I am a Marine Corps veteran. That's a fact that most people would never guess to look at me. I am mild mannered, peace-loving and chubby/cuddly. I am as liberal as they come: a Dead Head in my youth, a hippy by predilection and a seeker for philosophical truth and spiritual fulfillment. I can tell you one thing. I confounded many a staff sergeant and gunny in "this man's" Marine Corps, not the least because they still didn't know what the fuck to do with women in the Corps in the 80's. But I am a Jarhead, sure as Chesty Puller and Smedley Butler (if you don't know...look them up!) Here's how that happened.
I grew up in Colorado, in a large extended Latin American family. My dad was from New Mexico, and his dad, and his dad and his dad...back to the 1500's. That matters...I'll tell why later. I was a liberal before I knew the word existed. My dad was a union man, and I was a red-diaper baby. He was a meat packer, worked in a plant called Montfort's in Greeley Colorado, at the edge of the northern Colorado plains. He, as I said, served in the air force.
Here's the thing though. Martinezes/Bustoses ALL seemed to serve. We were all like LOOtenant Dan in Forrest Gump. Here's the litany: Uncle Johnny, Uncle Jake and Uncle Eugene (US Army)-- World War II (my grandma's brothers) My dad (USAF)--1957-1961; Uncle Ron (USArmy) and Uncle Rudy(USAF)--Vietnam; my brother David (US Army) 1972-1980, later both of my little brothers would serve too, one in the army, one in the navy...So it was all around me, that "IDEA" of serving my country.
Funny thing though. None of them ever really spoke about it. I found out later that my grandma's brothers were in the Phillippines, when things got really gruesome in WWII. All volunteers too, except for Ron, who got drafted into Vietnam. And what are the chances folks...what are the chances that all of them would get out alive? But they did and I marvel at it.
We always struggled for money in my family, and when my mother died when I was ten, my father was a 31 year old widow with 6 children to care for. Things went downhill from there, as he married badly the second time and deteriorated physically and emotionally after that. (That's another story, one I oughta tell someday here.) By the time I graduated high school, I knew I had to figure it out and fund it by myself if I wanted to attend college. My dad was on disability by that time with diabetes destroying both his eyesight and extremities, and my step-mother had left him. I was the oldest kid still left at home; my brother David in the Army, my sister Kathy out of the house.
I got scholarships, several. I worked. Full time. I was majoring in Zoology, minoring in Chemistry. Lots of lab classes, lots of writing too. My grades dropped. My hopes of studying veterinary medicine, my childhood ambition...ephemerally slipped away as I exhausted myself trying to do it all. Care for my dad; care for my younger siblings; work; school.
I met a man I fell in love with at 19. He was a military enthusiast. An odd geek who played strategic board war games with other like minded geeks. They re-fought the battles of Napoleon and Stalingrad and Thermopylae. It was their hobby. As the relationship frayed, I found myself feeling quite belittled, compartmentalized and outcast from his little world of boys playing soldier. They thought they were all so tough. Yet none had ever served. One had a rich daddy, who was an Army doctor. He had been to military school as a kid. Another had broken a leg in basic training, and gotten out of the Army. My boyfriend was the son of a bird Colonel with 3 tours in Vietnam and the brother of a dead private who died there. He'd never been in the military either. Wannabes all.
I argued war and peace with these guys all the time in my puerile way. I have always been, and remain a pacifist at heart. But they wore on me. I ended up resenting their sure world view that the U.S. is always right and good, and victory is always sweet. I felt I had something to prove, since I felt many times like my boyfriend was sort of patting me on the head indugently with his rhetoric.
Somehow, in the waning days of my relationshp with this man, as I quit college and lost my lucrative job as a Deputy Sheriff in the county jail (another interesting digression, another post maybe?), I found myself on the doorstep of the Navy Recruiter in my town. I was desperate, but had 2 1/2 years of college, good high school grades and no criminal record. Even as a female, I was a recruiter's dream.
I took the ASVAB and scored very well. I also took several aptitude tests for specific fields. One was a Morse code test, for the Signals Intelligence rate. Another REALLY intrigued me, as it was for the field I was MOST interested in. This one was called the DLAB, or "Defense Language Aptitude Battery". It is a cool test really, to tell whether you have any facility with, or ear for, learning languages. There would be a series of grammar rules listed, for example, which were supposed to be part of an imaginary language. Then they would give you a paragraph of gibberish in that language and you'd have to pick out important words using only the grammar rules you knew. Or they'd give you "root words" or cognates and see if you could recognize other words with similar meaning. Most difficult, they'd play voice recordings of people speaking this "language" and you had to pull out relevant words.
I KILLED on that test. I still have an uncanny ear and mind for languages. So, I knew what rateI wanted, I wanted to be an "Interrogator Translator". I wanted to spend a year at the Defense Language Institute at Monterey, California and come out with the ability to speak Russian or Arabic. I was actually thrilled. I figured that after four years, I could then take the Foreign Service Exam and work for the State Department. I thought it out...I had a plan, man.
That's about when the Marines got to me. See in my hometown, the recruiters were all in the same little building. One large hall with little offices. On the left, Army and Navy. On the right Air Force and Marines. The Marines began to tease me as I'd come out of the Navy office. They'd say: "You need to come and talk to us. You really don't want to be in the Navy, do you?" And what'ya know, I stopped in to see them. I couldn't resist, you see.
It was the uniforms. It was their demeanor. It was their confidence. It was their charm. OK, OK, OK...I was a sucker! See, the Army recruiters were fat and flabby and ate doughnuts all the time. (Losers) The Navy guys, also overweight, wore BELL BOTTOMS for chrissakes. (Faggots) and the Air Force? Jeez...that guy was freakin' Howdy Doody, a skinny, red haired Chaplain's assistant with meek and mild countenance. (Thats what Sergeant Miller and Sergeant Amaya told me anyway)
And then there were the Jarheads. I cringe to think that I got my head turned. They were so crisp, and buff, with their hairless skulls that they looked like another species. They LOOKED like the recruiting poster photos. Next thing you know, a few months later, with a contract signed for the Interrogater/Translator MOS, I was being picked up and taken to the MEPS (Military Entrance Processing Station) at 2 am, and processed for entry into the YOU-ESS-EM-CEE, just like Gomer Pyle.
Unfortunately, there was a slight glitch, found at MEPS, with my contract. Apparently, no one had reserved me a seat in the appropriate DLI class, and I, fair audience, was labeled a "mis-ship" and told that I could, if I wanted, go home....
And I says to myself. NO FUCKING WAY! I have been running every day for 6 months to get in shape. I have no job, no money and I am sleeping on my sister's couch. I can't pay my car payments. And most of all...I did NOT want to be shamed into admitting that I really didn't have what it takes to be a Marine anyway...which is what my boyfriend, the wannabee military dude was trying to tell me constantly.
I had my PRIDE, y'know. I was LOOTENANT Freakin' DAN! So...I allowed the Marine recruitment supervisor, a Lieutenant, put me up in a hotel, while everyone else got on the plane and flew off to Parris Island or San Diego.
(Oh, yeah...did I tell you that my little SISTER had decided to sign up too? Yessiree, the Martinez clan sure can breed us some military folk. But that's another story too...except for the fact that she flew off without ME!!)
So....er...where was I? Oh, yeah...the Denver office put their crack recruiter on me and I ended up with an odd contract. Here's how it goes. The military, when it can't get enough qualified people for certain fields, offers bonuses. This guy offered me a $4,500 dollar bonus contract. The way it worked is this. You sign up and agree to let the USMC put you in one of 8 "short" MOS's. Lucky for me, several were off limits because they were artillery or infantry related, and not open to women. So, I could possibly get: Unit Diary (glorified secretary); Aviation Ordnance (planes, Kaboom); or....wait for it....Interrogator Translator. I geta roll of the dice and $4,500 dollars (ka-ching) and they get 4 years of mi vida.
Now you tell me, what's a girl to do? The original contract was voided. I didn't want to be a mis-ship. I didn't want to wait. I signed the damn papers. I let this guy convince me that I could still get the field I wanted. I believed. (Sucker!)
So...off I flew to South Carolina, wondering how many more ways a girl can get fucked. I was soon to find out.
Parris Island. I had nightmares about the place for years after. And like the picture says...it ain't no rose garden. I arrived a day late, which put me at a distinct disadvantage, though I missed the first 24 hours, during which my fellow platoon members, including my sister...had not slept.
I just remember being rounded up at the Savannah, Georgia airport, and boarding a bus at around 8 at night. I knew I wasn't in Kansas anymore Toto. The Marine who picked us up didn't say much except tell us to get on the bus...he wouldn't yell till he rolled the guys off the bus 45 minutes later. Around me, others whispered and smoked. The last cigarettes they'd see for 13 weeks. I am glad I don't smoke. That's some cold turkey,there. The ride was eerie. South Carolina is VERY full of trees, and very humid. This high country girl was steaming and claustrophobic. It was like we were driving through a tunnel of trees, unable to see anything on the right or left. I was so used to the big sky and open spaces and crisp air of Colorado, I felt alien.
Finally, we arrived at WRTC (Women's Recruit Training Company) and a big, dark haired Latina in uniform jumped on the bus and began yelling loudly for us to get off the bus NOW... There were about 6 of us and we were scared shitless from that point on. This was my first sighting of a real woman Marine mind you. They had only been a rumour until that point, kinda like the Jabberwock.
She was quickly joined by 2 other drill instructors who ran us around the compound yelling and giving directions in rapid fire order, few of which we could make heads or tails of. We got uniforms, boots, and lots of other junk that we had no idea what to do with. We got a speech about the rules and some more screaming. We were addressed as "recruit". We weren't people, we certainly weren't Marines...we weren't even "privates" like they call you in the Army. And we had to quickly learn to address these women in the 3rd person. We could not use the word "you". We were not entitled to speak that directly to their lofty personages. Hell, we couldn't even call ourselves "I"...we had to address ourselves as "this recruit".
Here's an example (and ONLY when you had been given permission to speak): "Ma'am, permission for this recruit to use the head, Ma'am!?" If you wanted to respond to anything they asked you, it was "Ma'am, yes Ma'am". Later, at the rifle range, in class and in the field, we got to address the male instructors as "sir" too. This is different, I know, than the Army and Air Force, where a sergeant is likely to tell you not to call him "sir" because he works for a living! The Marine Corps is another world though, and it has a lingo all it's own. Part borrowed from the Navy, of which we grudgingly admit we are a component; part developed strictly to humiliate the recruits.
I went to my "rack" the first night wondering just what the fuck I had gotten myself into. We finally were allowed to sleep at some ungodly hour and were awoken at 4:45 the next morning, which would be my wake-up time for the next 13 weeks. This first week, called "forming" was one in which the platoon was drilled in all things "Marine". We learned to call things by their Navy terms: bulkhead, scuttlebutt, deck, ladderwell, head, porthole, port, starboard...not wall, drinking fountain, floor, stairs, bathroom, window, left and right. We learned to form and march, marginally, as a platoon. We learned to "count off" in the morning the minute our feet hit the ground. We learned that if even a hair or an eyelash was out of place, these women seemed to have eyes in their derrieres, and sure as shit, they would see it.
But the REAL fun would only begin at the end of the week, when the drill instructors actually assigned to train our platoon "picked us up".
And that's a good place to stop...I'll finish this as soon as I can, because there are a lot more fun and games to talk about, yessiree!