Every recruit tries to be a brick in the wall. Some succeed
and some, like me, failmiserably. If you graduate and the
drill instructors are still calling you "CRAZY!"
or some other term of endearment, you know you have done well.
If you have read some of my other stories, you already
know that my attempt at invisibility was less than ideal.
This is especially true with Drill Instructor SGT Robinson
whose feet will never be the same.
One day we were herded out to the obstacle course to practice
rappelling. I was not particularly scared of heights so it
was not a huge deal. But there were some of the recruits who
were deathly afraid of any altitude higher than their shaved
heads. I was glad I was not among their numbers.
After the usual endless classes concerning safety and
technique, we were showed how to rappel down the 50-foot tower
which was no more than a flat wall made up of flat boards
with a ledge on top. Each recruit had to climb to the top
using the ladders on the backside and then follow the exact
instructions from the instructor up top. The instructor was
a drill instructor temporarily assigned to the obstacle course
between platoon assignments.
Because of the danger involved in flinging our bodies
off a 50-foot tower connected only by a rope, the instructor
at the top was not a stress monster. His only concern was
to hook you up correctly and make sure you did not do anything
stupid that would crush your worthless body and his career.
The fun was at the bottom where, your physical safety secured,
your own DI's patrolled. Your own DI's would hold the rope
you were using so that it would not swing wildly and possibly
injure some poor recruit.
There are two phases to this evolution. The first one
is through the "hell hole," an opening on the platform
where you basically slid straight down, simulating disembarkation
from a helicopter. The second was a more traditional rappelling
technique where you would take three bounces off the wall
before getting to the ground, preferable on your feet. This
second technique was particular funny when one of the bounces
off the wall failed to involve a recruit's feet. It was like
watching Tarzan meeting the side of a building in mid vine-swing.
When I got to the top and looked around, I was more scared
of heights than I initially thought. I was a long ways up.
One wrong step and I would be recruit-jelly. The instructor
went over the procedure again and hooked me up with the rope
in an intricate combination around my waste, culminating around
and between a seemingly personal no-man's land. Picture it
as some bizarre rope-diaper. I held onto the rope above me
with my right hand and the rope under me with my left hand.
I went down butt-first in a sitting position.
As I made the final check, I sent out a quick prayer to
the Big Guy upstairs, as I often did in those three months.
I passed the point of no return and started falling at a dreadful
Accelerating was not a problem. Mother Nature did that
part for you without a request. The trick was to stop yourself
before you and the ground got up close and personal. If something
went wrong, you had the rest of your life to figure out how
to fix it. The way to do this while fast-roping was to put
your leading hand, which had the rope below you, tightly against
your rump. This caused friction on the rope and you sat on
the whizzing rope until you stopped. With a little practice,
you could control your descent with amazing accuracy. I did
not have the luxury of this "little practice."
As the world raced up to me, I realized that I had been
hypnotized by the blinding speed and that I had little-to-no
time to stop my fall. Instantly, I stuck my leading hand firm
against my rear and I started to slow....but not fast enough.
I was coming down hard and fast, my head turned down and back
to watch my treacherous doom. I noticed there was someone
holding the rope but my main concern was the patch of real
estate that might soon serve as my grave. Those last couple
of milliseconds went by rather slow. You would think I would
close my eyes but that was not the case. I saw the whole thing.
At the last possible moment, I threw my legs back to absorb
the shock. I was lucky because I got them back far enough
to land flat on my feet by slightly on my heels. I watched
as my left heel dug into my landing, but it was not pay dirt
SGT Robinson was waiting at the bottom of the rope. It
HAD to be Robinson. He probably wondered why a recruit was
ignoring the warnings of coming down too fast. But like a
good Marine, he did not leave his post.
When I landed, I stuck like a javelin. I went from practically
freefalling to absolutely no motion in an instant. My head
was still trained on my left heel which afforded me a rather
terrifying sight. My heel had landed squarely on SGT Robinson's
shoe, on the top part by the toes. He was wearing his normal
C uniform which was strange since we were on the obstacle
course. But with this uniform came the requirement to where
the plastic dress shoes called coreframs. They are basically
plastic shoes made to look like highly polished leather. As
I stood there, frozen in terror, I could see how my heel had
hideously dug into his shoe with a white outline around my
heel where the plastic had been crushed.
With my head down, I could not see his face even though
I was mere inches from him. He never flinched and I stood
there, motionless for a few seconds, really, really not wanting
to look up at my fate. Finally, as I raised my head, slowly,
I got a slow motion panning sensation of his trousers, belt,
shirt, ribbons, white tee-shirt and then.....a very red neck
with an ungodly amount of bulging veins. As I continued, I
got to the face and Hell hath no uglier sight. SGT Robinson
was the very mask of anger, bubbling over like some kind of
crazy teapot ready to explode.
I think because of my own mental defense system, I remember
little of the next few seconds. Suffice it to say that SGT
Robinson exploded into white hot fury and I broke nineteen
physical laws getting away from him. I believe I was the first
human to break the speed of light that day.
After all was yelled and done, SGT Robinson walked (not
limped!) away with his dignity in tact. I think I probably
broke a few of his toes but you would sooner see a baby gazelle
kicking the ass off a full grown lion before you saw SGT Robinson
Once again, I ensured my place in the hard heart of SGT
Robinson. I would say that I got the better end out of this
story but in all actuality, the returns were quite horrific.
SGT Robinson would live to see another day that would definitely
involve suffering dished out to me a thousand fold. But that