17. Selected

Selected

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.

‭‭Romans 8:28

Field week was next, the worst section of bootcamp. We packed up our rucksacks with all of the necessary items: poncho, poncho liner, sleeping bags, bivy sack (waterproof cover for sleeping bags), foam mat, warming layers, flak jacket, Kevlar helmet, MRE’s, two full canteens, canteen cup, moonbeam (aka flashlight), E-tool (fold up shovel), extra cammies, socks, underwear, skivvy shirts (olive green undershirts), waterproofing bag, toiletries, baby wipes and most importantly, our rifle. The loadout weighed between sixty and seventy pounds. Once packed, we didn’t drive to our campsite. We walked.

Having lined up in a column of two, our platoon set out to the wilderness. The sound of boots crunching the dirt path, rapid expirations and grunts were heard as our shoulders ached and sweat accumulated. Stragglers retreated while the formation marched to the destination. We couldn’t maintain equal distance from one another, so inevitable slinky stretches and contractions occurred. This forced those exiting a wad to jog or at least power walk to catch up. Some struggled to do so and drifted to the back.

Somehow I managed to maintain my stride during these death marches. I never excelled nor fell away. Though I maintained midway through the pack, this didn’t negate the extreme stress my tiny frame endured. I felt good for no more than ten minutes. Every second after that felt like my body never ceased communicating its unrelenting duress. My virgin feet and thighs developed new discomforts as my toes blistered while my mid-thighs and ass crack chafed, a burning sensation between my legs I’d never felt before. 

The rolling hills and towering mountains are endless in Camp Pendleton. During these expeditions many short, steep slopes added insult to injury. Our stringy formation wove through knolls, hills, gulches and gullies, as if the most direct route to our destination stitched through them all. The barren sandbox was an empty void, nullifying any hope that our groans of discomfort could reach any rescuer’s ear.

Coarse sand carpets the landscape intermixed with small brush. A distinct smell difficult to describe permeates the region. Dry desert, wild reeds, parched bushes with a hint of licorice is the best I can do to illustrate the scent. Morning dew and the cool evening elevates the notes in our nostrils while the afternoon sun diminishes it. 

We marched five kilometers to our destination. The hour and a half hump took us to a level dirt plain with metal bleachers underneath a shelter. Beyond the hut lay a cinder block structure split by a wall between, allowing for double the sets of toilets and two large urinal troughs on each side for recruits. Above each trough, several laminated diagrams with varying shades of urine warned us to keep ourselves adequately hydrated. This empty wilderness would be our home for the next week.

This is where we were introduced to basic patrol and combat tactics as well as wound management with tourniquets and Quick Clot. Also the most basic fundamental rule of combat, cover and move, penetrated its first borehole into our brain during field week. This rule essentially means that at all times a Marine is engaging the enemy while one or several others maneuver on the target. In its most basic form, we were taught how to advance toward the target with “buddy rushing.”

A lineup of pairs faced a wooden wall fifty yards away. Once the drill instructor yelled “Contact front!” we all repeated the command and dropped to the prone position. Then as pairs, one would “shoot” our unloaded rifle at the enemy while the other ran towards the target. We were taught to whisper a ditty to ourselves while running under fire. “I’m up, he sees me, I’m down.” By the time a runner finished saying this he needed to hit the deck. Once the now grounded buddy begins engaging the enemy, the one previously firing in the prone now becomes the runner, ideally reaching at least in line with his comrade, but hopefully further. Upon arriving at the end point, the same process was repeated, except now we ran away from the objective as if escaping an overrun position.

I hated every second of this. I’d hit the dirt, only to fumble my way back up. Once I sprinted the distance, I winced with pain as my knee braced my descent as it collided with packed dirt covered in pebbles. As I extended my torso forward and slapped my chest on the ground, I weakly oriented my rifle forward attempting to view a target through my iron sights. The momentum carrying my sweaty Kevlar slipped it forward, obscuring my vision and clunking into the rails of my rifle, dragging my glasses1 with it. Sweat drops accumulated on my foggy lenses, obscuring my already weak visual of the target. By the time I adjusted my gear my buddy arrived. Winded and demoralized, I hopelessly emerged from my grave as the exercise continued. 

Each day that progressed felt more defeating than the last. My most demoralizing encounter occurred a few days into field week. During a crash course introduction to the M-249 Squad Automatic Weapon (SAW), a 5.56 mm belt fed light machine gun, the series commander Captain Ludwig observed our training. In the first phase, he allowed each of us to line up to ask him an individual question about anything on our mind. I asked him about presidential security, because I hadn’t heard anything about interviews up until that point. He assured me that if my contract included presidential duty, I would receive more information about the process later.

While standing in the back of the line, Captain Ludwig watched behind me. I noticed he stood alone, the closet drill instructors twenty feet away. Still unsettled about not hearing any further news of my presidential contract, I wanted answers. Since I’d already spoken with him in the past, I figured he would be willing to fill me in on any updates. Though my nervous system provided cold sweats, anxiety and knots in my stomach, ample warning against speaking with him, I ignored my better judgment and decided to approach him. When I walked up to the officer, I stood at attention and spoke. 

Five sets of eyes beneath campaign covers locked on me before letting out my first word. “Sir, this recruit requests to speak with…” At this point I realized I’d never addressed an officer before. Whenever speaking to a drill instructor we follow our request with their title, rank and name, but no enlisted personnel ever addresses an officer by their rank, they always say “Sir.” After pausing for a brief second, my blood pressure dropped. Thankfully I remembered his title “…series commander Captain Ludwig!” 

Though I managed to correctly address him after a pause, no time elapsed before every hat orbiting the area accelerated into the black hole I created. Brims of campaign covers hovered in like sawblades attempting to open my skull. Spit shot-gunned out of mouths as curses were unloaded in my direction at point blank range.

“Crank, are you fucking high?!” Staff Sergeant Esquivel’s megaphone of a mouth overpowered the rest as he closed in. 

Captain Ludwig gestured for the bombs and weapons to cease fire. The smoking red barrels crept back, still oriented in my direction as they replenished their ammunition.

“What is your question, recruit…Decoupcrank?” the captain asked as he strained to read my mashed up, unhyphenated nametape. Nearly in shock from the wounds sustained, I no longer cared about my inquiry, but I already dug my own grave so I figured may as well bleed out in it.

“This recruit was wondering…about the status of…the presidential security process, sir!” Staff Sergeant Esquivel’s eyes widened with fury rivaling the maximum width of his gaping jaw.

“Interviews will be conducted soon,” he calmly replied. 

A half-second later the bulldogs continued ripping me to shreds. My senior drill instructor, livid for multiple reasons, ushered me to follow him back to the platoon. Apparently I’m not supposed to skip rungs in the chain of command. Apparently I’m never supposed to address an officer unless first spoken to, and especially never calling him by his rank. Apparently I should have known these things and I did, or at least my subconscious knew, attempting to sound the alarm to my thick skull in not so subtle ways.

The rest of my platoon stood in formation after completing the activity. Staff Sergeant Esquivel brought me to them. After he verbally humiliated me in front of the rest of the platoon by proclaiming my idiotic misdeed, my senior drill instructor elongated my shame as he began hazing the whole platoon. When I ran to join them, he stopped me, pulled me beside him and doused me with the indignation of my peers as he made me watch them suffer for my foolish misconduct. 

A day or two later, I awaited to enter the dreaded gas chamber, where CS gas (tear gas) is activated on a tray while training is conducted with the gasmask on and off. I knew this was to happen at some point in boot camp and the haunting thought of what it might be never left my mind. Thinking about being gassed evoked terrifying images of gagging and suffocation. I was surprised to see a cinder block shed instead of an established building. Our platoon sat in formation awaiting our turn to be tortured.

Still shaken by my blunder and anxious about the gas chamber, I sat hunched over, fearfully pondering how terrible the fumes would be. With the despondency of miserable training raining in my mind and the recent catastrophic blow I suffered rippling bruises throughout my consciousness, surprise and relief overcame me when Sergeant Colston notified me I would be sent back to the rear for my interview and therefore would be skipping the gas chamber. My excitement however, for this long awaited moment, failed to surface above the water of my sinking mood. I moped into the back of a Humvee.

About five of us were brought to the rear, taken into a hallway and ordered to stand in line. A Marine hastily briefed us the protocol for entering the room with the high ranked screeners. A few minutes later the first recruit was called in. No more than ten minutes elapsed before he left and headed back for the Humvee. 

When my turn came around, I pivoted in the door, stood at attention and greeted my hosts as instructed. “Have a seat,” said the major. Four men of rank sat in the room, two officers and two enlisted though the only insignia I remember was a golden oak leaf. Within seconds, they could see the kid sitting before them looked like a whipped dog. My cammies were crusted with sweaty dirt and my eyes appeared as hollow sockets darkened by depression, fatigue and poorly smudged off camo paint. Like a completely withdrawn glass safe, my seated upright posture ineffectively veneered my fully mugged confidence. 

My response to perhaps the most important question couldn’t have been further off from what they were looking for. They asked something along the lines of, “How do you handle unfamiliar situations where you have to make tough decisions?” 

After a nervous pause, I uttered my quavering, dimwitted response. “Well sir, I operate in comfort zones sir. When in a new situation, I gain confidence as I learn what is normal and what isn’t. From there I can determine the right course of action.”

Though the interview entailed other less critical questions, they quickly realized I’d be a worthless, push-over, yes-man guard afraid of anyone who proved to be a threat, the exact opposite of the type of person you’d want guarding the most important leader in the country.

I now wonder what they said about me when I left, after my abysmal failure of an interview. They must have gasped at how utterly unqualified I was for the duty. Though I hoped somehow I made it despite feeling an inkling that I didn’t do so well, my desires for guarding the Whitehouse were dashed when they informed me I wasn’t selected.

  1. The glasses issued in boot camp are thick saucers wrapped in an ugly brown rim. They are nicknamed BCG’s which stands for Birth Control Goggles.

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