconsciously getting back at me for mindlessly attempting to converse with him when he called during my gaming sessions. Dad knew I wasn’t paying attention to him. I did this on more than one occasion. I guess everything comes full circle. 

Before I left for the Marine Corps, during my latter years in high school, dad’s living conditions deteriorated. His antique seeking gift turned to hoarding and weeks worth of laundry piled up, as if he’d rather buy new clothes at GoodWill for a few bucks instead of washing his own. His dishes continued piled in the sink and elsewhere in his moldy, shambled home.

I anticipated he’d suffer more once I left. Austin and I were his only reasons for living. My brother already left for California and I joined the military. What could he do now? All he had was his cave in the woods and his bitter sorrows. Not even Ditty lived to keep him company.

I couldn’t let dad’s depression drag me down. I’d just completed the most difficult boot camp of all the military branches. From birth until July 29th 2007 I wandered through life, not knowing or caring how to succeed in the real world. Now, in twelve weeks, from July 30th until October 26th, I accomplished and learned more about life than I had in my nearly two decades long life. I was no longer sliding down the path of ignorance. I was no longer a clueless kid. I was no longer trapped. I was free. I am a Marine.

  1. The large, flat paved area in front of a barracks is called the “grinder.” In some cases, as it is in boot camp, this paved area is extended a great distance and is then also called the “parade deck,” where ceremonies such as final drill, graduation and other events are performed.
  2. Parade rest entails both feet shoulder-width apart and hands bent ninety degrees while each hand rests on the small of the back. This is often used as a gesture of submission when a subordinate speaks to a superior officer or NCO. During drill while standing with a rifle, everything remains the same except the muzzle of the rifle is in your right with your hand fully extended forward, about eight inches from your right hip. With the weapon tilted forward and the base of the rifle facing away, only the tip of the buttstock where the sling would attach touches ground and your boot near the pinky toe.

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