"GET OFF MY BUS!!! MOVE!!!..."
And so it began. My three day stint aboard U.S. Marine Corps Recruit Training Depot
Parris Island. I remember thinkin' "She ain't playin'." The female drill instructor was
wearin' her "war" face, and for all I knew, it was her "only" face.We lumbered off the bus
and double timed it over to the yellow footprints - images on the blacktop that, when
properly stood upon by our motley crew, would somewhat resemble a "formation".
Several other D.I.'s joined in the fun, encouraging us at the top of their lungs.
To our right was a brick building with silver doors. Known as the "Silver Hatch", new
recruits would pass through them only once. Above the Silver Hatch were the words,
"Where The Transformation Begins".
We were ordered to form up in two lines. One male and one female. The first person
in each line was to have their toes touching the base of the bottom step leading up
to the Silver Hatch. We broke ranks and bolted to the steps. I was first in line.
I stood at my version of attention. One of the D.I.'s stood on the first step in front
of me and bellowed, "GET BEHIND HIM!!!" I stood ramrod straight and still.
"GET BEHIND HIM NOW!!!" I thought, "Why won't these idiots get behind me?"
I glanced to my rear and saw that I was alone. The realization hit me. "He's
screamin' at ME!!!!!" I backpeddled to the rear of the correct line. "Great. I
haven't been here 10 minutes and I'm already "That Guy"...
This journey had been set in motion by an offhand comment I made on the air one
morning. I was sharin' how our nephew David, who was goin' through boot camp at
the time, had told his parents that he thought he was doin' well because he had had his
foot locker thrown at him only once...A Raleigh based Marine captain heard me
and nominated me to attend an "Educator's Workshop", a three day visit to Parris Island.
It's usually reserved for teachers, principals, guidance counselors and members of the media.
I jumped at the chance. My coworkers thought I was crazy because: A) I took the three
days as vacation time. B) They figured that the Marines would kill me. C) They ALWAYS
thought I was crazy anyway...
We toured where recruits receive their buzz cuts, where they make that first 7 second
phone call home and their squad bays....By the way, I have never been in such a crazy
clean place. Nephew David later told me that he cleaned the same window every morning
after breakfast.....for 13 weeks.
We toured the obstacle course and, my favorite, the rifle range. Our supervising
instructor had me dialed in and hitting the target with semi-regularity out to 500 yards.
I was pretty excited, because I usually can't see 500 yards...
On a more personal level, I was informed that I would be able to meet and have lunch
with a recruit from the Raleigh area. Zack Schmidt had graduated from Broughton High and had
enlisted with hopes of getting into aviation. He was happy for the break in his training,
but wary of his D.I.'s warning: "You're gonna pay for this when you get back..."
I don't remember much about our lunch conversation, but this I vividly remember...
I asked him if he wanted to talk to his parents right then, and I pulled out my phone.
He looked to his left and right...looked right back at me and said, "I'd better not."
So I did the next best thing. After we parted, I called his Mom. I told her that I had just
had lunch with her boy. That he looked well and fit. And that he wanted her to know
that he was trying his best to break the handguard on his M-16. If, when performing
the Manual Of Arms, he could manage to break it, his D.I. would allow him to call
home on her birthday.
Sometimes life let's you know when you get it right.
It was one of those times.