Learning Leadership through Fear and Intimidation

Marine Corps drill instructor yells at recruit in Parris Island after wakeup.

Everybody that has ever been in the military just saw that title somewhere and clicked the link to get here.  Not necessarily because you’re interested, it’s just a learned response.  I understand.  I feel your pain because I’ve been there.  We, the American people, have the luxury of living behind the most powerful fighting force in the world and I’m about to break their secret right here in front of all of you.  All 10 of you (a vast improvement over the 2 of you I had 2 weeks ago).

When I was 18 my father used to tell me I should “put your [my] ass in the military”!  Yes, he was as kind and soft-hearted then as he is today.  I was convinced otherwise.  I would brush my hair out of my eyes, fiddle with the skull and crossbones earring that dangled from my ear and mumble out my “Whatever”.  (Yes, the earring dangled.  It was the 80’s and all our rock star role models wore more makeup than our girlfriends so back the hell off already!)  There was no way I was joining any damn military, and it damn sure wouldn’t have been the Navy as my father would have had it.  He was in the Navy, so apparently that was supposed to make it the best.

Several years, an unsuccessful attempt at college, many jobs and a new wife later, I came to conclusion that the military was probably the best option.  I mean, I was older and had more life experience and I was still a complete idiot.  There wasn’t even any discussion about what branch I was going to join.  I was (and frequently still am) vision of defiance when it came to my father, so I was going to join the Marines.  The USMC, Baby!

I saw the recruiter.  I got myself ready.  I ran and did sit-ups and push-ups and quit drinking beer so much.  Ok, seriously, I damn near put Anheiser-Busch out of business and I watched Full Metal Jacket like 12 times, but I was getting myself ready nevertheless.  When the morning came to hit the road and head off to Parris Island, SC, I had a hangover that would kill most mortal men.  The wife dropped me off at the recruiters office in Winston-Salem, NC and the recruiter took his victim – I mean me – down to Charlotte in his government issued car.  From there I was loaded into a 16 passenger van with some other victims to head off to Marine Corps Recruit Depot, Parris Island.  It was about a 5 hour trip and we each had about 3 packs of cigarettes to smoke before we got there.  There was no smoking on Parris Island and we had to get our fill in before our arrival.

Pulling into the gates of the base was like entering Hell itself.  Demons flanked either side and flames rose from their backs as their demonic grins leered at us as we passed through.  They taunted us, chanting “your life and your soul belongs to us now”!  The ground opened up in front of the van and we plummeted into darkness, the screams of the damned all around us.  At least I’m pretty sure that’s how it went down, but it may have been the hangover and the cancerous tumor now growing out of my eye.

Next thing I know there was a Marine standing at the open side door of the van who looked as though he’d just had his uniform ironed – while he was still in it.  He was clearly annoyed about this and from the sound of his voice I guessed he also had a horrible head cold.  He screamed at us to “get our worthless asses out of his fucking van and put our nasty little feet in the yellow footprints” painted on the ground.

me:  “Jesus, I found dad’s long lost brother.”  (mumbled to smoking buddy from van, who then giggled.  Note for future reference:  Never, EVER, giggle at boot camp.)

Drill Instructor:  “Oh! My! FUCKING! God!  Did I just hear one of you nasty little freaks open your mouth?!”

*uncomfortably long silence*

Drill Instructor:  “Congratulations, you asswipes!  Your one free chance to fuck up at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island has now been used!” (I swear, they really did say the ENTIRE name of the base every time they said it for the next 13 weeks)  For the next 13 weeks, you will not open your nasty little suck holes unless you have been ordered to do so!  And then when you do, the first and last things out of your mouth will be ‘Sir’!  Do you worthless pieces of shit understand me?!”

*silence, tumbleweeds, crickets*

DI:  (The veins on his forehead wrestling each other) “Let me apologize for disguising my order as a hypothetical question!  DO. YOU. WORTHLESS. PIECES. OF. SHIT. UNDERSTAND. ME?!”

us:  (as simultaneously as 16 severely cancer stricken civilians can) “YES, SIR!”

At this point the Drill Instructor had what can only be described as a grand mal seizure.  Or he had been tazed.  Or he had been tazed while having a grand mal seizure.  Either way, we had already learned that giggling was out of the question so we were all pretty much bleeding from the ears at this point.  Eventually the twitching, well, I won’t say it stopped, but it slowed to an apparently manageable level and his eyes rolled back around to face forward again.

DI:  “Let me see if I can POSSIBLY dumb this down far enough for you fuckin’ morons!  If and when you shit-stains are BLESSED with the opportunity to open your faces in front of me or one of my esteemed Marine brothers, the first thing you will yell at the top of your black, decaying lungs is ‘SIR’!  What is to follow that is to be nothing more than the appropriate response to whatever has been asked of you!  I don’t care if you don’t like the answer!  I don’t care if you disagree with the answer!  You will give me the answer I want to hear and if it happens to be a lie, that is between you and your God, but your God doesn’t live on Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island so it is ME you will answer to!  Following that answer, you will close it with yet another “SIR” at the top of your filthy little lungs!  So let me summarize for you:  ‘SIR – Thing that I want to hear – SIR’!  So I ask you one more fuckin’ time, DO YOU UNDERSTAND ME YOU WORTHLESS BAGS OF FLESH BREATHING MY PRECIOUS GODDAMN MARINE CORPS AIR?!”

us:  “SIR, YES SIR!”

DI:  “You STILL suck, LOUDER!”

us:  “SIR, YES SIR!!!”

DI:  You’re fuckin’ hopeless.  Get your asses in my building and put your nasty little feet in the yellow footprints by the desks!

us:  “SIR, YE . . .”

DI:  “That didn’t require an answer, freaks, that requires you to move as though your ass was on fire!”

us: *scrambling into building, falling over each other, knocking things down, pulling shirts over our faces to let the laughter finally escape somewhere*  (We would later become much more organized at this process)

Welcome to Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island.  Please put your soul in this paper sack and write your name on it because you won’t recognize it when you leave here.

The next many hours were filled with screaming, identity crushing excitement.  I say “many” hours because we had no idea what time it was or how long it lasted.  We were shaved bald.  We had our clothes taken away and replaced with 4 sets of camouflage utilities, boots, socks and other assorted gear.  We marched wherever we went.  Apparently poorly, to hear the Drill Instructors tell it.  This went on through the night and we saw the sun rise.  We ate at the mess hall, we marched some more, we filled out more papers and we had classes filled with horrifying tales of what we would do over the next 13 weeks.  We marched some more and ate at the mess hall again.  We saw the sun set again.  It was the only indicator of time that we had.  We knew we had been awake for at least 48 hours and we had no idea when they were going to let us sleep.  We had no idea IF they were going to let us sleep.  We had become a nameless, bald, fully uniformed, Special Olympics team where everyone is a loser.

They changed everything we had learned up to this point in life.  They renamed everything we now owned.  I’m not sure who came up with this shit, but it must have been a 3rd grader.

  • A flashlight was now a “moonbeam”.
  • Sneakers were now “go-fasters”.
  • A pen was now an “inkstick”.
  • The floor was now “the deck”.
  • Walls were now “bulkheads”.
  • The bathroom was now “The head” and the need to visit it was referred to as “needing a head call”.
  • Your bed was now your “rack”.
  • Your food was now “chow”.
  • A big pile of steaming dog shit on a wet piece of cardboard was now “breakfast”.

Oh, and for some reason it was very important to them to remind us that our “Momma wasn’t here”.  Good thing because she SO would have washed their mouths out with soap!

Eventually we were what they referred to as “acclimated to the environment” and we were assigned to our platoons.  For the next 12 weeks and 5 days we would eat, sleep, breathe, shit, shower, shave and fear for our lives with the same group of 80 degenerates and 3 of the meanest sonsabitches on the planet.  Our Senior Drill Instructor was 5’4″ and had the most raging case of “Short Man Syndrome” I’d ever witnessed.  This dude would eat a Buick because it wouldn’t get out of his way.  Then shit a Chevy just to be a prick about it.

When I joined, I was 24 years old, so as far as the rest of the platoon went, I was the “old fart”.  Since my Marine Corps prep consisted of Budweiser and Full Metal Jacket, I was also slightly out of shape.  By slightly I mean that I wanted to die just lying on the ground thinking about a sit-up.  The only thing I had ever “run” to was the refrigerator during a commercial.  I thought a pull-up was a toddlers toilet training aid.  The Drill Instructors at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island were not to be deterred by such issues.  Over time my muscle mass increased in direct correlation to how much my will to live decreased, or so I thought.  Here are the things we learned:

  • Push-ups can and will continue long after you have suffered a stroke.
  • Treading water while wearing 100lbs of equipment sucks all the fun out of a trip to the pool.
  • The best way to learn how to defend yourself against getting stabbed in the face, is to get stabbed in the face.
  • When standing on top of a rappel tower attached to a rope, you have two choices:  jump or be shoved.  You do not know how to stop yourself before you hit the ground.  In 3/10 of a second you will quickly figure it out.
  • Drill Instructors become eerily and uncharacteristically pleasant and understanding during the week we are at the firing range and we have live ammo.
  • You have no idea how low to the ground you can become when live rounds are actually being fired over your head.
  • Before cleaning your rifle, it is apparently important to drag it through every possible mud hole that has ever placed itself on Parris Island.
  • Sand Fleas were trained by Al Queda and sent to destroy us.
  • At some point, swimming through alligator infested water to escape Parris Island will appear to be a reasonable and viable option.
  • When someone yells, “ATTENTION ON DECK!” it is very important that you not be the last one to stand at attention, and particularly important not to laugh at your buddy because you think he said it as a joke.  So I’ve heard.
  • No, a Drill Instructor is not allowed to punch you in the chest as hard as he can.  Yes, he still will.
  • Nothing you do will ever be right.  No matter how perfect and to the letter you did it, something will still be wrong with it and you will do it again.  And again.  And again.
  • At some point during training, while you are all standing at attention down the sides of the squad bay, a Drill Instructor will walk in and toss a grenade down the aisle.  It will not go off.  Some dumbass in the platoon will throw his body on it.  The next morning at breakfast that dumbass will get a donut.  The grenade was live and the Drill Instructor simply didn’t pull the pin out of it just to see what we would do.
  • Sacrificing your life for your fellow Marines gets you donuts.  (I’ll see your damn virgins and raise you DONUTS!)
  • Graduating from Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island will be the single proudest day of your life.

Once it was all over and the final day had come, our Drill Instructors stood before us in the squad bay, all of us dressed in our sharpest blues looking worlds away from the clown school dropouts that fell out of that 16 passenger van so many weeks before.  The screaming and the popping of veins in the forehead finally fell silent.  They told us that from that day forward, we were no longer “Recruits”.  We were “Marines”.

And that we all still suck.

I’m the one in the blue pants.
That was one proud Mother right there! And my mom was happy too.

It was on that day that we were all given what would be our permanent assignments for the rest of our tour of duty with the Marine Corps.  What this amounts to is their final “Fuck you” before leaving Parris Island.

We were Drill Instructor free and grabbing our shit to go home. And that is TOTALLY Bacon’s skinny ass I’m handing that bag to!

Think of your greatest fear.  The one thing that terrifies you the most.  Got it?  Yeah, that will be your job for the next 4 years.

I have a great dislike for heights.  I became a helicopter mechanic and spent the next 4 years 2,000 to 4,000 feet off the ground diagnosing broken helicopters.  I dangled a mile off the ground suspended by prayer and several questionably controlled hydraulic leaks.  I have been from one end of this country to the other and back, several times based on my survival instinct to fix that flying hunk of engineering disaster in such a way that it will put me back on the ground at something less than the speed of falling hunk of engineering disaster.

This is where I lived for the next 4 years.

*flying along smoothly*

*flying along smoothly*

*briefly flying upside down and then sideways and smashing around the inside of the helicopter like a ragdoll*

*flying along smoothly*

Pilot:  *very calmly*  “Hmm, well that was peculiar.”

Me:  “Yes, sir.  I’ve never felt my asshole do that either.”

Pilot:  “We should probably look into that.”

Me:  “My asshole?”

Pilot:  “I’m speaking of the whole random upside down, ragdoll shit, Corporal.”

Me:  “Yes, sir.”

Pilot:  “Let me see if I can duplicate the problem.”

Me:  “Sir, perhaps I should watch from the ground.  I may see something you can’t from the outside.”

Pilot:  “What makes you say that?”

Me:  “Just kind of an asshole feeling I have, Major.”

I was a big hit with the pilots.

It was scary up there, but really, you can’t beat the view no matter where you go.

The 4 years finally passed and I came out on the other side of my military service still in one piece.  There were a couple of crashes I got to experience that are filed under “Hard Landings”, but otherwise it was a fairly smooth career.  I even reached a point where I could lay down in the back and go to sleep on the longer trips, but my ears heard every gear, every drip, every uneven engine noise or LACK of engine noise and I could be awake and pulling panels faster than you can stop yourself from falling off a rappel tower.

Fuck you and your “Hard Landing”.

I often wonder if I had said that I was deathly afraid of pot and hookers if I might have been assigned a duty station in Amsterdam.  I guess now I’ll never know.

That’s me in the perpetual flight suit and Duh when he was less tall.

All in all, I am proud to have served and despite the fact that I had to do it so high off the ground, I really loved my job.  I was assigned to the Presidential Helicopter Squadron and got to work with one of the most elite groups in the Marine Corps.  Some of the best pilots and mechanics and electronics geeks in the world were my coworkers and friends.  I got to see every major city in the country, both from the streets and from the best view in the world.  I had the opportunity to fly up the Hudson River right past the World Trade Center on several occasions, an opportunity nobody will ever get again.  Most of all, I get to call myself a Marine.  We truly are the few and the proud.

Checkin’ out the Big Dog’s plane from inside my ride.
I would open that window just under the American flag and stand there to watch the city go by.
My usual view while inflight . . . when I wasn’t on my knees in the back, praying.

God love you boys and girls overseas!  Bring our peeps home!


Funny Facebook post of the day:

0 thoughts on “Learning Leadership through Fear and Intimidation

  1. OMG, I never thought I would laugh so hard about looking into someones asshole, that was friggin brilliant dude.
    This whole blog was amazing.
    Besides the ones that mention me, this is by far the best one so far. 😀

  2. Thanks for a great description of your time as a Marine. I’m sure you had an aptitude as a mechanic after all, as it turned out.

  3. Wow. That’s all I’ve got to say. That and I’m getting my sixteen year old to read this, it may not talk him out of joining the “forces” but at least he’ll have a better idea of what to expect. (he hates being told what to do, hates being yelled at, hates being touched).

  4. Here from The Bloggess. I guess this isn’t the post she commented on? 😉

    I have 2 cousins that are Marines. One of them fixed me up once. Lasted 3 years. Oh well. Just prior to the official start of the fix-up (long story) we all went and saw Full Metal Jacket. This was 1987? ’88? Anyway, it was in a theater in a mall in Palm Desert & I think my girl friend and I were the only non-Marines in attendance. We got whispered explanations of “it’s not really like that anymore” and “it’s JUST like that still” all thru the boot camp part of the movie. Also, there were laughs at things that I think were supposed to be horrifying. I’m very glad I was lucky enough to see it for the first time with those men.

    I LOVED THIS POST. And the photos. I miss that time in my life.

    1. Thank you so much for stopping in! Yes, your friends were correct in that a lot of things in that movie were dead on and other things were not. It probably helped that R. Lee Hermey that played the Drill Instructor in that movie was an actual Marine Corps Drill Instructor. It was definitely one of the best and worst experiences of my life. “Glad I did it but HELL NO I wouldn’t do it again” pretty accurately sums it up.

      No, Jenny stopped by the Unmarital Bliss post and blessed us with her presence there. I was THRILLED! Hope you will check out that post as well as the rest and keep stopping by!

      (On my way to check out your blog as well!)

      1. Dear God, don’t bother. I tweet way more than I blog. Working on setting up a schedule for that though. Well, negotiations with Mr. Spouse are about to begin. In 2 weeks. He’s speaking at a conference next week. So, I’m basically pre-negotiating time to write in my head.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *