The Few and the Proud by Katelea Diaz

Have you even been so exhausted that nothing else seems to matter? It starts with a plane ride from your hometown to a small airport in Georgia, then a long bus ride to an island. This starts the most unconventional all-expense paid 13-week vacation. If you want to call it that. The yelling starts as soon as the bus parks on the island. Your whole itinerary is planned for you from the moment you step foot on yellow footprints on the ground until your family gets to take you home.  You show up with nothing but the clothes on your back and an envelope with all your documentation. That’s right, no cell phones. They do, however, give you the chance to call a family member to let them know you have made it safely, and you will be in touch via letters in the coming week. From there, they provide you with new clothes, and the clothes you wore get put into a brown paper bag and put into storage which you will not see it again till after the 13-weeks have ended.

When you get taken to your living quarters, you start with a nicer version of the terrifying instructors you will receive in a few short days. It is during this time that you are taught the basics before shit gets real. You start getting into the ‘sleep’ pattern that won’t be broken until the 13-weeks is over. You either get to start by sleeping or start on what is called fire-watch. While on fire-watch, you are either in charge of maintaining the logbook used for anyone who steps in or out of the room or if anything unusual happens. If an instructor steps into the room, the person on the logbook had to report what has happened. Another person was in charge of documenting who was coming in and out of the bathroom in the middle of the night. They also had to keep the bathroom clean. The final person was on laundry duty. Everyone’s underwear had their names written in them, so we didn’t have to share underwear. Once cleaned, they were placed on the individual’s footlocker.

The day comes, and the more terrifying version of the instructor takes over.  They sit you down like children in day care crisscross-applesauce before the intensity kicks up a notch. Four instructors in round billed hats enter the room. Another person in the same outfit introduces them as your drill instructors for the next 12-weeks. The most motivational speech is then given to you from the senior drill instructor. They introduce the other drill instructor who will be helping them mold you into the discipled killer they expect you to be. The line that will stick with you is “We will give every effort to train you even after some of you have given up on yourself. Above all else, never quit or give up.”

The rest of these weeks will challenge you in ways you never thought possible. If you have a fear of heights, you will be forced to face it. If you have a fear of water, you will be forced to face it. The days will be long and the nights short. Your feet will ache to the point they become numb. You learn how to survive on minimal sleep with an aching body. You get to learn new skills such as basic lifesaving and survival skills. You make lifelong friends that have endured the same bullshit as you.

Not only is it physically demanding, mentally. You tell yourself one more day as you check off your secret calendar hiding in your Bible, the one thing they can’t take from you. Every night you look forward to mail time and “senior drill instructor square away time,” a long name for the hour of “free time” you get every day. This hour is the only breath of the outside world you get. You get to read the letters sent from loved ones and respond. This is also the time to make those friendships. You get to know the people going through the suck with you, whether it is shooting the shit or helping each other through whatever problems are weighing on them and you.

As the time draws to an end, there is one culminating event you must endure. The final test which lasts 52-hours: The Crucible. This is the most exhausted you will every be. You start with a six-mile hike, to get to the place you will call home for the next 52-hours, with a fifty-five-pound pack and your rifle. Between day and night events, you only get about four hours of sleep if you are lucky. You are given two meals ready to eat, or MREs for short, which you have to make last the full 52-hours. You will become one with the mud as you crawl through a simulated mine field with the sounds a gunfire being played on a loudspeaker and a smoke machine to add to the situation. All the while you are being yelled at by the drill instructors telling you where to go and that you aren’t moving fast enough. You also practice casualty evacuations to prepare you in case it becomes a reality.

When the 52-hours have finished, there is a nine-mile hike back to the main part of the training area. It is a grueling hike through the rainy part of the morning. The temperature is so low that the rain ends up freezing your hand to your riffle. As the sun breaks the horizon, you can see the Iwo Jima memorial and the main parade deck. The packs are staged just to the right of the memorial. All six platoons gather around the memorial. It is there that you finally hear the words, “Congratulations Marines! You did it. Welcome to the brother and sisterhood!” Following these words, is the roar of hundreds of voices yell singing the Marine Corps Hymn.

You are then filed into a building standing in lines by Crucible teams. This is when everything set in. The drill instructor that was in charge of your team now stands in front of you. You extend your left hand, and they place the believed Eagle Globe and Anchor in our hand while shaking your right hand. The calming words ring from their mouth, “Well done, Marine and congratulations.” Through the tears of joy you thank them.

You have gone from a normal civilian who lacked discipline and structure to a United States Marine, disciplined and trained. You lived through the exhaustion. You pushed yourself harder than you have before. The next time your family sees you is at family day. The relief that sets in is unmatchable. Your family embraces you with loving arms continuously saying how proud of you they are. The morning after family starts with what is called the Moto run were everyone’s families line the streets of the course cheering on their new Marine, some even hold banners in their customer made t-shirts that support you. After the graduation, you are sent home with your family who now somewhat feel like strangers. You go back home on leave for two weeks. You get to see your friends and family again before being sent back for more training then to your duty stations.