Well, any recounting of bootcamp tales must begin with that first fateful night. I arrived in the San Diego airport around 10 pm on a Tuesday night and sat in the USO with about 120 other nervous recruits, some scared out of their minds, some smoking cigarette after cigarette in anticipation of three tobacco free months, some awkwardly cracking jokes, but all of us had our eyes on the double glass doors, just waiting for that inevitable moment when the receiving drill instructors would burst through and tell us to board the buses.
That moment eventually came. They were yelling and screaming, I'm not sure I understood a single word. Eventually we were herded onto buses, and I was the unlucky son of a bitch that got to be the last recruit on the first bus. This meant that I had to sit on the floor in between the first row of seats. A drill instructor stepped on the bus, dropped a box full of government documents on my lap and instructed us that we were going to ride with our head between our legs and not make a single sound for the duration of the trip.
The bus pulled out of the airport, inside it was quiet enough to hear a pin drop, all I could hear was my own heart beating too rapidly to be normal. The recruit depot is actually adjacent to the airport, they actually share a chain link fence. So the bus ride should have only taken about five minutes, everyone knew that so to mess with our minds they drove around in circles for a while and took ab out a half hour it seemed. Each time the bus pulled to a stop you could feel the whole bus tense up, anticipating the doors opening and the boarding of some enraged drill instructor. Eventually the bus stopped for the last time, the doors crashed open and the devil himself (or so I thought at the time) pounded up the steps.
I felt spit on my face. So much that it seemed like it was raining. Then I realized that the DI was addressing me personally. Unfortunately, I hadn't heard what he was saying, but finally I realized that he was screaming at me to get off the bus and follow him with the box of documents. Well, being a big guy, I was kind of wedged between the seats on the floor, and had trouble getting up. Lesson #1, don't make a Drill Instructor wait for you to follow an order. Lesson #2, if you aren't moving fast enough (and you never are) they will "assist" you. Before I knew it I had been thrown out the door of the bus and was following the drill instructor across some pavement and into a hallway. He made me dump the box of records on the floor, which I complied with, not remembering that I had placed some of my personal belongings inside the box on top. So now I'm on my knees trying to recover my things, with a drill instructor pulling on the back of my shirt collar and kicking around all the records and my stuff with his boots.
Eventually I found my bible and other things and was drug back outside to join the others. By this time everyone was off the bus and standing on the famous yellow footprints that I'm standing by in the picture. Feet at a 45 degree angle, body rigid, shoulders back, chin tucked, palms rolled back and thumbs on the trouser seam, the position of attention. We were read four articles from the Uniform Code of Military Justice, told to face to the left, and herded like cattle through a hatch that read "Through This Portal Walks the Future of the United States Marine Corps".
Every recruit was kept awake for the next 48 hours. The first 8 were the worst. Haircuts so rough guys' heads started to bleed, holding a duffle bag in your left hand at the position of attention for so long that your hands rubbed raw and bled. Standing so close together that your toes touched the heels of the man in front of you, and being there for hours, waiting for your name to be called.
I didn't see those footprints again for 13 weeks. You'd better believe that I didn't step on them. It was really laughable to look back and remember what a blur that night was, to realize how far everyone that made it had come. I'm gonna spend some time writing about everything that happened in between seeing those footprints.