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May 16, 2009 / Maleesha Kovnesky

Part 6: Forming Days


Drill Instructor – (DI) A Marine in charge of building new Marines.  Particulary angry, particularly agile and fast.  Identified by their perpetually raspy voices, as well as the trickle of recruit-blood dribbling down their chins.  Enjoy making recruits roll around in sand and/or swamp water.  They are not “Drill Sergeants.”  Drill Sergeants are what the frickin’ army has, you understand that?  No, I said do you understand that?  Do you want to go in the army?  Do you?  I can’t hear you!

Recruit Training – Another word for what you know as “boot camp.”  I will use the term boot camp interchangeably, mostly because it has seven fewer letters than recruit training, but for all past, present and future Marines reading, know that I know it’s not supposed to be called boot camp, because we ain’t camping, do you understand that?  No, I said do you understand that?

Platoon – A whole bunch of people who have to line up in lines, also known as “squads.”  Kind of like a team.  So if you are all in the same platoon, you are on the same team.  Does that clear it up?  Snap.

Racks –  Treacherously uncomfortable, yet pleasantly well-made at all times, bunkbeds where recruits sleep.

Go Fasters – tennis shoes

Moonbeam – a flashlight

BCGs – Birth Control Glasses.  A long time ago when eyeglasses were becoming plastic and mainstream, like in the fifties, someone at the Eyeglasses Factory fell asleep, accidentally pushing the lever to “Super Ugly.”  Millions of hideous brown eyeglasses were created.  No one knew what to do.  Everyone panicked.  Luckily, the government stepped in to intervene, buying up every last case of the Super Ugly glasses.  These same glasses have been donning the faces of recruits ever since.  I think there was a plan to just let the supply run out and order new ones, maybe something a little more aerodynamic, but unfortunately the eyeglasses reproduce like Tribbles, ensuring that recruits with eyesight problems will be ugly into the 22nd century and beyond.

POA – Position of Attention.  Human hot dog impersonation.  Broom up one’s bum.  Unmoving, spine straight, eyes forward, no scratching, not even if sandfleas are biting your junk.  Especially if sandfleas are biting your junk, because should you get caught moving, you are just going to have to stand their longer, until you no longer have junk, possibly.

Heavy –  Out of all the DIs, this one is the mean one.  Okay, that probably doesn’t help.  This is the one that makes you wet the rack.

* * * * *

A person can watch Full Metal Jacket, Private Benjamin, and every other movie with “boot camp” scenes, but no matter how you imagine it, nothing prepares you for the shock to your system.  You know it’s going to be bad, because everyone tells you that.  You try to practice and prepare for it, but the only thing that comes to mind are a wayward bunch of hoodlums from every walk of life lining up in a row getting yelled at by a stout, angry-but-loveable drill instructor.  Cut to the scene that involves underwear and crazy hijinks.  Afterward, we all go our for drinks at the pub down the road and have a good laugh about it all. 

In reality, you can stop after the “hoodlums from every walk of life” part.  However, the first few days at Parris Island did have the surreal hey I’m actually in the movie kind of feel to them.  From what I remember, anyway.

At some point after the singing cockroaches, I was placed into Platoon 4033, November Company.  The platoon started with 75 girls from all walks of life.  No one knew the rules, no one knew anyone else.  We were placed in a room in the barracks and left there for a moment. 

The drill instructors appeared.  Three women from the seventh circle of hell screamed orders.  Somehow we were assigned racks to stand in front of.  Roll call of some sort was taken.  We unpacked the few items that we had into our footlockers in precise movements.  We didn’t move unless we were told to, and when we did move we usually did it incorrectly.  We were taught a very new and fun way of using the bathroom.  Now take a moment to imagine seventy women sharing two bathroom stalls.  Chaos, right?  Now imagine them having to share them in less than sixty seconds.  It was a fast-moving assembly line of bodily least that is what it would evolve into after the course of several weeks…the first few weeks were mostly chaos and people crashing into each other. 

We had to get shots.  Lots of shots.  Shots for diseases I thought were eradicated.  They were administered via an air gun, which made a nifty sound as it propelled Uncle Sam’s leftover meds into our arms.  I stood in line, waiting my turn.  Shots were great, because no one was yelling.  We had to fill out a lot of paperwork.  I think of all that paperwork, being filled out by teenagers, really.  Permanent record.  They took DNA samples.  We listed our “significant body markings” such as tattoos, moles, birthmarks shaped like Russia, and extra limbs so that if we ever had our parts scattered on the battlefield, they’d be able to put them in the same box and ship us back home.  I remember thinking about the DNA sample, and how I would never be able to commit any major crimes because my own molecules were going to be stored in a huge government database somewhere.  I would never get away with it.  (Since then, I’ve seen the state of our databases…there’s not a whole lot to worry about.)

* * * * *

The military method of assigning eyeglasses was similar to how I got boots.  If you will recall, some dude eyed my feet and took a wild-ass guess as to my foot size, and I wore too-large boots for the thirteen weeks of boot camp.  My BCG’s were issued in the same manner.  I looked into a scope-contraption, and another dude spun a wheel as if it were the Price is Right and he was going for the dollar.  “Can you read the second line?” he asked. 

“Yes, but…”


* * * * *

I thought I would cheat the system by getting my hair chopped off prior to coming to Parris Island.  I did not take into consideration the Position of Attention.  Standards dictate that female Marines hair must not be below the collar when in uniform.  My hair was about an inch too long.  I was sent to the Fourth Battalion barber shop along with a few other ladies with unconforming tresses. 

Never have I received such a bad haircut.  I wasn’t expecting salon-quality, mind you.  But this was worse than the time I got the “special” individual at Cost Cutters (Springfield, VA…did I ever blog that?) to cut my hair.  This was like the Langoliers took hold of my head, thought it tasted funny, and spit it out halfway through their meal. 

Okay, so let’s pause to review.  I had gone from an obnoxiously overachieving, nice looking high school student with a shimmery future, to a scraggle-haired person of indeterminate gender, wearing wrinkled camouflage (not a flattering pattern for anyone), clown boots and glasses shaped like Eggo waffles…all in the course of two days. 

They said “the change is forever”…now that is truth in advertising!

* * * * *

The first night in Platoon 4033, we laid in our racks straight as an arrow, the position of attention, and waited for the drill instructors to shut off the lights.  We did it wrong, so the entire platoon had to step down and wait for the command to go to bed again.  And again.  And again.  Soon enough, we were all so tired that the collective brain forced us to “mount the racks” at the same time.  Synchronous bed immersion – the next Olympic sport?  We waited for the “rest” command, but it never came. 

“Oh, I guess we forgot to show you how to make your racks,” the heavy said.  “I guess that means you’ll have to sleep on top the covers, then.”  It may have been ninety degrees outside, but the air conditioning kept the inside of the barracks somewhere around 55.  I shivered for a long time, but I was so exhausted that I slept anyway, even though I knew my body shivered all night long. 

It seemed that only mere seconds after I closed my eyes, the lights came on and the DIs were slithering between the racks, screaming at us to wake up.  Night never lasted long in boot camp. 

* * * * *

These were the “forming days,” the days allocated to things like paperwork and medical exams.  The DIs had not officially started our training yet.  We didn’t have to be punished via pushups, and no one was singled out.  Yet several women dropped out during the forming days.  I wish I could remember the name of the tall girl with the curly hair and BCGs.  I remember her face exactly.  She was seven racks down from mine.  On the fourth or fifth day of boot camp, she stopped talking.  She stood there shaking like a wounded deer.  I understand that she got sent home, a discharge for “failure to adapt.”  I wonder what became of her.  She had only made it a few days, but I want her to know that someone remembers that she tried.



Leave a Comment
  1. teeni / May 19 2009 9:51 am

    I find this all fascinating and wonder if I could survive it. I have to give credit to the people who do. It was nice of you to remember the person who tried but didn’t make it. I wonder what happened to her.

  2. smalltownsmalltimes / May 19 2009 6:54 am

    Wow, wait, what was I complaining about? Holy smokes. I cannot imagine. Very engrossing post.

  3. Taoist Biker / May 18 2009 6:49 am

    I think they used the unusually cold AC temperature in the police academy in Richmond specifically to KEEP you from sleeping on top of your bed and thereby not having to make the bed every day. That was my theory then, and I’m sticking to it.

  4. morethananelectrician / May 17 2009 12:40 pm

    This brought back memories for me…a lot of memories. I have a great “first day” of boot camp story that I forgot all about…time to get out the blue book and get to writing. I still have a knot on my head from that day…I was catching duffle bags full of gear on the back of a bus and all the bags had locks on them. I was pretty small and I was taking locks right in the forehead…the knot is still visible.

  5. Fawn / May 16 2009 4:30 pm

    I really enjoy your Marines memoir posts. And BCGs! AHAHAHAHA!

  6. Paloma Pentarian / May 16 2009 2:05 pm

    My favorite part of this post was about your haircut looking like the Langoliers attacked it. I could just imagine this since the Langoliers was one of my all-time favorite movies!

    Paloma Pentarian

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