HAVAL SUPPORT ACTIVITY HAMPTON ROADS, Norfolk, VA --
“I, Kayla Cox, do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic …” I stood there awkwardly at attention with my right hand raised as I stuttered the words of the Oath of Enlistment and dedicated the next eight years of my life to my country, and to the Corps. From that moment forward, my life would drastically change. I would be broken down, stripped of everything and shaped into a United States Marine.
I remember that long, nail-biting drive in a van reeking of mustiness. There were about 12 of us soon-to-be recruits, but only a third of us wore that white mask of terror. The drive was much longer than it should have been, or maybe it was just the endless thoughts and questions running through my mind, slowing down time. Suddenly, the aura in that van changed as I heard a voice shout, “HEADS DOWN, GET YOUR HEADS DOWN NOW!” I knew at that very moment there was no turning back. Our van came to a halt, and instantaneously, endless barks arose. It was my first encounter with a drill instructor and I was petrified. Everything happened so fast. I had no time to think. What did I get myself into?
One of the first things Marines remember from their experiences at boot camp is standing on the famous yellow footprints. This is the exact place recruits get a feel of military life for the first time. Recruit training is extremely organized and well-planned. The first week was a whirlwind of madness, between nonstop pestering from drill instructors that seemed to appear everywhere, receiving the required military gear, getting medical evaluations and performing an initial strength test to ensure each recruit was prepared for training. Everything was so fast paced throughout training, that I found it difficult to miss the way my life was prior.
It didn’t take long to get into a routine. “Lights, lights, lights,” were the screeching words I woke up to each morning. Looking back now, I wonder how I did it, waking up at 3:45 a.m., with two pounds of gel already in my hair to guarantee it is “squared away” throughout the day, eat morning chow, perform morning physical training, shower and dress in uniform all before 7 a.m. each day. It doesn’t seem challenging right? Wrong. Everything we did as recruits was counted down by the drill instructors at a very fast rate. Sadly, if one recruit couldn’t complete the task by the time the DI yelled, “one,” we had to start the task all over. It was tiresome. Those were the longest days of my life.
The majority of Phase 1 of recruit training was spent getting into routine, accepting the fact that you’re a recruit, not an individual, learning how to speak to a DI and retaining knowledge on Marine Corps history, customs and courtesies. There was so much thrown at me at once, that it almost made my head explode. Although most of this phase was spent in a classroom, there were a few things that kept us active like basic water survival, close-order drill and the Marine Corps Martial Arts Program. This phase was a huge blur to me. I counted down the days until the next phase began. I was so ready for the real “Marine” stuff.
I was relieved when Phase 2 began. I felt as though we were finally beginning the training to become a Marine. When I placed my boots on the side of that tall, wooded tower, fully geared up with gloves, a Kevlar (helmet) and rope in hand, I was ready to rappel for the first time. Unfortunately it happened so quickly, I was instantly disappointed when I felt the gravel beneath my feet.
The next exciting exercise was taking on the gas chamber. Although there was nothing “fun” about it after all, I was thrilled to be out of the classroom. Luckily, not long after the torture of the chlorobenzylidene malonitrile, (CS gas) a non-lethal tear gas used for riot control, we were able to hike to the range. This is a part of training recruits look forward to most after constantly cleaning their rifle, caring for it as if it were a child, carrying it everywhere, and not even being able to fire it. Every Marine is a rifleman, right? One advantage to being at the range was that each DI seemed to mellow out a bit. Later, of course we learned it was only temporary. It was vital for the recruits to focus and remain calm while handling live ammunition to avoid any mishap. While on the firing line, sighting into my scope with my M16A4 service rifle pressed into my shoulder, I never felt more like a Marine, though I wasn’t quite there yet, and the training was only about to get better.
Phase 3 definitely started out strong, with Basic Warrior Training. The basic skills of survival in combat consisted of recruits learning night and day land navigation, combat marksmanship and how to maneuver under enemy fire. As if that training wasn’t exhilarating enough, the next few weeks were spent completing obstacles of the confidence course which prepared us for the challenges of the crucible. The Crucible is that last field training exercise of recruit training nobody seems to talk about. It tests each recruit to push past hunger, fatigue and pain. It tests each recruit physically, morally and mentally to exhaust everything they have absorbed from their drill instructors and apply to each obstacle they are faced with. It is the defining experience of recruit training.
I remember the heavy steps of soggy boots during that hike back, eyes burning from sweat and dirt running down my face, and looking up with such relief to see a sign that displayed “We make Marines.” I couldn’t believe it, I finally made it. After receiving my Eagle, Globe and Anchor, and graduating from Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, S.C., my career as a Marine was about to begin.
After graduating, each Marine takes a 10-day leave before they go on to their next training.
It felt very strange being home. I wasn’t the same person I was when I was last there. Things really had changed. I realized I was much more self-assured, I walked a little taller and I spoke with a little more confidence. Everyone who knew me before recognized the change. I must admit, however, there were a few bad habits I acquired. I became much less patient, and was very easily angered. I learned that I still had some growing to do, to become the Marine I wanted to be, and to balance being a civilian and a Marine.
When I arrived at my next training, I had high expectations. It’s in the name, “Marine Combat Training.” We learned so much about different weapon systems such as the M203 grenade launcher, M240 machine gun, M249 squad-automatic weapon, the hand grenade and how to properly use an AN/PRC-119 radio. We were in a field environment the majority of the time, fully relying on Meals Ready to Eat (MREs). We were instructed on how to properly construct a fighting position, conduct a patrol and how to recognize an Improvised Explosive Device.
Something that was pretty awesome about MCT was the simulated enemy ambush and night attack. MCT was a pretty great learning experience that provides non-infantry Marines with basic infantry skills. After completing MCT I still had additional training to complete before I was able to fulfill my daily duties as a Marine. My next obstacle would take place at the Defense Information School aboard Fort George G. Meade, Md. where I would begin my journey in becoming a combat correspondent.