I’ll never forget those yellow footprints where thousands of recruits had gone before me and where a man wearing a smoky-the-bear hat was yelling at us at the top of his lungs. At 19, I joined the Marine Corps with no clue how the military operated, let alone this branch. At the time I thought it was the best decision of my life due to my situation.
The day I set foot into a Marine Corps Recruit Depot, my life changed in an instant. Having a 6’2” 230-pound African-American drill instructor yelling in my face made me regret every thought I had about joining the Marine Corps and how badass they are. Not even a minute into my first hour I heard the one word I would hear every day throughout basic training: “SCREAM!” The drill instructor, or DI, was yelling at a fragile looking boy, and for the rest of the day we would be systematically stripped of everything in our possession to prepare us for our long journey away from home.
A few days later, we got to settle our belongings in on the third floor squad bay just before we met our drill instructors. Suddenly the front door swung open with a bang and four men in uniform came rushing in yelling, “GET ON LINE!” Half of us didn’t even know what that meant—especially me—though I soon found out after meeting my rack with my back.
After their introduction they began asking us who we were.
“What’s your name boy?” they asked the same fragile boy from before.
“Anthony Chin, Sir” the boy replied.
Like a switch the drill instructor snapped and began to yell at the boy: “RECRUIT! YOU’RE A RECRUIT! What’s your name!?”
“Recruit Chin, Sir.”
“SCREAM!” Like responding to a command, the other DIs looked around like Rottweilers ready to attack. The next thing we knew, four DIs were swarmed around the boy like a pack of wolves yelling in his ear to scream louder.
“RECRUIT CHIN, SIR!” the boy screamed at the top of his lungs with a few tears in his eyes. Then I felt the stare of those piercing eyes looking in my direction.
“What’s your name boy?” All I thought was “Fuck my life; here we go.”
About halfway through training, I noticed that the drill instructors just enjoyed messing with the recruits. By then I was already used to the environment, but still I never knew what to say to the DIs, so I usually kept to myself.
“You eyeballing me Diaz?” Calling out to me was Drill Instructor Staff Sergeant Stalking, a skinny yet intimidating man who had us believe he was infantry. Naturally my reaction was to look at him, so I did.
“No Sir!” I replied.
“Good! To the quarter deck!”
So there it was: my daily routing. “Empty out your pockets!” “Push, push, push” “Crunch, crunch, crunch” “Scream!” All of these were the drill instructors’ favorite words. Somehow I was always being subjected to intensive training—what we called being IT’d—with the same recruits.
I had the most difficulty in basic training during the second-to-last week. Because I had a previous back injury, the Crucible—a three day event with little-to-no sleep—was by far the most difficult task I have ever done. At first I thought it didn’t sound too bad, but just like every other time I have said that, something difficult always comes up. This time the difficulty would be that we had to carry a full pack with only three MREs, along with a weapon on a three-day hike full of challenges. After the first two days I was already tired and hungry, and I refused to eat the bread or cheese from the MREs.
On my last night of the Crucible with a only few hours of sleep, we were woken up around 0200 or 0300 to begin our last hike. In a rush, I packed all of my stuff and was one of the first in formation. With no moonlight and just the stars, we stepped off. I can’t remember how long we hiked for, but it felt like an eternity. We soon stopped to take a break and drink some water. The drill instructors walking around were saying, “This is it, our last hill!”
“That’s not too bad; good thing we can see in the dark,” I said sarcastically as two small red dots—tail lights—climbed slowly up the mountain. The HMMWV had been ahead of us for a while soon after my platoon began to walk up the mountain side. As we got closer to the top, I looked down the hill, but when I turned around more than half of our platoon was gone. I was then ordered to go back down and get all of our men.
Once I had found most of them, I realized I was near the bottom of the mountain. So now I had to climb the mountain once again, but this time it took me twice as long. By the time I had gotten back with the main groups, I was drenched with sweat to the point that I could see steam coming out of my clothes. The same went for everyone else. We dropped our packs to rest for a while. I took off my boots to let my feet breathe, and the DI came around handing everyone a piece of fruit. That day I had the most delicious apple in my life: a Granny Smith apple. Never again have I had such a good apple. From there we waited until the sun came up to walk back down.
Dirty, smelly, tired, and hungry, we made it down the mountain in the early morning. We staged our packs and marched to the parade deck. In formation we waited in parade rest until it was our turn to receive what we had been training for.
Everything I encountered was new because I had never read up on what I was going to go through. Yet over the weeks of training, I had become so comfortable with boot camp that I’d forgotten I was there to become a Marine.
Leaving behind the shoes I walked in with and exchanging them for military boots, I achieved my first greatest accomplishment as I received the Eagle, Globe and Anchor; and as I finally became a United States Marine.