Captain Grose's Boot Camp pages

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Drill Instructor SSGT Ingram

 

 
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If you have not read The Arrival please do so before continuing. This story will mke more sense.

BIG!

That was SSGT Ingram. He was the first drill instructor I ever saw in person and one of the most intimidating Marines I have met since. If I go to Hell, SSGT Ingram will be my personal guide. That will be my eternal punishment.

He was one of the demons waiting for me at the yellow footprints and his presence was immediately felt. Let me try to give you a sense of this mountain of a man.

Staff Sergeant Ingram was about 6'5" and had the body of a bodybuilder. He was one of the largest, blackest, most intimidating men I have ever met. He had a voice like rolling thunder. As I look back on it, he is what other DI's would consider idealistic in a drill instructor. He was the ideal intimidating figure, a quality highly respected in the Marine Corps.

Because SSGT Ingram was one of my receiving DI's, he only had us for about a week so there is not much to tell about him. There are only a couple of stories I can remember.

One of SSGT Ingram's missions was to teach us the very basics of drill so that our permanent DI's could would not have to start from scratch. The first morning, SSGT Ingram took us out in front of the barracks and got us into formation. Still groggy from the first night antics and scared nearly to death, the San Diego morning took on an eerie feel. It was beautiful, crisp, clear, and sunny. Only the sound of distant screaming from some irate DI broke the morning silence. But mostly, the morning air was still and expectant.

SSGT Ingram taught us how to march in step by calling "LEFT, RIGHT, LEFT..." Then something happened that I will never forget as long as I draw air on this earth. As the platoon found the beat and got going, SSGT Ingram sang.

If you have ever heard a drill instructor sing cadence to a march, you will never forget it. The term "singing" is not quite the right term. "Singing" connotates a less-than-masculine activity of sweet harmony. But this is different. Singing Marine Corps cadence is a true art that those who master it absorb a respect that few ever attain. There is not a Marine that has ever graced this world that has earned the title of drill instructor without the ability to belt out a cadence that send shivers down men's backs. To this day, my heart skips a beat when I hear a Marine cadence echo across a large open area.

It was SSGT Ingram who ingrained this in me. The moment he belted out the first note, every recruit knew they were in the presence of greatness. He had this deep, resonating, southern voice that echoed across the entire depot. He kept perfect time, and hit every note with bone-chilling perfection. Never had I heard such forceful, confident, and utterly magical sounds come from one person. With that kind of beat, even a one-legged man could stay in step.

We found out later that he was renowned for his cadence. To stand out among such an elite group of perfectionist is quite an accomplishment. It was my first in a long line of lucky breaks I consider the Marine Corps gave me. NOW I think that. THEN, it was a different story.

SSGT Ingram might have been a master cadence-caller, but his size and training made him the scariest man I have ever met. I am not even hesitant to admit that he scared me.....very bad. Two stories illustrate why.

It was the third day of bootcamp and we were being put through the wringer. It was the end of the day and we were at attention in front of our racks waiting for hygiene inspection. This is a nightly ritual where the DI's inspect each recruit who is stripped down the their skivvies (underwear). The purpose is to ensure there is nothing wrong that the recruit might be hesitant to bring up, such as scratches, bruises, infections, etc. It is also a time for the DI's to ensure you are not skipping showers at night to buy a little free time.

As SSGT Ingram's massive form came down the line, I prayed to God Himself that he would bypass me. He did not have the time to scrutinize 75 recruits so it was random. True to my luck, SSGT Ingram stopped in front of my trembling, bony form. He had a big black flashlight which he used to look in the recruits' ears. As he did this, I heard him take in a short breath. He took a step back and with the look of utter disgust, flinched toward me with the flashlight poised in a clubbing motion. At the same time he exploded with a diatribe about how nasty the wax was in my ears and if he ever saw them like that again, I'd pay. But at the moment he performed this mini-lunge probably ranks as one of the scariest moments of my life. I really thought he was going to hit me. He went on and I was a trembling mess for the rest of the night.

The other story I remember about SSGT Ingram involved a recruit named Lucky. Names are a constant source of harassment in bootcamp. I got my share as Private Grose, but others had it worse. I have heard of names such as Private Parts, Private Private, Private Sergeant, and a host of others. In our platoon, there was a Private Lucky, and lucky he was not. Lucky was worse off than most. I wrote a story called The Lost King about a recruit named Vanegas. Lucky was worse than Vanegas. Lucky was so scared, stressed, and distressed that he could not handle the pace of bootcamp. This made him a constant target in bootcamp and all most of us could do was to watch in horror and he constantly attracted merciless verbal floggings by the DI's. At the time, it did not seem fair but each of us was having a hard enough time trying to keep up that jumping into the mix in Lucky's defense was beyond any of our nerves and abilities.

It was obvious that Lucky did not meet the minimum requirements to continue and this is why the DIs pinpointed him. It may seem cruel, but bootcamp is a process to weed out those who do not have what it takes to continue. It would be more dangerous to the individual to let through and then be expected to perform at the next level when he could not adequately succeed on the preceding level. Logically, this is obvious. But it is not a pretty sight to see.

I was just opposite of lucky so at night, during hygiene inspection when I was locked at attention, I would be staring into the face across the squadbay of Lucky. I witnessed almost nightly sessions of in-your-face feeding frenzies between the DIs and Lucky. Sometimes I would close my eyes, taking the chance of drawing attention. But some nights, I just could not watch.

One night, after a particularly brutal display of intimidation on Lucky, SSGT Ingram walked down the middle of the squadbay. There was stunned silence as a result of the inhumanity he showed and the fear that the same could happen to any one of us. There was also a touch of hate for Ingram for being so inhumane. As he strolled down the middle of the squadbay, he had that big flashlight on his shoulder and you could hear his shoes click on the linoleum floor as he walked. He sauntered down singing "Lucky ain't gonna make it, Lucky ain't gonna make it..." in a child-like teasing sing-song. I could not believe it. Everyone knew that Lucky was probably going to be dropped and he had to feel it too. But to mockingly sing it out, and enjoy it...it was one of the most cruel things I have ever heard. I had to stare at his face during this moment and it still breaks my heart to remember that look. An 18-year-old boy, shaved head, with the weight of the world and worse, the weight of SSGT Ingram on his shoulders.

Lucky was dropped from our platoon on the third week of training. He was sent back to week one where he started over with another platoon. We saw him every once in awhile and he was always happy to see and talk to us. He might have been a little slow, but he hung in there and graduated with his platoon.

As far as SSGT Ingram goes, I never saw him again. But the day before I graduated, I heard a voice in the distance. Instantly, I knew it was Ingram. His unmistakable voice carried over from the receiving barracks and it made me think of the progress I had made in the last thirteen weeks. It seemed like years ago that I had arrived and I was going to graduate the next day. Somewhere there was a group of scared new recruits under the charge of SSGT Ingram. I listened as I heard the booming lilt of SSGT Ingram fill the air, "LEFT, RIGHT, LOW RIGHT, ....."


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

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