f all the services, Marines especially are looked upon to maintain discipline in their ranks. My introductory movie to the Marine Corps was sometime between 1980 and 1983 when my father brought home, "The Boys from Company C." In that movie, the ferocious drill instructor barks at the new, unshaven recruits on the bus, "You will not eat, sleep, pick your nose or scratch your asses unless I tell you to do so." I always thought this was a bit of an exaggeration to illustrate the point that Marines are expected to do only what they were told. Boy was I wrong. Marines, at least in boot camp in Parris Island in 1992, have to ask permission to do EVERYTHING!
I entered boot camp in June of that year. I thought I was well worn into Marine Corps culture since I had grown up a Marine brat and getting all sorts of boot camp stories from my dad and my two brothers -- both Marines. I had always considered my father, a Viet Nam veteran and a mustang, a rather strict disciplinarian. However, not two minutes after stepping off the plane did I realize I had no idea what I had just gotten myself into.
When I was asked a question, I was expected to answer quickly and correctly. I could not stutter, stammer, say, "Uh" or anything. I was no longer an "I," but a "this recruit," and God forbid I should forget that. It took me longer than I expected to adjust to everything, but by the end of receiving, I did manage to stop referring to myself in the first person narrative.
By the end of first phase, we were all pretty much locked in step and motivated for the initial drill competition. We all ate quickly in the chow hall, lined up correctly in formation, and most of us knew our right foot from our left. Our light hat (kind of a misnomer for our platoon), who was responsible for leading us in initial drill, was Drill Instructor Sgt. Canty. Sgt. Canty was tall, slender, and mean as a wild boar (then again, none of the DIs I met on the island were "nice"). He carried a threatening presence, mostly because his 6'7" frame demanded it.
On one hot summer day after an afternoon of continuous close-order drill, we went through our normal routine to form for chow, stage our weapons and cartridge belts outside with two gear guards, who would then be relieved by the two designated recruits. After an entire day of pounding our feet onto the deck, standing tall, cocking and driving our heels together for facing movements and holding our rifle four inches from our chests at port arms, we were reasonably hungry, and I took this time to eat heartily. I remember eating probably the most I had ever eaten there. I didn't make myself sick -- at least, not right away -- but I did stuff my face pretty good, and as always, quickly.
I got back out in the sun with the gear as fast as I could and donned by cartridge belt. Since I had just inhaled all that food, the cartridge belt was slightly tighter than usual, but we were back in formation at the position of attention before I even gave thought to adjusting it.
On we marched for another several hours. It was a warm afternoon, but it wasn't unusual for a Parris Island summer evening. My cartridge belt was making me quite uncomfortable, but knowing that in the middle of drilling wasn't the time to ask to be excused, I sucked it up and held my tongue for the duration. As always, when we finished our routine, we secured our rifles and got ready to make our head call (which was also our time to fill our canteens). When I was standing on line, I realized an uneasy churning sensation in my stomach, and I knew that it would be a mere 5 seconds in the head before Sgt. Canty or Sgt. Foote started counting down for us all to be on line again, finished from our head call and in the position of attention. If someone wasn't there when the DI reached zero, we would all be in trouble.
Once we were set, Sgt. Canty called, "Move," which was the signal for everyone to invade the head, do his business, and leave, so normally 60 recruits walk as quickly as they can, and -- sure enough -- 59 sets of feet start pitter-pattering across the deck.
"SIR," I yelled as loudly as I could, "RECRUIT BECK REQUESTS PERMISSION TO SPEAK TO ..."
Knowing the routine already, Sgt. Canty bellowed, "What, Beck?"
Pitter-patter... Pitter-patter... The other recruits were still passing me by.
"SIR," I yelled again at the top of my lungs, "RECRUIT BECK REQUESTS PERMISSION TO MAKE AN EXTENDED HEAD CALL TO THROW UP, SIR!"
Silence. Whether in fear of getting "hit" or in utter disbelief, I may never know, but at that moment, everyone stopped moving, and all eyes were locked on me. It even made Sgt. Canty pause.
"Go throw up, Beck."
At that moment, the crowd of recruits parted like the Red Sea yelling, "Gangway! Beck's gotta puke!" and I easily breezed through the mass. I got to the toilets, which were separated by barriers but did not have doors. As I turned the first corner and was ready to go, another recruit was already there sitting down undoubtedly doing what he got there to do. I quickly backed out and put rushed to the edge of the second stall to see another recruit lowering his pants and sitting down. I noticed him looking at me with bewilderment as I quickly backed out and went to the next stall only to see a piece of paper with the words "Out Of Order" taped across a toilet filled with, shall we say, tainted water. Getting increasingly frusterated and uneasy, I got to the fourth stall, in which there was no toilet at all. Finally the fifth stall was clear, and the moment I got on my knees and unbuckled my cartridge belt, I released, with vigor, that which was ailing me. In the middle of it, I unbuttoned my canteen pouches and threw them behind me for another recruit to fill up. I was going to need them.
I finished up in time to help the other recruit fill up my canteens and we both got on line before the drill instructor, this time Sgt. Foote, got to zero. All in a day's work of a Marine recruit.