First day in the fleet. No cake walk.
|November 13, 2014, 0251, Glendale, Arizona, Banner Hospital, taking a few moments to reacquaint myself with my surroundings after what felt like hours of sleep, I awake to a young attractive doctor bearing down on me. Hunched over, right hand resting on her knee, left arm draped across her body supporting what looks to be a metal clipboard. Stethoscope freely dangles around the neck, chest piece secured in the left breast pocket of her white lab coat. Thick amber hair pulled back in a tightly wound bun the medical professional stares down at me and repeats, “Mr. Philpot?”
Straightening my body, rubbing sore eyes and clearing the throat, I blurt out, “Sorry, must have dozed off. How’s Brooke?”
The doctor correcting her posture, now standing straight up “First, allow me to introduce myself. I’m Dr. Thomas. I have bad news with the good. The good news first, Brooke is in stable condition, but nowhere near being out of the woods just yet. She suffered massive blood loss and sever tissue damage.”
Feeling my body temperature raise, the doctor continues, “The next twenty-four hours will play crucial to Brooke’s recovery,” looking at her clipboard, she looks back at me, “Due to government mandate, our facility is restricted from performing some necessary procedures assuring a full, healthy recovery.”
With disgust mixed with a hint of venom in my voice, “What do you mean mandate? Your job is to save lives, not ration care in order to distribute these resources evenly. Do your job doctor.”
Anger sets in, not able to resist the urge to stand, “I will not tell you how to do your job Ms. Thomas, but I will not settle for the minimum.”
“You have every right to be angry. I understand your frustration Mr. Philpot, but I’m bound by government regulations that dictate as to the type of care we’re able to provide and how much.”
“So what are you telling me doctor?”
Facial expressions showing signs of being troubled, “We’re unable to do any further treatment on Brooke. Her recovery will solely be up to her.”
Losing my composure, “What are you saying?”
“Government regulations prohibit further treatment in these cases, but…”
Before finishing her thoughts, the P.A. brakes through the increasingly busy E.R. lobby, “Dr. Thomas, Dr. Gail Thomas, your assistance is needed in RR 203, that is RR 203, Dr. Gail Thomas.”
Pulling up the left sleeve of her coat, catching a look at her small face watch, “I’m really sorry Mr. Philpot to have to put you through this. Can we meet in a couple of hours to discuss the course of action to be taken?”
“What’s there to discuss?”
In a stern voice, “For someone that has a daughter in intensive care and refuses to make a report with the police department, quite frankly I’m surprised by your pushiness,” voice going from one of authority to passive, “I could call the cops on you for leaving the scene of a crime.”
Anger crawling out of the pours of my skin, “Who would I press charges against?”
“Well for starters, those responsible for the shooting.”
Yeah, like I’m going to press charges against three black unmarked Yukon’s. Without license plate numbers or a visual of the occupants involved, the ability in giving a solid description was out of the picture, besides I was too busy getting our ass out of harms way, didn’t do a great job of doing that.
“You will want to meet with me after I get off shift. Let’s just say,” bringing her face within inches of mine, “I know who you are and I want to help.”
“You think you know me?”
“Let’s meet in a few hours,” pausing a moment, “say 5:00 am, in the cafeteria.”
“You have no idea what I’m up against…”
“This is important James; you need to meet with me.”
Desperation in my voice, “Can I see Brooke?”
PA blares, “Dr. Gail Thomas report to RR 203, report to RR 203...”
“Now is not a good time.”
Saying no more, Dr. Thomas makes a 180 and quickly speeds off disappearing through double doors leading into the corridors of the building.
As for myself, I take a quick look at my watch, 0251.
It’s driving me mad not knowing why I’m not permitted to see my daughter. And what was so important that could not have been shared here, right now? These questions flood my thinking and wreck havoc on my emotions.
The emergency room lobby experiencing a period of peace and sanity, no telling how long it will last. Killing some time I grab a coffee from a vending machine located to one side of the space lined with cushy chairs. Still blanketing the valley with chill, darkness repudiates the fact that dawn is on the horizon. Gazing out a large glass plated window I spot a chair outside in a dark corner, an ideal spot to sit in solitude and think about the evenings’ events.
Will my daughter survive this deadly ordeal? Will justice be brought to the men behind this attempt on Brooke’s life? Time will be the true answer.
January 09, 2014, 1900, Phoenix, Arizona mouth watering aromas of curry escape a near by Thai restaurant while sophisticated harmonic pulsating vibes constructed around jazz standards being performed on the District Stage by a local quartet massage the evening air.
A more than welcome cool breeze fills the desert atmosphere of the open-air mall still bustling with life. Both young and old alike stroll through the plaza in a gear that is somewhere in between something that of a walk and a run, sipping coffee socializing with those standing to their side while taking in some window shopping.
Patrons caught lounging at tables and benches that sprawl across multi-colored pavers that decorate the plaza floor in a Southwestern fashion that would be a custom for a city that still in more ways than one feels like the ‘Wild West’.
Late evening hours slowly retreat, conceding to the quickly approaching early morning. Occupying a small metal meshed table covered in dark rubber protective coating, shadowed by two towering drought tolerant palms, Dan and I meet as discreetly as possible. With a few external hi-tech gadgets, some professional grade software, my friends’ ordinary laptop becomes a mobile studio; about the only way he’s able to maintain an unregulated talk show these days.
Engaged in deep conversation, consuming caffeine charged cups of coffee as if it were water. Near by, a Colonial era replica generates a soothing raindrop effect as water cascades over the lip of the basin into the next. Speaking into a microphone the size of an ink stick, “Welcome back! We’ve been talking with the surprisingly New York Times Bestselling author James Philpot. We have a lot of ground to cover as to the really disturbing material found in the pages of ‘Devout’ that has steadily climbed the charts since its release two months ago. I must admit, at times I found it hard to swallow. Really excited to find out your motivation behind this tell all account of your service to country, both in the United States Marines and then later as an agent in the United States Secret Service, but before we do you, I hope you don’t mind me asking, how’s Brooke?”
Shifting my body around in a fashionable metal seat. Feeling like hot pokers are being jabbed into my rib cage, I carefully choose my words. Dan noticing my reluctance fills the dead air with concern, “I understand if you don’t want to answer.”
“It’s okay,” assuring him, “It’s been tough the last couple of days dealing with the realities of the hospital cutting my daughter off life support per mandate written in H.R. 3200 legislation.”
“I’m sorry my friend!”
“It doesn’t look good for her,” looking away from where the conversation is taking place, still speaking while scanning the area, “A little over two years ago, I promised over the body of my dying wife that I would be apart of our daughters life for a change,” fighting back the emotions welling up in the tear ducts and keeping a lid on some details as to not disclose too much.
“Thank you James for being so courageous! As we’ve been discussing, your début book ‘Devout’ is a red flag for freedom lovers all across the fruited plains. Why write ‘Devout’? Why now?”
“Dan, in order to address your question accordingly, it would be wise for me to shed some light on just who I am and in the process answering your question.”
February 12, 1981, 0901, San Diego, California, Lindbergh Field International Airport, Terminal One, don’t recall it ever being really busy. Most the traffic traveling through this part were uniformed service members returning from or going on leave. Of course there’re those members that dress in appropriate civilian attire that consist of a polo shirt tucked into the trousers, garnished with a belt. Keeping up the best professional appearance as possible, you would never see a service man or woman in sandals, even in sunny Southern California.
Dusty renovation projects on their way transforming the appearance of the terminal dramatically over the last six months from the time I first arrived in San Diego for basic till now. With all of the construction taking place the location of the United Service Organization, better known as the USO has been temporarily moved. Expected to report to my first duty station, Camp Pendleton by 1200, time is growing short and haven’t the money for a cab, desperation sets in.
Looking franticly for a service help desk, I notice one at the far end of the concourse. With my military issue sea bag on my back, orders in my right hand and piss cover in my left, I quickstep across the short tight red industrial grade carpet ignoring the discomfort military issued Corfams inflict on the feet.
Arriving at the half circle help desk, perspiration beading up on the forehead, “Excuse me ma’am, I need your help.”
A tiny old lady wearing a blue vest with the word ‘INFORMATION’ marked on it in yellow ink covering her white blouse greets me, “How can I help you sir?”
Frustration dominating my voice, “Where’s the USO?”
The small frame fragile looking woman steps around the counter and gently grabs my elbow, leading me to the edge of the corridor that runs along side the Terminal One escalator connecting the baggage claim area with arrivals. The sweet old lady points to a white inconspicuous door in the middle of the hall that had a makeshift sign made out printer paper with the letters “U.S.O.” marked in blue ink.
Showing my sincere gratitude for the senior citizen’s assistance, “Thank you ma’am for pointing me in the right direction! You’re a life saver.”
The old lady responds, “Thank you for your service!”
“Good afternoon ma’am!”
The little lady walks back to her service desk in slow fashion. Once back at the station proceeds with straitening up the half dozen or more brochures that line the countertop.
Standing in front of a ratted, once white, solid wood door in desperate need of repair, turning the overused brass color doorknob with ease, I step into amazement on how these dedicated volunteers were able to transform this space that was nothing more than an unused facility maintenance room into something warm and inviting.
A mural of the United States Armed Forces seals dress the far wall facing the entrance. The only seal that is of any importance is the Eagle, Globe and Anchor. Recruiting posters mask would be lifeless walls. Two collapsible dinner tables are set up for coffee, soda and an assortment of fruity pastries.
A dozen or so Marines in Service Alphas lounge in donated sofas elaborating on stories about boot camp experience, sexual excursions with Suzie Rotten Crouch, and gaining the upper hand on Jodie. Most of the sexual illustrations were unquestionably fabricated for the sole purpose of entertainment and getting the gullible boots to go along with the fable.
Not being one to engage in such time wasting practices, I make my way over to a table fostering the simplest of complements, bear claws and coffee. Taking a seat next to an end table. Coming across an old issue of ‘Leatherneck’, while flipping through a stack of back issue magazines, with the caption ‘Chinese Boxer Rebellion - Marines at the turn of the Century’ with an oil painting depicting a battle that long since escape the pages of American history.
Hearing a brief description of the battle in boot camp, along with many other historical skirmishes, I rapidly flip the pages of the ratted magazine to learn more on a clash that goes unmentioned in today’s history books. To my amazement, I discover that this enraged conflict stemmed out fear of the West taking over Chinese culture, which was probably nothing more than simple business transactions, considering that trade was made easier with the development of more efficient steam engine ships, but in any case, trouble was brewing. Between May 31, 1900 and September 1900, America was about to be entangled in a conflict that would take the lives of a dozen and a half Marines, and awarding the Medal of Honor to Pvt. Dan Daly for his heroism.
‘Righteous and Harmonious Fist’ or ‘Boxers’ as Westerners referred to them as, was comprised of 50,000 anti-West, anti-Christian farmers and other workers that took to the streets of China with one thing on their mind, to eliminate all Westerners. The local government at time would take action against these bandits, but other times do nothing to curve the assault on innocence.
With increasing unrest in Peking, Secretary of the State John Hay wanted to keep the door open for trade and American investment no matter the cost, so the uprising continued to grow in numbers, thus prompting him to call in troops for safeguarding pro-Westerner supporters.
The United States responded with sending just over 54 Marines that were to be joined with soldiers, sailors, and marines from France, Russia, Germany, Austria, Italy, and Japan, in order to fight back the resistance that were deploying artillery and sniper fire into American legations.
Being the small unit that the Marines have been known for throughout history, the Leathernecks were to embark on a daring move that would position them at the Tarter Wall. The ‘Boxers’ constructed barricades dangerously close to the Marines position, making the wall susceptible to being overrun, but with courageous and unfailing pride for the outfit, America’s Spartans were able to hold the wall till reinforcements arrived fifty-four days later.
Nearing the end of a historically accurate piece, a Devil Dog wearing a set of camouflage battle dress uniform, no older than twenty years of age, sporting a high and tight, storms in through the single door of the U.S.O. with a clipboard in hand. Mustering up as much authority as one can, the young Hard Charger begins to sound off names last name first, then saying the name in the proper order.
“Nelson, Mark Nelson. Cruz, Enrique Cruz. Philpot, James Philpot. Sneed, Daniel Sneed, grab your gear. You’re coming with me.”
Bone chilling breeze rolls off the Pacific Ocean in waves, slapping the bare contours of my face as our crew exits the warm terminal. Lance Corporal Smith walking leisurely, leads our small group to a white passenger van parked out front Terminal One in the loading zone. Swinging open two hollowed out steel doors, “Stack your shit,” showing he’s short on patience, angrily taps the tips of his fingers on the door watching over us like a hawk, “TODAY…” Apparently we weren’t moving fast enough for our young chauffeur, “Good to go,” slamming the double doors shut behind us, “Get in, buckle up and shut your sucks.”
Piling into the roomy van sitting on the blue leather bench seat next to the young man that only a few short moments ago was recounting all of his sexual adventures while on leave from boot camp and military police school. Assuring not to lose possession of my orders I hold them in front of me in my lap. This is it, the real deal.
Smith turning the ignition over cranes his head around and spouts one last instruction before departing, “I don’t want to hear you four getting all gushy over your stupid boot camp stories, so save it. Do you hear me?”
In unison, “Yes Lance Corporal…”
It’s almost like this guy gets off on the little bit of authority granted to him, swelling of the head you might say. Silence fills the compartment with reality that our days back on the block smoking and joking are temporarily placed on hold. Not fully knowing what’s to come, resisting the urge to sleep, I sit, staring out the window directly to the left of me gazing at the massive Pacific Ocean. Peering down at the coast that stretches past piers, beachfront housing, and market places and well beyond what my eyes can see. Admiring all of the beach activities, sun bathing, surfing and young lust seemly to continue year round no matter the season, no matter the air temperature.
Feeling like we’re running short on time, I peak at my watch, 1105. Concerned about the time I speak up, “Sir, are we going to meet our 1200 report time?”
Sounding offended by my question the young Marine makes it a point to correct my doubt, “Boot, don’t sir me, I work for a living. You dumb asses will address me as Lance Corporal Smith, not Smith, not hey you or buddy or any other wise ass term in your vocabulary.”
Adjusting his cover, Smith glances in the rearview mirror and proceeds with answering my question, “We are less than forty-five minutes away from Pendleton. I’ll take you boots directly to H&S Battalion Officer of the Day,” pausing briefly, checking the side mirror, “Once you report to Lieutenant Granger, I’ll take you to the barracks and get you your rooms,” checking the rearview mirror, “One last thing, Lt. Granger is a former recon sergeant. Don’t try to be cute, he’ll pop your heart after running you into the ground.”
Quiet fear grips us all in a strangle hold as our final destination draws near. Maneuvering the long passenger van to the far right lane in an aggressive manner, Smith signals to exit Interstate 5. Accelerating way above the posted speed limit on the long curving exit ramp, our vehicle quickly approaches the main gate. Flanked by two large, wood in construction signs, one, an aged brown color reading as follows, “Camp Joseph H. Pendleton, United States Marine Corps Base,” and the other sign, red face with yellow trim listing the base general and all the base commands, anchored by a blue diamond with a big red one in the center with an inscription below, “Home of 1st Marine Division.”
Slowing down just a bit as we pull up to the main gate. A young sentry wearing his cover in a fashion hiding the eyes waves our van through. Bringing the government shuttle back up to a speed well above the posted limit travel on Vandergrift Boulevard, one of the main arteries running through base. Flanked by mountains and bare flat land, signs of life are almost nonexistent for a base that covers roughly two hundred square miles. Passing a street by the name of Wire Mountain Road and pass a field where in the center stands a windsock fastened to the top of a tall metal pole that looks out of place. More undeveloped scenery blows by before my eyes catch in amazement the air station that houses, all perfectly aligned, CH-46 Sea Knight’s, CH-53 Super Stallion’s, AH-1 Cobra’s and UH-1 Huey’s. I felt like a five year old once again. Taken in by the machinery that’s responsible for airlifting Marines into and out of trouble and providing much needed artillery in the heat of battle.
Just across the way from where Marine Aircraft Group 39 calls home, where Basilone Road and Vandergrift Boulevard meet, lays a large spread of land with an 1800’s adobe style house. Rancho Santa Margarita Ranch House, better known simply as “The Ranch House” serving at one time as the living quarters of Pio Pico, Mexico’s last governor of Alta California. The compound would later become the residence of base generals and their family.
Ahead the road splits, left lane continues east bound, right lane veers south proceeding uphill. Gas-guzzler labors, slowing down dramatically once hitting the steep grade road named Rattlesnake. Causing the diesel engine of the passenger van to kick into low gear as we slowly crawl up the sharp incline.
Cresting the large hill drive and with report time nearly running out, Smith floors it, speeding passed many Quonset Huts and fenced in lots. Finally, committing a sharp left turn into the circle drive of a World War Two era ranch style building that had a flagpole encircled by medium sized river rocks. A porch stretching the full extent of the front, wrapping completely around the perimeter, providing the tan and dark brown trimmed building a feeling not that of a headquarters, but that of a warm country cottage.
LCpl. Smith hurrying us all indoors through an open hatch. Once inside we’re instructed to line-up outside a doorway where a placard just to the right reads “Officer of the Day”. The senior Marine advising us to report in one at a time and don’t be the one to fuck it up, because you’ll never hear the end of it.
Private Cruz was the first to place his head on the chopping block. Not forgetting the reporting in procedures received while proving to his drill instructors he was worthy enough to wear the Eagle, Globe, and Anchor. Pounding three times on the bulkhead, Cruz proceeds, entering the lion’s den.
“Good afternoon sir, Pvt. Cruz reporting for duty as ordered.”
“Good afternoon, your orders Pvt. Cruz?”
Never finding it much fun being the first to report in, it was good having someone go in ahead testing the waters that can quickly grow choppy. Judging on the dialog being exchanged between the Lieutenant and Cruz, it was safe to follow his lead.
After about five minutes the Lieutenant dismiss the Leatherneck, “Get out of here.”
“Aye, aye sir” brief pause, “Good afternoon sir.”
Out comes Cruz stone faced and hustling, forming up in a single file line against a bulkhead opposite the wall the rest of us was on.
Out of the office comes a loud audible voice, “NEXT.”
To my pleasure, in a strange kind of way, was me. Stepping towards the hatchway, ensuring to follow Pvt. Cruz’s example, I proceed with pounding three times on the bulkhead, a split second later comes, “ENTER.”
Walking into the office was like dropping into a yard guarded by eight hungry pit bulls. The Lieutenant sitting behind a desk, both hands rest atop, the look on the man’s face was mean enough to make small children cry out of fear and made my heart race, “Good afternoon sir, Private First Class Philpot reporting for duty as ordered.”
“Good afternoon PFC. Philpot, your orders?”
Taking a step forward with my left foot. Handing my orders to the ‘Officer of the Day’ then snapping back into the position of attention.
Signing my orders, Lt. Granger asks, “How did you get promoted so quickly?”
“Eagle Scout sir.”
“An Eagle Scout?” with some snickering in his voice, “Do you think you have what it takes to be in my company Philpot?”
“I sure hope…”
“It’s a rhetorical question. We’ll see soon enough,” handing back my orders and sending me away with a hand movement that can be taken as shove off if it were a verbal command, “Dismissed.”
“Aye, aye sir,” taking a step back with my left foot following up with, “Good afternoon sir!”
Executing a right face and exiting the lieutenant’s presents forming up along the bulkhead beside Cruz.
Another ten minutes went by before all were seen. A loud authoritative blast bellows from the open hatch of the small duty office, “Smith, bring your ass here.”
“Yes sir,” Smith mumbling under his collar oh shit! as he walks into the duty hut faking the funk.
“Smith, I want you to take these boots over to the barracks, get them put up and have them get out of those damn pickle suits and into BDUs. While you’re at it, be sure to introduce them to Sergeant Greene. Do I make myself clear?” One of two things was evident as we four stood outside the door listening to the directives, Lt. Granger was naturally a loud talker or Smith was the company bitch or both.
Emerging from the lair in just about the same fashion he entered moments earlier, tense, and from the looks broadcasting on the young Marine’s face you can see the disdain for the task. You can see that Smith rather be doing something else than handling us four non-rates.
Being led back out to the white government owned passenger van and loading back up; within three minutes time found ourselves pulling up in front of a set of barracks with a rather large wooden red faced yellow trim sign with the words “1 FSSG, Military Police Co., Headquarters & Service Bn., Grunt with a Badge.”
With patience worn thin, Smith verbalizing his frustration without restraint, “Hurry up and grab your shit and follow me.”
Lugging the bulky green sea bag in one hand while following Smith to a group of Marines in PT gear standing in a modified formation conducting calisthenics’ and other warm up exercises, “Sgt. Greene, here are the new guys I was sent to picked up.”
Moving to the position of attention, the short stocky dark skinned Marine with a horseshoe cut barks out a command, “At ease…”
The platoon size group begins, in a low volume, talking to their neighbors in the modified configuration. With hands resting on hips, head cocked to one side, the dark green Marines turns to face our group. The moment eye contact is made a sinister smile stretches across Greene’s square jaw face sending shivers down my spine. Eye balling his watch, you can see in the small slit of his eyes, he’s a calculating man, “What do you know, just in time for PT,” pausing to expel a big glob of brown tobacco spit, “I hope you have running shoes, because I would really hate to see you four run in jungles.”
LCpl. Smith seeing it’s time to exit the scene without finishing the task placed in his hands. Not being fooled by the junior Marines’ escape attempt, the non-commission officer that looks like he can separate your head from your shoulders in one pull, catches him in the act, “Smith, where in the hell do you think you’re going?”
“Sergeant?” acting oblivious to the superiors’ challenge.
“I said,” closing the gap separating the two men to a point of being right up in his face, “where do you think you’re going?”
Not sounding intimidated but facial expressions tell a different story, “Back to the duty shack Sergeant.”
“Didn’t you fail the last PFT?”
“You may think you have a get out of jail free card with duty and all, but it’s business hours and the chair will not miss your ass,” looking dead into the eyes of Smith, Greene finishes, “Put these four in the two vacant rooms on the north side and after you get them squared away come back here ready for PT,” bringing his watch up to his face, “You have ten minutes.”
Our group turns; walking back in the direction we arrived all stiff like the boot Marines we are. Not moving fast enough, a drill instructor like voice erupts from behind us, serving as a motivator, “TODAY!” Causing me to have flashbacks of boot camp. Wanting no part of Sgt. Greene and the hell he can bring, pace quickens. Directing his attention back towards the platoon, “YOUR NEXT EXERCISE WILL BE MARINE CORPS PUSH-UPS. WE WILL DO MANY OF THEM. STARTING POSITIONS. PUSH-UP…”
One voice rings out behind our small group, “MARINE CORPS,” as we make our way down a breezeway bisecting the halves of the barracks. Smith quickly enters and exits an office no bigger than a small bathroom, just large enough to fit a single size bed and a mini-fridge.
Feverishly moving along a catwalk to two rooms that sit side by side. Smith, obviously feeling the pressures of being under the gun, points to Sneed and I, “You two numb nuts in here.”
No time to muddle in the living arrangements. If it were up to me, Sneed would have been my last choice in roommates. For a guy that has no problem airing his sexual exploits candidly, this is a recipe bound for turbulence. With that aside, going straight for the squad bay Suribachi, the unhesitant method of clearing any sea bag of its contents on the deck simply by upturning the oversized duffle on its head.
Quickly working through the heap locating my P.T. gear, go fasters, white socks, red shorts and gold shirt. Exchanging the dress uniform for the Commandant approved physical training uniform as fast as possible, but the same can’t be said about Sneed. Running into a bit of a snag, apparently he’s unable to find his running shoes. Clawing through wads of clothing revealing his short, uncontrolled temper, “FUCK,” throwing his empty sea bag across the room.
Before we knew it, a knock at the door followed by cultured obviously frustrated words, “HURRY UP NUMB NUTS. GET YOUR ASS TO THE BASKETBALL COURT.”
Still not managing to locate running shoes, I advise him, for the sake of time, to put on his jungles. Giving me a look that can be interpreted as, “are you out of your flipping mind?”
Finding a temporary fit in first squad were Nelson and Cruz whom were already in formation stretching with the rest of the platoon. Running out onto the court as the last ones to arrive at the dance wasn’t exactly the first impression I pictured. Not breaking our stride, commanding the directive, Greene exercises the powers invested in him, “About time ladies. Fall in with forth squad and by the way, nice boots.”
Wanting to get the show on the road, a Marine previously appointed, jets out of formation and heads to the company office. Rolling off the lips of the senior non-commission officer, “YOU’RE STRETCHING...”
A moment later the notification returns, falling back in to the left of Smith. Can’t help but notice, while performing a shoulder stretch, all the while discreetly keeping my eyes fixated on who exits the company office, the over abundance of squirrels running around the premises. Those later I’ll identify as Captain Welch the Company Commanding Officer, First Sergeant Leland, Gunnery Sergeant Masters and the Marine I met earlier in the day, Executive Officer Lt. Granger, emerge from the office looking like they’re on the drill field. No nonsense, ready to eat us alive.
Waiting for the office heads to get on the road that runs atop of a small embankment, Sgt. Greene brings the half strength company to attention. The sound of feet coming together and fist slapping the thigh echoes off the two flanking buildings. In a harsh dominating voice comes the next command, “Right face,” pivoting on the ball of my left foot and the heel of my right, “Forward march,” stepping off with the left foot, “Left, right, left, right,” just at the base of the short steep hill, “Double time,” in unison the company barks out “Marine Corps.”
First company run in the fleet goes off without a hitch. Salt cedars line the narrow blacktop road. Ice plant masks the hard California soil. All around me Marines are hacking and coughing up clumps of mucus, clearing the airway of obstruction. Stomach feels like it has risen into my throat, no thanks to nervousness. Lungs on fire from inhaling the winter desert air. A slight cramp begins to develop on my left side, just below the rib cage. Knowing I’m experiencing dehydration, with my left hand I place a firm grip on the cramping muscle providing a bit of relief.
Managing to stay with the bulk of the formation after the first half mile. Weaker runners begin to show signs of distress as the pace of the run quickens. Rounding the bend of a long curving road, an empty field with nothing more than a sandpit and some pull-up bars sits to one side and thick shrubbery on the other, the run cadence changes hands, “Corporal Lewis where you at? Lead us in a warriors’ chant.”
Green continues the singsong, “Take it on the left foot. Mighty mighty left foot. Take it…”
“I got it,” Corporal Lewis, a young dark green Marine takes over at the helm, “Floating down a river on a shithouse door, just me, my dog and a two dollar whore…”
Finding it hard to repeat the cadence, pace begins to slow way down and distance begins to grow between Smith and the Marines in front of him. Not thinking about what can be hurled my way I place my left hand between his shoulder blades hoping this would help, but it wasn’t long before I heard a loud bark over my right shoulder, “Get back in formation.”
It was Sgt. Greene running right beside me, “Let him fallout,” then the drill instructor came to the forefront, “SMITH, YOU HAVE GOT TO BE KIDDING. You’re already quitting? YOU PIECE OF SHIT! No heart…”
The formation runs around the dejected warrior as he falls farther behind with Greene yelling in his face. That would be the last I’d see of Smith for some time. Knowing the hardline sergeant for only a brief amount of time, I know he has other plans as our platoon led by company heads breaks down a weathered road where the pavement ends and is picked up by dirt a second later.
There were dirt roads leading every which way. Murmuring begins to circulate within the formation hoping the CO wasn’t going to try proving anything by running Engineer’s Hill. Assuming the hill they speak of was the steep inclined dirt road staring us down directly in front of us scaling the face of a finger extending off a near-by mountain. Either the brass heard the bellyaching rumbling in the rear or this was dialed in the coordinates long before the cross-country excursion into the desert.
As we approach the daunting heavily cratered uphill struggle, many runners already met defeat at the doorstep of Engineer. One of the Marines calling it quits before attacking was my roommate, Pvt. Sneed. Quickly falling back behind the pack giving into surrenders’ walk.
Not afraid of the challenge set before me. Expelling all of my energies to drive my feet into the hard Pendleton soil one after another. The once tight formation begins to spread out as if it were some kind of individual run. Some stop running midway, like a car with a blown radiator, vomiting and burning every drop of fuel to carry on.
Breathing short heavy breathes, thighs burning, to my amazement we were nearly to the summit. Cpl. Lewis, one hard charger, still barking out the running cadence, even though only a hand full of Marines were able to muster enough breath to repeat the cadence, ”Pain in my chest, I don’t care, I put it there…”
Reaching the summit brought great relief. Taking on many casualties, Capt. Welch signals with a blade hand to form a wagon wheel. Giving those lagging behind a chance to catch up. For those few that made the trip with the splintered formation, it’s a chance to catch our breath. A minute passes and for the few that managed to rejoin the group found themselves running in formation again, only this time, downhill.
Pace never slowing and frankly for the next forty-five minutes every Marine present is fed through the wringer, flutter kicks, mountain climbers, dive bombers and eight count body builders. Boot camp times ten on the intensity scale, nothing easy about the fleet so far.
Felt like hours, in reality nothing more than an hour, our group returns to the basketball court covered in dank sweat and earth turned muddy. Wagon wheeling to catch our breath while we wait for stragglers. Like on the run, the moment they catch up, we break out into cool down exercises, calf stretch, side straddle hops and trunk twist.
Greene meeting with Gunny Masters by a gazebo like structure dubbed the “Beer Garden”. Both men showing their exertion with their hands resting on their hips and steam rising up from exposed scalps. After a few minutes of back and forth, the staff non-commission officer makes a one eighty, retiring to the company office with the rest of the brass and senior enlisted.
Walking over to an invisible marker on the concrete court. Squashing the bug, stiffening his body, tight fist, thumbs along the seems of his shorts, barks, “FALL IN,” in voice that brings back memories only six months old.
Bodies move quickly, getting into platoon formation. Cover and alignment become second nature; something drilled in the skulls full of mush daily during the tear down rebuild process. Left arms go down and heads pop to the front. A platoon of trained killers waits to receive word, “At ease,” looking down at the pavement, hands still resting on his hips, pacing back and forth along the length of the platoon, “We’ve been training hard the last couple of months,” pausing to spit a glob of brown excrement from his oral cavity, “You’ll earned this seventy-two to fraternize, raise havoc in Oceanside while trying to get a piece of ass,” another glob of spit ejects from his suck, “I ask only one thing from you all, do it in manner that will not get you killed. The Corps needs you back here Tuesday morning bright and early in one piece. The four FNG’s have your Alphas ready. I’ll be coming by tomorrow morning with my squad leaders to inspect them. Stand-by. Platoon, attention. Squad leaders take charge of your squad and carry out the plan of the day.”
In unison four voices say back, “Aye, aye sergeant…”
While many Marines disappear quickly into the safe confines of barrack rooms, getting out of dodge while the getting is good, forth squad is ordered to stand-by. “Circle it up,” comes the heavy voice of the baby faced Corporal, “Won’t keep you long. Our extra work on PT appears to have paid off for the most part. Those that found it hard keeping up with the CO needs to take it upon themselves to improve,” shifting gears, “Incase you haven’t noticed, we gained two new bodies,” all eyes fixate on both Sneed and I, “Let’s introduce ourselves. I’ll start things off. Corporal Dan Lewis, Missouri.”
“Ben Jacobs, Rhode Island.”
“Conner Jeffery, Texas.”
“Daniel Sneed, Idaho.”
As each man around the huddle like formation spouts off his name and home state finally the opportunity lands in my lap, “James Philpot, Arizona.”
“Make these FNG’s feel at home,” Lewis displaying examples of his unquestionable solid leadership, “Keep it a safe weekend and for Sneed and Philpot, have your Alphas ready for inspection tomorrow 0700. Get out of here and enjoy your seventy-two.”
Returning to my new living quarters tired and exhausted, wanting only to straighten up my gear and grab a bite to eat. Kicking off boot camp issued tennis shoes, I pick through the mound of clothes lying in a massive heap in the center of the tight carpet floor. Finding a towel under the contents, I quickly head to the shower rinsing off all of the sweat, dirt and grime collected on the thrashing of a run.
Knowing my Alphas are in great shape and ready for inspection, I go over my uniform one more time looking for any Irish pennants that may have sprung up over the course of the day. IP’s were funny in a sense that they’re like weeds. Just when you think you’ve found them all, never fail more always seem to appear. These loose ends have a way of popping up in places on your uniform that you know without a doubt have been cleared and scrutinized several times before.
First impressions are everything and that horse may have already left the gate, but that feeling didn’t stop me from shining my brass and dusting off my Corfams. Wrapping both articles in an old white skivvy shirt as to not revisit the task again later. Assuring to keep the items easily accessible and from any potential areas that could bring forward damage I place them under my rack.
Uniform ready, suspended off the ledge of one of two studies by a hanger, the same can’t be said about Sneed who is fast asleep and uniform tossed on the corner of his rack. Assuming he’ll be up and about later to ready his uniform, I continue to square away my shit, folding clothes and placing them in drawers. Doing all that can be done for the moment.