This past week I have been involved in my two weeks of Annual Training (AT) in the military. As the Wing Chaplain for the 4th Marine Aircraft Wing, I coordinate along with my staff, two weeks of fairly aggressive training. Since we only have this brief training period to work with each year we try to take advantage of the opportunity. Sort of like the old adage, “Make hay while the sun shines.”
Our selection of a base to use is the former Navy base that was the home of the Top Gun school in San Diego. A Number of years ago it was taken over by the Marine Corps. As part of our training we had to help some of our folks pick up some uniforms. The best place for that was at MCRD San Diego. The acronym, MCRD, stands for Marine Corps Recruit Depot. This is otherwise known as “boot camp” for those who would try to become a Marine.
I first arrived at MCRD San Diego on October 27, 1969 to begin the lovely process of becoming a Marine. It’s important to note that anyone aspiring to be a Marine must earn the right to bear the title, “Marine.” In the other branches of the service the moment you are sworn in you can call yourself a soldier, sailor, airman or coastguardsman. Not so with the Marine Corps. You must successfully complete the arduous training regimen lovingly prepared by your Drill Instructors. It is their sole purpose to make life miserable for you so that you will want to quit in the midst of training. You see, if you can’t stand up under the pressure of training in boot camp, how will you ever expect to handle the pressures of a combat environment? Trust me, every recruit who arrives for training will at some point reconsider whether it’s worth it. The first time this desire to say “Forget this!” is when you are standing on the infamous yellow footprints upon arrival at boot camp while your Drill Instructor, wearing the unmistakable “Smokey the Bear” hat, is screaming at you to get off his bus and get on the yellow footprints, while at the same time informing you that he is now your mother and father and will be for the duration of boot camp. The thought that you just may have made a big mistake crosses your mind.
Along with my senior enlisted advisor, RPCS Bob Page, who is also a former enlisted Marine, and RP2 Cisneros, we made the drive to MCRD. This is now the third time I’ve been back to a base that still makes me a bit nervous, wondering if some Drill Instructor is going to pounce on me for daring to enter his domain. This is how strong an affect these men have on you when you are under their care. Nearly thirty-eight years later and a Navy Captain, I still get a kick out of having a Drill Instructor salute me. But I still watch them very closely!
We stopped in at Cash Sales where you can pick up some uniforms rather inexpensively. While RP2 Cisneros was selecting her “digital camies,” I wandered over to the shelf that had the underwear – or what we call “skivvies.” The under shorts (aka: skivvy drawers) were in bins according to size. I needed some new ones so I began to look for my size. The bins that held the most 3-pack packages were of, shall we say, a more “mature” size. The bins that were being emptied the quickest by young recruits who had slim, hardened bodies were the 30” and 32” size. Several thoughts flitted through my mind. First, I used to wear such a ridiculously small size. Second, if I even attempted to put on such a small pair I’d hurt myself. And third, I grabbed my two packs of 38”s and moved quickly to the register.
I had to work real hard the rest of the day not to feel depressed!
We stopped by some recruit barracks set up for recruits who have had medical problems during training. RPCS Page had been asked by a Marine friend of his to visit the man’s son who was there. After those two wandered off, I was invited by the Officer in Charge (OIC) to speak to those recruits who had recently had surgery (broken leg, ankle, arm, etc) and were bed-ridden for the most part. As we walked into the ward, these young, soon-to-be-Marines, to a man, attempted to climb out of their beds and come to attention. I quickly asked them to remain where they were. They relaxed back on their beds waiting to see what I had to say. I told them briefly of my time at MCRD so many years ago, and how I had had some medical issues of my own back then. I had managed to contract both strep throat and food poisoning. I told them to concentrate on healing up so they could get back to their training and graduate from boot camp. I hope my words were helpful, but I have to tell you, I was moved by their courage to persevere. I believe they did more for my morale than I did for theirs.
It is an honor and a privilege to serve alongside these “band of brothers.” Though I’m old enough to be their grandfather, we share a love of God, Country, and Corps that transcends age, gender, ethnicity, faith, ideology and even skivvy size.
You’re in good hands America.