As a former recruit, I can say the following with full
conviction. Recruits are truly stupid animals. An old drill
instructor maxim states that "If you put a naked recruit
in a totally empty room with two bee-bees, he'll lose one
and break the other." In such a high stress environment
with such controlling factors, the average teenager loses
all common sense. It is no wonder why drill instructors often
view recruits with contempt.
The first goal for a drill instructor is to break down
all individuality so that everyone is on the same level, regardless
of status. Like Gunnery Sergeant Hartman so eloquently put
it in Full Metal Jacket, "Here, you are all
equally worthless!" This may sound harsh on the surface.
No one likes to think of a situation where everyone is stripped
of their individual attributes. Most anti-military types jump
on this aspect as the beginning of the brainwashing but never
understand the entire purpose. We live in a society with prejudice,
divorce, loose ethics, loathing of authority, selfishness,
and shaky morals. Children grow up with combinations of wrong
examples such as none-for-all and all-for-me. Then there are
those at the other end of the spectrum that have never had
to lift a finger in their life. Money and status has always
shielded them from "The Real World." The recruits
that show up to boot camp come from every point in this spectrum
so how do you deal with such a varied group?
The breakdown is the answer. In boot camp, the high school
quarterback/prom king is the same as the street kid who is
the same as the computer nerd. Your worth is your performance.
No resumes, no letterman's jackets, no $100 haircuts. You
are all recruits. Period.
The building-up process is later but in first phase, everyone
is "equally worthless." The first thing that happens
when you arrive is the world-famous haircut. This happens
within minutes of arriving at the depot. Believe me, after
having your head shaved, everyone is the same: goofy and scared.
You stand in a line facing forward. At the front of the line,
the recruit on deck turns 90 degrees to watch the recruit
in front of him get shaved. It is not pretty. Drill instructors
are yelling, calling the long-haired recruits "Jesus
Christ" and threatening to shave them themselves. I had
not cut my hair for a month because I though, "What's
the use?" So when I sat down, the hair came down like
black rain. It took all of about 30 seconds and my head was
numb. I was afraid to look in the mirror and did not even
have the opportunity for a couple of hours. When I did, ugliness
was definitely the word of the hour.
Here is where the differences between San Diego and Parris
Island begin. In San Diego, your first haircut is a buzz cut
and the rest are high and tights. This means that the top
is not cut again during the training cycle. In Parris Island,
you get shaved bald until the week you leave.
What develops in San Diego is an interesting status symbol.
The longer your hair is on top indicates how long you have
been there hence your seniority. By third phase, your hair
has had two months of growth and you are looking less and
less like an alien. The lucky ones in this situation are the
Hispanics and the Asians. I am half Mexican but my hair does
not grow straight up. But those with thick hair get quite
the island on their grapes by third phase. Enter, Private
Private Alejos was 5 foot nothing and a buck ten soaking
wet. I did not get to know him very well but everyone knew
he had a chip on his shoulder the size of New Jersey. He spoke
with an accent and thought he had something to prove everyday.
More often than not, his oversized mouth was forever getting
him thrashed along with the rest of the platoon. Personality-wise,
he was a scrapper but mentally, he was, well, he was Alejos.
So it was of no great surprise when one morning, his world
came crashing down.
It seems that during the night, Alejos got the idea that
he needed a flattop. He had got his scissors from his sewing
kit out and trimmed the top of his black, straw-broom hair,
resulting in a pretty good flattop. As a little bonus, he
decided to take his razor and shave the hair from mid-forehead
level down his sideburns. This did not sit well with SSGT
Everyone was looking at him in the morning. No one knew
what could have possessed Alejos pea-sized brain to make him
so obviously defy the drill instructors authority. All morning,
he acted as though he had done nothing wrong. Finally, the
moment everyone had been waiting for came. SSGT Wertjes spied
himself fresh meat. As credit to his training, SSGT Wertjes
spewed forth such a vicious attack on Alejos that everyone
sweat. He was soon joined by SGT Robinson and the "stereo
system" was turned all the way to maximum. It was both
beautiful and frightening.
"YOU THINK YOU RATE A FLATTOP?! WELL I'M HERE TO
TELL YOU SON, YOU DON'T RATE!!!!"
SSGT Wertjes threw his smokey to the deck to exposed a
"YOU HAVE NOT EARNED THE RIGHT TO WEAR ONE OF THESE
AND WITH THAT CUT, IT LOOKS LIKE YOU NEVER WILL."
In disgust, he grabs his cover and goes into the duty
Without hesitation, SGT Robinson starts in.
"I DON'T BELIEVE MY EYES! I DON'T KNOW WHY I SEE
A FREAKIN' NASTY RECRUIT IN MY SQUADBAY WITH A BARRACKS CUT.
YOU MUST HAVE LOST YOUR FREAKING MIND. DID YOU HAVE A STROKE
LAST NIGHT? WHO'S YOUR SQUAD LEADER, FREAK?"
In what may be the only humble expression I can recall
on his face, Alejos meekly answers, "I am 1st squad leader,
SGT Robinson explodes.
"HOLY SCREAMING EAGLE SHIT. TELL ME IT IS NOT TRUE.
INFORM ME THAT THIS IS ALL A BAD DREAM. YOU ARE ABOUT THE
DUMBEST PIECE OF WORTHLESS TRASH EVER TO GRACE MY MARINE CORPS.
A FREAKIN' SQUAD LEADER, A SO-CALLED LEADER SETTING AN EXAMPLE
BY DESTROYING GOVERNMENT PROPERTY AND DISGRACING THE ENTIRE
PLATOON. EXCELLENT! OUT-FREAKING-STANDING! WE'LL PLAY. EVERYONE,
ON YOUR FACE. YOU WILL BEND AND THRUST WHILE I CORRECT THIS
SLIMY PUKE. ALEJOS, LET'S GO, LOST ONE!"
SGT Robinson left with Alejos and we were joined by SSGT
Garcia who made sure that were kept busy being thrashed until
they returned. After about a half hour, they returned and
Alejos was once again bald as a cueball. After two weeks,
he had another full head of hair. Personally, I think the
lesson lasted as long as the haircut. Hopefully I am wrong.