Sunday, September 7, 2008

Re, On being a Marine


Another good note, and very insightful. At the end of boot camp, our Drill Instructor gave us a warning, something along the lines of, “you have received and will receive the finest training in the world. You have become part of an elite fighting force. There is nothing finer than being a Marine. However, don’t make the mistake of thinking that you can go into the first bar you encounter and challenge the biggest swabby there to a fight and expect to win. You won’t. It is only functioning in your unit in accordance with your training in the activities that you were trained to perform that you will be exemplary.”

I have misgivings about the movement against bullying as described in your article: But I’ve heard that the same thing is true of the Marine Corps. Drill Instructors are no longer allowed to hit recruits. We were all hit in boot camp in my day. It wasn’t a big deal. It was to help us focus and pay attention. I don’t recall any Marine opposing that or complaining about cruelty. I wonder where the complaints came from. Perhaps if some Drill Instructor went berserk and put a boot into the hospital that would be a problem, but I wasn’t aware of anything like that. I remember a Drill Instructor at Paris Island walking a bunch of recruits into the swamp and drowning them, but if I recall correctly that was an accident. I’m afraid with all this interest in softened treatment we’ll have a softened end result.

Your article about looking for a gene that might permit the British Army to determine who will qualify to make it through SAS training is interesting. My training experience wasn’t quite as traumatic as it was for most of the boots because I had read about the Marine Corps in advance and knew a bit what to expect physically – sort of. I was on the gymnastic team in High School and trained hard at that, but knowing that I was going into the Marine Corps I also did a lot of running and swimming. The books I read were old so I really didn't know what I was going to be asked to do, but I didn't want to risk failing; so as a result of all I did before I went in, my actual training wasn’t very hard on me physically. I had read that it would be foolish to try and impress the drill instructor by showing you could do more push-ups or chin-ups than anyone else so I never tried that. Nothing, however, prepared me for the psychological part of the training, but I paid attention and accepted the fact that I was lower than a bug and couldn’t strike a mosquito that might be feeding off my arm because it was a higher form of life. I accepted all of that better than most probably, but Boot Camp seemed endless. And I think it was only 16 weeks long. I got one or two weeks of leave and then had to report to Camp Pendleton for Combat Training. And after that I went through "Advanced" Combat Training.

It was quite an adjustment to try and behave differently at Pendleton. Early on at Pendleton I recall a young lieutenant talking to me while I sat at attention. He told me to loosen up and reminded me that I was no longer in Boot Camp, but I couldn’t. I forget how many weeks it took me to loosen up. Some would say I still haven’t.

Lawrence Helm

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