After nights of stalemate and overdoses of sugar and caffeine, I’m finally able to piece together within this story a small recollection from my past, specifically the time leading up to boot camp. This time in my life defined who I am today and changed me in ways I could never predict. I was thrust into adulthood in a manner that no amount of schooling could ever accomplish. I look back sometimes and wonder where my life would have been if I had not taken this path—a path that today allows me to go forward.

It was the winter of 2006. I was 22 and returning home after a week from my best friend’s place up in Fairfield, California. Lots of merry-making and memories had commemorated his newfound career as an engineer. I, on the other hand, got fired for taking the week off after my employer denied my leave request. I didn’t care; it wasn’t the first time I lost a job. I hated my life and knew something was missing. I still lived at home with my parents. Should I have blamed them for pushing me to become better but failed to show me how? At that moment, I discovered it was up to me to feed my inner fire that was yearning for a change. Over the next few days I decided to fill that void by becoming something honorable. I joined the U.S. Marine Corps.

On Friday, January 19, 2007, I was in Military Entrance Process Station, or MEPS, taking care of all the formalities before shipping out on Monday. I remember hating the moment when a male doctor—at least I hope he was a doctor—squeezed my testicles and told me to cough. I was terrified; a memory I can never erase. All I knew at the time about the Marine Corps came from YouTube video clips and from videos my recruiter had shared with me.

My recruiter, Sergeant Edwards, was good-to-go. He was blonde; blue-eyed; stands at six-feet, three inches tall (I know this because we looked at each other eye-to-eye)—and all muscles. I mean this guy was the epitome of Captain America. The first time we met was at the recruiting station in Danville, California.

I was in Sergeant Edwards’ office when he laid out laminated and color-coded 4×4 cards with motivational words typed on each like RESPECT, TEAMWORK, and LEADERSHIP. He asked me to rank all of the cards in descending order starting with what I thought was the most important. I don’t recall what my layout was, but I remember wanting to impress him and to somehow prove I was ready for the challenge. Today, I smile when I think about it because it was all a strategy. Recruiters have a way of telling a story no matter how the cards are arranged. They just want you to join, bottom line.

I arrived at the San Diego Airport, grabbed the suitcase I really didn’t need, and walked towards the far corner to the right of the baggage claim where a group of males was congregating. I knew I was in the right area because more than a hundred men were there. Still tired from the night before, I sat on a chair next to a young black male named Terrence, a man I didn’t know then that I would never see again after that day. He said he was from San Jose—the same city I’d just flown in from. We’d boarded the same plane but hadn’t seen each other until that moment.

As more recruits poured in, I learned a few bits about Terrence’s life. I returned the favor and shared a little about myself. After we discussed why we’d joined the Marine Corps and what we knew about it, I realized I wasn’t the only one who was nervous and confused. I looked around and saw many faces trying to hide the signs of confusion—some better at this than others.

Arriving at our base in San Diego, I had my first opportunity to see what a Drill Instructor (DI) looked like. I was taller than this guy. He appeared to be of Hispanic descent, about five-feet, ten inches tall, and he walked like C-3PO from Star Wars—except his physique struck me as a bad-ass, like Bumblebee in the movie Transformers. I remember the charter buses arrived late. We’d been standing in a platoon-type formation for quite some time and I could tell the DIs were pissed. I heard them saying things like, “I don’t think those lazy fucks realize that we pay them to be on time,” and “Yeah, why the hell are these 90 year olds still driving?” At this remark one of the recruits behind me giggled, and that was the first time I saw an episode of a U.S. Marine Corps DI. Not even YouTube videos prepared me for that moment. My heart turned into a NASCAR piston and I felt like a victim of child abuse. I turned to see this poor kid, surrounded by vicious human pit-bulls, screaming at the top of his lungs with no chance to breathe.

Boot camp had commenced.

My tenure in the military would go on to become but a single atom placed in the timeline of my evolving journey in life. No human life can be summed up in just a few pages; maybe volumes of novels would suffice. And while the future in many ways has yet to unfold for me, at least my story can recount how basic training and the military changed the course of my life and shaped who I am today.

On that first day of boot camp, fear made me look forward and away from the victimized recruit. At that moment I was unsure of my decision to join. But today I know I made the best decision, and for this reason I have no fear now of looking back.

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