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