By Jed Anderson
“Welcome to Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego. Keep your heads down until I say look up.”
It is 2330, on Tuesday the 30th Of November, 2004. I have been up since 0500 that morning, after only getting about four hours of bad sleep the night before. The man speaking to those of us on the bus is more than a man. He is a Marine Corps Drill Instructor, a figure that I have been ambiguously looking forward to encountering for the past nine months.
“All right, now, eyes on me. When you are spoken to,” this being continues, “you will end each sentence with the word, ‘sir,’ loud and clear. DO YOU UNDERSTAND ME!”
“YES, SIR,” those of us on the bus answer back.
“Good,” he tells us. “Now unload, front to back. When you get outside, you will find a pair of yellow footprints and stand in them. NOW MOVE! GET THE HELL OFF MY BUS!”
As quickly as we can, we file off the bus with multiple D.I.’s yelling at us, telling us to move faster. It is a chaotic scramble off the bus and to the legendary yellow footprints.
Once everyone is off the bus and his own pair of footprints filled, the Drill Instructors march between the rows, putting us at the Position of Attention (P.O.A.), a stance we will become familiar with.
“Listen up,” a Drill Instructor says, as he walks to the front of the formation. “I don’t give a shit where you all came from. You might’ve been top dog on the block back in Shitsville. But, here, you ain’t shit. You will no longer refer to yourself as, ‘I,’ or, ‘me,’ for you all are no longer persons, or people. You all are now ‘recruits’ here. This means you are nothing. No, you are less than nothing.”
He says these words with such strong conviction, they strike deep.
“The ground you stand upon is worth more than you.”
He pauses to look over all the young, tender, baby-faced boys in the formation.
“But, we are going to change that. We are going to make you Marines.”
He looks over those of us in the formation once more, nods slightly, and then says, “Now go the FUCK inside, right now.”
We are instructed to right-face, and file off into the building and stand against the “bulkhead,” nut to butt.
Over the next few hours, we are rushed from one place to another. First, a hasty haircut where everything comes off. Then, we are rushed through an area where Marines sort through our personals, which we then pack into boxes. We are sent through the issuing gauntlet. We are given skivvies (underwear and green t-shirts), socks, go-fasters (shoes), towels, wash rags, laundry bags, P.T. shorts, glow-strap (reflector belt), ink-stick (pen), lead-stick (pencil), knowledge book (Marine text book), and a padlock. We are hustled into a squad-bay filled with rack (bunk beds), and are lined up in alphabetical order – I am No. 1 because of my last name. We are ordered to “stow our shit” in the foot locker at the end of each rack, make a “head” call and get the hell outside in formation.
We are shuttled from one class to another through out the night. We sign papers, are told rules and regulations, and then sign some more papers. We lose track of time.
After hours of sitting in a class room, we are taken out to the court yard (the sun is up to our surprise) and are handed bags of food and two juice containers. We are given five minutes to eat, then we are funneled into the phone center to make a call to let those at home know we are alive. We are then harassed across the entire Recruit Training Depot to be issued the rest of our gear: desert and jungle boots, three pairs of camouflage uniforms (deserts and greens), covers (uniform hats), and packs.
At some point throughout the day, we are fed again. I have spoken a total of about twelve words since stepping foot off the bus the night before.
That evening, after we have been fed another bagged food dinner, we are allowed time to stow the rest of our gear, shower and “relax.” At around 2000 hours, Wednesday evening, we are called to attention in front of our racks and count off. Apparently, I did not sound off loud enough, for as soon as I called out my number, I received an elbow to my throat, sending me backwards into my rack, choking.
Thursday is filled with more paper signing and learning to march.
Friday, we do the I.F.T. (Initial Fitness Test), a test that we must pass to move forward in our training. Afterwards, we are separated into the platoons where we will spend the rest of our stay at the Depot, if all goes right. We are made to write a letter that has the address of our platoon in it to send home to our loved ones:
To Mom and Pop,
I have arrived safely to MCRD San Diego. I will be writing to you in the near future. Do not send any explosives, pornography, medications, or money.
If you wish to write, use the following address:
Rec. Anderson, Jedadiah J. 4424
RTR, 1st BN A Co
4004 Midway Ave
San Diego, CA 92140
Over the next few days, this Recruit learns that sixty recruits can shit, shower, and shave in two minutes; that six minutes is enough time for those recruits, from the first through the chow hall doors, to the last dumping his tray, to eat a meal; and that it is wise to do as told, without hesitation.
Thirteen days after arrival, this Recruit received his first letter from home. Tears of melancholy came unbidden to his eyes as he read the letter. Four days later, during mail call, Drill Instructor Sergeant Ferguson calls out this Recruit’s name. As this Recruit stands to receive the letter, the D.I. said, “Stop.” He stops. The Drill Instructor reads aloud, “To the Drill Instructor of Recruit Anderson.”
Opening the letter in front of the platoon, the Drill Instructor begins to read it to himself. Then, looking at the recruit, he says, “Come up here.”
This Recruit walks to the front of the squad-bay. The Drill Instructor continues to read.
With looking up, he tells this Recruit to start pushing. This Recruit gets down and begins to do push-ups.
“Do you know a Jim Glazer,” the Drill Instructor asks.
“Yes, Sir,” this recruit responds. “This recruit used to work for him, Sir.”
“Did you know he was a Marine?”
“Yes, Sir. He is a Vietnam vet, Sir.”
The Drill Instructor reads a little more. “He says he named his first son after his Drill Instructor.”
This Recruit replies, while continuing push-ups, “This recruit had the same thing in mind, Sir.”
“Shut the fuck up, Anderson.”
Folding the letter up, and sliding it back into the envelope, the Drill Instructor tells this recruit, “Well, your friend Jim Glazer has requested that I make you a bit stronger, and that you do a few push-ups – “
“Jim, you ass,” this Recruit mutters.
“– so, I am going to grant his request.”
“God damn it, Jim.”
“From this point on,” the Drill Instructor tells this recruit, “when it’s mail call, I’m not going to give you your mail. I am going to drop it right where you are now. You will come up here, and you will push until every piece of mail has been handed out. Then, you can pick up you mail. What do you think of that?”
“Outstanding, Sir. Jim, you fucking asshole.” The last, this Recruit mutters under his breath.
It is the ninth week of boot camp, and we are beginning the Crucible. This is the training evolution that a recruit must complete to become a Marine, and earn the coveted Eagle, Globe, and Anchor, the emblem of the Marine Corps.
We leave the squad-bay at 1900 hours, Monday night. We hump our gear the eight miles to our bivouac site (campsite), and set up our hutches (tents). The next two hours are consumed with cover and aligning our hutches, ensuring that the lines are straight and look sharp. This Recruit and another were discovered by our Drill Instructor trying to identify constellations to gain our bearings; we were sent to dig the trenches around the Drill Instructor’s hutch.
At around 2300 hours, we are all gathered into a school circle around the Company First Sergeant. He tells us what we are in store for, then has recruits come to the center and tell jokes. This Recruit tells one, or two.
It is 0400 hours, Thursday morning, the last day of the Crucible. We are about to embark on the dreaded but most anticipated “Reaper Hike.” “The Reaper” is a hill, about five miles from our current location. Since we began Monday evening, we have had three MREs (Meal Ready to Eat), gotten a possible six hours of sleep, completed dozens of obstacle courses, and humped over fifty-four miles. All this while carrying a fifty pound sack on our back.
We arrive at “The Reaper” and are greeted with the sight that it is more of a cliff than a hill. The entire hike is a mile and a half up and down steep hills. At the top, we can make out a monument, adorned with flags. As we attack the first hill, this Recruit is forced to fall back and drag another recruit up the hill.
At the top, those who have made it, are awarded with cool canteens of yellow and red Gatorade, along with apples and oranges. Each platoon gathers into a school circle and the Senior Drill Instructor congratulates us on the accomplishment that few men have achieved. Pride swells in this Recruit. He cannot help but smile. The Senior Drill Instructor allows this.
It is February 24th. We have just finished the “Moto Run.” A three-mile run around the Recruit Depot, the day before graduation. It is the first time this Recruit has caught a glimpse of his mother and father since he left home three months before.
We now stand in formation on the sacred Parade Deck, where thousands before us have earned the title Marine. We are about to join them. In Service Charlie Uniforms, the six platoons of Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, look sharp and mean as they stand there. The Depot Commanding General is at the podium giving his speech, this recruit cannot hear him. His heart is pounding too hard in anticipation.
The CG says something, and the Drill Instructors make a right-face and make their way through their formations, awarding the Eagle, Globe, and Anchor, and, for the first time, naming these recruits, Marines.
Jed Anderson was born in Bemidji. He graduated in the spring of 2004 from Kelliher Public School and left in the fall for Marine Corps Recruit Depot, San Diego. He graduated thirteen weeks later on February 25, 2005 and spent the following four years in Okinawa, Japan; Camp Pendelton, CA; and Iraq. In January 2009, he was honorably discharged from the Marine Corps. He is now a full-time student at Bemidji State University.