Captain Grose's Boot Camp pages

 
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The single word embodies something mystical in every recruit. It is more than nouishment, more than a necessary part of the day. It is said that a way to a man's heart is through his stomach, but to a private, it is more like the way to his soul. This may sound a bit strange but the importance of chow during recruit training is only outweighed by receiving mail.

Much to the ire of the drill instructors, they had to feed us. Therefore, they attempted to make it the most stressful part of the day. Three squares a day was the promise and if they could have helped it, chow would be considered a luxury to be earned. The result would be, I predict, many malnourished recruits by the end of training, But this was not to be because you cannot train when you are, you know, dead. Sometimes I thought my drill instructors were trying to test that theory but I digress.

You have either raised a teenager or at least been one so you must know the ravenous appetite that young boys can display. Now throw on top of that the most grueling physical regiment that a country has to offer and what you get is a mass of starving animals by the time chow rolls around.

 The day was sectioned off into three spaces: wake-up to morning chow, morning chow to lunch chow, and lunch chow to lights out. Oh yeah, we trained a lot in between but the thought that food was not too far off often served as that little extra motivation needed to make it until the golden hour. Of course, the DIs knew this and it caused a continuous source of contempt from them, contempt they did not mind displaying at every turn. But hey, if it was not chow it was something else, like that pesky breathing and pulse thing. What a hassle.

The average chow experience was a mixture of joy and stress. That time of the day would get closer and depending where we were, the drill instructors would give the signal. If we were in the squadbay, we would hear something akin to, "EARS!" This would elicit the normal, "EARS, AYE-AYE, SIR!!" from all of us. Of course if it did not bulge the side of the squadbay with its ferocity, the command would be repeated until the DI was satisfied or someone tore a vocal cord.

"NOT THAT YOU MAGGOT-LOVING ASS-STAINS DESERVE IT BUT FALL OUT FOR CHOW!" By the end of the training cycle, there was always that wise-ass that would reply, "MAGGOT-LOVING ASS-STAINS, AYE-AYE, SIR." We would then beat him silly to save the DIs the trouble. Just kidding.

Like a pack of gazelles, we would fly down the stairs, half-killing anyone unfortunate enough to fall down, and fall into formation. I know it really beefed the drill instructors that we were never as snap-and-pop than when we were going to chow. A guy has his priorities, you know. We then marched over to the chowhall and hoped that our platoon was the first there. If not, we waited in silence, reading our green monsters. Actually, we ACTED like we were reading. I hate to burst the bubble but it could have had information about Scoobi Doo in those books and we would have never noticed. All concentration was on the chow, all bow to the chow god.

Now there are certain etiquette rules to eating at the chow hall in boot camp. Of course NONE of them are explained beforehand and you learn at the misfortune of the first recruit who breaks the rules, hoping to God Himself that you are spared this sad display of "corrective" behavior-modification. OK, I'll say it: getting your butt handed to you.

Rule #1: You are already too slow
Rule #2: You cannot change Rule #1
Rule #3: The DI defines "too slow," usually measured in nanoseconds
Rule #4: Rules are subject to change by said nanoseconds

There are many more but those are the important ones.

You are first lined up, single file. Now when I say single file, it is not what you are used to. It is not like in a bank where you line up, keeping a respectable distance from the person in front of you. Here, it is different. You are figuratively, literally, and physically "all up in his stuff." Your nose is touching the person in front of you. Your feet are at a 45 degree angle and your insoles are right up against his heels. You can fill in the rest. Never before (and hopefully never again) had I ever been this close to another male human. This may be why I have not kept in touch with any of them. Maybe we were a little too close, through no desire on either part, but again, I digress.

Shuffle, shuffle, shuffle. We take baby steps to the line until we get to the beloved chow line. The atmosphere in the chowhall is a mixture of bad day in Hell and a really, really bad day in Hell. At first, it is all a kaleidoscope of yelling, motion, and clinking silverware. But curiously missing is the sound of conversation because no one is allowed the ultimate luxury of communication, unless you count the insane ramblings of some drill instructor yelling as some poor slob for doing the unthinkable, i.e. existing. But after awhile, you become accustomed to the insanity and you do not notice it. After all, there is food to be eaten!

As you shuffle up to the line, you already have your game plan in motion. The trick is to get your plate in front of the suffering bastard serving the food as fast as possible the very moment the private in front of you even leaves you a micron of room. This server is in “Mess and Maintenance” week which is also commonly known as, oh, what’s the term…oh yeah: slave labor. As though there is not enough yelling in your world, you must yell your desire at the position at attention to this fellow recruit and hope that he can slop it onto your plate fast enough to get to the next miserable server. So all day this guy hears “CORN, PRIVATE!!” yelled at him by about a gazillion privates. Yeah, it was a real joy.

There are two things that vie for the worst thing that can happen. First, the dumbass in front of you could linger too long at a point (again this would be 4 nanoseconds vice 3) and create a gap in front of himself. Then it gets bad for the both of you. Because for one thing, he has to hurriedly scuttle forward to catch up to the next private which usually involves a DI appearing like a howling spirit sans Riddlin. So the private misses out on whatever station was in front of him. Missed station = less food = bad juju.

Secondly, he has so graciously transferred the gap from in front of him to, you guessed it, in front of you! Thanks pal. Now, the already irate DI turns on you and you can actually see the canine teeth appear only to be outdone by the cords sticking out of his neck and a volume of sound waves emanating out of his contorted mouth usually reserved for rather large carnivores caught in the vortex of a twister.

The other bad moment was when the DIs came up behind you to get some food. As you can imagine, the pecking order required that a DI could squeeze in anywhere and you were obligated to scamper away violently to clear a path for him. Oh, but the catch was that you never saw him until either he barked right in your ear, thereby collapsing your eardrum, or if you were lucky, one of the privates next to you would see it coming and yell “GANG WAY, DRILL INSTRUCTOR!!!” Typhoid Mary herself was not given as much personal space as the DIs  had when this happened. So when he got his food and his forked tail slithered away, another one of those gaps that we know and love was created. If you were on the “I am going to miss the next food station” side, you had to scurry up to the next private who was pushed past the station, too.

Unfair, you say? Well, the complaint protocol consisted of a DI ripping out your eyeballs and shoving them into you skivvies so you could watch him kick your ass. Therefore, justice was not usually pursued very far.

Email -- jdgrose115@polyglut.net
Web -- http://members.tripod.com/~jdgrose115/

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