The March to "Marine"
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
PARRIS ISLAND, S.C., Jan. 12, 1999 It's 3 a.m. and Marine drill instructors interrupt your beauty sleep by slamming the door to your hut and yelling for you and your teammates to get out of the rack, get your gear on and get outside -- NOW!
For the past 49 hours, you have had little sleep, little food, and you and your team have run through a physically, mentally and emotionally challenging set of events. You have been participating in the Crucible -- the culminating event of Marine Corps basic training.
Now it's almost over. By 8 a.m., your company will be on the Parade Deck of the Marine Corps Recruit Depot here, receiving the hat insignia with the symbol of the Marine Corps -- the eagle, globe and anchor. There's just one more hurdle to cross: a nine-mile road march.
At 3:45 a.m., the company assembles. Your feet and some muscles hurt, but other recruits limp into place, too. No one quits. Everyone wants to finish. The end is close enough you can almost taste it. You shoulder your backpack and weapon and clap on your Kevlar helmet. Then you check your teammates' equipment. One last slug from your canteen and you're ready.
One of the drill instructors says that at least the weather is decent, and you have to agree. There hasn't been a drop of rain during this Crucible, and the temperature has gone from the upper 40s to the mid-80s. Right now, the temperature is in the 60s. It's humid, but nothing like when you got to the South Carolina lowlands 11 weeks ago.
That, you recall, was the last time you had any individuality. Since then, you have been addressed as "recruit." You've had to begin every sentence with "Sir, this recruit would like to know ."
The company steps out at 4 a.m. The pace is fast and the "accordion effect" occurs as the 481-member formation marches. Gaps appear and recruits have to step out quicker to close them. The march becomes easier as your sore muscles stretch. You watch some poor devils, obviously with blisters, try to find a way to walk that doesn't tear at their feet.
You notice Navy corpsmen, carrying at least 50 pounds of gear, checking out recruits who seem to be having difficulty.
It's still dark. No one speaks, as if the effort might be too much. Actually, though, talking's not allowed. An hour and a little over three miles later, the formation stops. As you drop your pack, you notice sweat has soaked through everyone's BDU blouses. You've got a 10-minute break, to hit the head and drink more water. Some recruits sit on their packs and check their feet. Too soon, the drill instructors are rousting everyone.
The other platoon takes the lead this time and you really understand what the accordion effect means. Drill instructors tell you to close up. "Don't run," they yell. "Just lengthen your stride." It doesn't work. You have to break into a trot to close up the space.
Again, there is no talking. You focus on the pack in front of you and let your mind go blank. The sky is lightening in the east and you are getting closer to end of this torture.
A little over six miles into the march, you stop again. This time, there is juice and fruit available and you realize you're going to be here for a bit. Your woodland pattern BDUs are soaked. You suck down some more water and get ready for the final stretch.
It's full light now. You look around and realize where you are: That's the gas chamber! You've marched past here a number of times. You could get back to Main Base with your eyes closed. Everyone trades a few quiet words. "You can do it!" "It's not far now," you say to each other.
The company starts out. As you march you look to the side and see the swamps of Parris Island. Birds are starting to sing and you see white cranes walking through the shallows looking for food. The sun clears the horizon as you approach Drill Sergeants Bridge. Just before getting there, the senior drill instructor starts a Jody call. You and your team pick it up.
"Hey, hey, Captain Jack,
"Meet me by the railroad track,
"With your rifle in your hand,
I want to be a killing man."
It makes it easier to march and takes your mind off those pack straps digging into your shoulders.
As you approach the base, you see two figures off to the left -- it's the base commander and sergeant major. You must really be close!
The Jody calls get louder as you reach the Parade Deck. Folks can probably hear you in Charleston!
Finally, you get the order to halt. The road march is over. You ground your packs, stack your weapons and put that heavy Kevlar helmet on top of your pack. The soft cap never felt so good.
It's 7:45 a.m. as the company forms around the half-size replica of the Marine Corps Memorial. The Felix de Weldon statue depicts the flag raising on Iwo Jima. You are called to attention and a color guard marches out and prepares to raise the flag on the sculpture. But first, the chaplain speaks a few words. He thanks God for helping you through the Crucible. He mentions all the difficulties you have surmounted, and he prays you will be worthy of the honor you are about to receive.
When he finishes, the first sergeant speaks. He tells you about the Marine Memorial and says you are about to join an elite company. The sculpture depicts real men -- four Marines and a Navy corpsman. The first sergeant tells you to never besmirch their memory.
The color guard raises the flag, and then your drill instructor begins passing out the eagle, globe and anchor. He passes you the emblem, shakes your hand and says "Good work, Marine."
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