It has been said that the Marine Corps boot camp is the hardest boot camp of all, both mentally and physically. I am not sure what the other boot camps are like, but I can tell you that the Marines boot camp was pretty tough, and it took a lot of determination to earn the title Marine. I would like to share with you the reason I joined the Marine Corp and the person or persons who help me power through the difficult times that I experienced in boot camp. To this day, I can still remember a few events that just make me shake my head and laugh.
Before I enlisted, I was a troubled kid hanging out with the wrong crowd, with no goals or ideas about what I was going to do after high school. Heck, I wasn’t even sure if I was going to graduate or drop out of school. At the beginning of my senior year, I was so far behind in credits that it was going to be a difficult task to earn enough of them to be able to graduate but I realized that it would not be impossible. You see, one day as I was leaving the counselor’s office I bumped into an old classmate from junior high. I had known Bob since the 8th grade but had lost touch with him once we started high school. Bob invited me to have lunch with him that day and I accepted. He was thinking about joining the Marines, and the Marine recruiter stopped by at lunch and spoke with us. In the next couple of weeks Staff SGT Williams gave me so much hope by showing me that I could be somebody. In my world, not too many people had taken an interest in me or even cared about what I was doing. Staff SGT Williams motivated me to be better, and I liked how it felt.
I made a commitment to go to school every day, and I enrolled in night school to make up my missing credits. I did this for the whole school year, and on graduation night I walked across the stage and received my diploma. I was on my way to becoming a Marine.
How exactly did I get through thirteen weeks at Marine Corps Recruit Depot (MCRD)? Most recruits have something to inspire them through hard times, a reason for putting themselves through this hell. I guess my reason for and my motivation were that I had set a goal: I had made a commitment to Staff SGT Williams, to Bob and all my other friends. You see, I was not alone, the night I got off the bus at the Marine Corp Recruit Depot (MCRD); I was with my friend Bob and four other buddies who had also joined. We figured there was a very good chance a few of us would end up in the same platoon. Our prayers were answered; Bob and I ended up together in one platoon and the other buddies got paired up in two other platoons. We were all going to be going through the same hell at the same time. Whenever we would see each other on the drill field or in the chow hall, we would secretly give a thumbs up and a quick smile to each other. It was great to see a familiar face. Being together was our secret weapon, and it gave us a sense of hope and a feeling that we were not alone. I learned this on the very first night at MCRD.
Nothing can prepare you for that first night at Marine Corps Recruiting Depot. You can listen to all the stories from other Marines; you can watch all the videos about boot camp but they will not be much help. The moment you get off the bus and put your feet on the yellow footprints, you enter a different world, a world through which you have no clue how to navigate, and you go into culture shock. For most recruits, this can last for a week or two. Some do not recover and do not make it past the first couple of weeks. I remember feeling totally lost the first night and wondering what the hell was I doing there and what did I get myself into. I was getting ready for lights out, and I bumped into Bob in the bathroom. I started laughing at him and told him he looked funny with his bald head. He replied, “Look in the mirror asshole, you look pretty funny as well.” We both stood there laughing at each other until the drill instructors came in and chewed us a new one. That night when I was lying in bed, I could hear the other recruits, some were praying, and I think some were even crying. I realized that they were still in a state of shock and had not yet processed the traumatic events they had just survived. . I was lucky enough to have seen Bob, a familiar face, and it brought me back to reality. As a result, I was able to deal with the stress..
I finished boot camp with high marks, and I have a lot of great memories and some bad ones as well. I credit Bob and Stagg SGT Williams for believing in me but most of all for showing me that I was worth believing in. To this day, I uphold the same philosophy — believe in yourself, surround yourself with positive people and you will reach your goals.
Ruben Maldonado was a participant in the 2016 University of California Student Veterans Summer Writing Workshop.