Mid-Missouri Marine remembers first night of training

Related Story

SAN DIEGO – Just past sunset, two white school buses pull up to the sidewalk at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego, California. 

You can’t see any passengers in the seats but they’re there – with their heads down and shoulders hunched, the newest class of Marine Corps recruits have just arrived.

The buses have barely stopped moving when two figures jump on board.

These men are Marine Drill Instructors. For the next 3 months, they will spend every hour with the recruits they train to be Marines.

Calls of “Get off my bus! Run to the yellow footprints! Now now now now!” echo throughout the bus.

With that, the stampede to the infamous yellow footprints begins.

Colored outlines on the sidewalk, the yellow footprints show the recruits where to stand to receive their first instructions – how to stand at attention.

“Put your arms by your side. Feet together. Knees slightly bent. Eyes forward.”

Each command is followed by an “aye sir”. 

Then the recruits are read their rights, which are basically the Marines’ adaptation of the Miranda Rights: “Your commanding officer has the authority to punish you as he sees fit. Leaving the base without permission is an offense punishable by law.”

Each rule is followed inevitably by a chorus of ‘aye sir’s, growing louder with each passing minute.

The recruits then leave the yellow footprints and head inside to the contraband room, where they hand everything over from their previous lives. 

No cell phones.

No contact lenses.

No personal prescriptions.

No reading material except for religious purposes. 

If a recruit doesn’t follow commands quickly enough, he soon finds the drill instructor’s face little more than two inches away from his own, loudly yelling commands. The reprimands are harsh, but free of any curse words. 

Once rid of their personal belongings, the recruits are ordered to line up behind a row of landline phones. 

This is the last time the recruits’ families will hear their son’s voices for 12 weeks.

“Hello, this is Recruit (Last Name)… I have arrived safely at MCRD San Diego. The next time I contact you will be by postal mail so expect a letter in two to three weeks… I love you, goodbye.” 

The recruits can’t say more than that. They’re limited to reading the pre-written script on the placard in front of each phone. 

With their final goodbyes said, the recruits are hustled to the next part of the process – getting their heads shaved. 

A drill instructor pulls one recruit from the line. “You! Count off by ten for the barber. Keep the line against the wall.” 

Even from the very beginning, leadership is thrust upon the recruits at random by the drill instructors.

The young man’s arm trembles as he directs his fellow recruits into the barber’s chair.

“Five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten…”

Before he even finishes counting, the first haircut has begun. 

Each buzz takes less than one minute. After asking each recruit about any protruding moles or scars, the barber’s hands go to work, expertly gliding over each and every head.

The recruits all stare straight ahead – the earlier command of “eyes forward” has obviously not been forgotten.

One by one, each recruit stands from the barber’s chair. He is now no different than all the other young man in front of him. Same clothes, same haircut – these men will spend the next thirteen weeks together, hopefully transforming from recruits into Marines. 

The confusion and chaos of the first hours of recruit training remains a vivid memory for some Marines and Marine recruits. 

“I had no idea what I had just gotten myself into,” Levy Clark said.

Clark, a Week 11 recruit at the time, is from Dixon, Missouri and has now graduated bootcamp. 

“You think you know what it will be like, how you’ll handle it, but you have no idea,” he said.

For the new recruits, that feeling will likely stick around for a while, Clark said.  

For the first 24 hours after they arrive the recruits won’t sleep; instead, they get a crash course in how life works at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot. 

Over the next weeks, the recruits will undergo 24-7 training. From intensely physical obstacle courses, to learning how to march, to learning how to fire and handle an M16-A4 rifle, the recruits will eat, sleep and breathe what it means to be a United States Marine. 

At the end of the 12 weeks of training, all but 4% of the average recruit class becomes Marines.

“I know at some point, all of us wonder how we'll make it through these three months,” Clark said. “But somehow, we just do.”