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
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.