Bootcamp has been described as a long series of bumbling
mistakes by scared boys. I have plenty of proof to attest to
this point of view but none so dramatic as thewake-up call.
To begin this story, you have to understand the relationships
that exist within the structure of recruit training. It is an
intricately interconnected combination of dog-and-cat-and-mouse
games. The recruits try to get away with as much as they can
under the watchful cat-eyes of the DI's. The DI's try to get
away with the most they can under the watchful eyes
of the officers, making the cat prey to the big dogs. But to
the mice, going to the big dogs with anything other than the
most serious offenses invites certain retaliation. Much like
the hostage/hostage-taker relationships that sometimes evolves,
the mice start liking and even feel protective of the cat. The
result in bootcamp is a willingness to overlook minor digressions
from the normal training methods.
One of the rules laid down for recruit training is that
the recruits will get a full eight hours of sleep. This excludes
the firewatches each night which are one hour shifts when a
recruit must walk around the squadbay in uniform. This watch
has two purposes. First, it is to have someone who is awake
if anything serious happens, hence the name: fire watch. Second,
it introduces the recruit to the concept so that when one is
absolutely necessary, such as the battlefield, it will not be
something new. The running joke during firewatch was to sneak
up on one of your buddies, shine a flashlight in his face, and
perform the best imitation of a DI that you could. The victim
could not see a thing because of the light and being disoriented
from sleep coupled with the trained response of instantaneous
response to the DI's created a rather funny, if not cruel, scene.
Recruits would jump, literally, out of their rack at the position
of attention. You could only perform this on someone you knew
would forgive you. Even then, you would press the issue of friendship
but oh how funny it was...unless you were on the receiving end.
By the book, this is how sleep time worked. But rarely can
recruit training be "by the book" to succeed. For one reason,
bleeding-heart politicians keep adding pages that trade immediate
fixes from outside sources for adequate training for future
warfighting. But I digress.
According to the DI's, "eight stinking hours is too many,
six is enough." But they could not implement this policy directly
so you would hear things like:
"I am not telling you to get up in the middle of the night,
but by morning this, this, this, and this had better be accomplished!"
It was not hard to piece this cryptic "suggestion" together.
Even the recruits of platoon 3075 could break this code.
Getting up was nothing new, though. The training schedule
was so packed during the day, that an hour for prep in the middle
of the night WITHOUT being hounded by the DI's was common sense.
As I have mentioned before, the recruits of platoon 3075
were not exactly a think tank. The DI's were worried about the
written and oral tests we were going to take so they took measures
to take advantage of the night hours. They set up schedules
(unofficial, of course) for each squad to get up and study together.
We would meet in the showers because it was the most remote
place where we had light and could gather together. I know that
the picture of 20 recruits in their underwear studying in the
shower might be a frightening visual. Suffice it to say that
it will not be on any recruiting posters any time soon.
One night, I was supposed to get up with my squad and study.
SGT Robinson was to lead the session so being late to even an
unofficial muster was certain death. Can you see what is coming?
I love sleep. I can get up at 0500 every morning and still
sleep until noon on the weekends. My love for sleep runs as
deep as my hatred for the lack of it. I TRULY HATE TO BE WOKEN
UP, FOR ANY REASON! This is one gene I must have inherited from
That night, I was awoken with the flashlight-in-the-face
mentioned above. Being the old bootcamp salt that I was, I did
not fall for it. I was asked why I was not up, in the showers,
studying. Irritated by the firewatch's audacity to awaken me,
I let loose with a verbal flurry that even the sergeant I am
today have not equaled. I really let him have it and when you
are in bootcamp, you learn to give out what you take in when
it comes to verbal abuse. And we had the masters to learn from.
After my tirade, the light went out, the person left, and
I was already turned over, returning to my sandman meeting.
The recruit in the rack next to me poked me and asked, "Do you
know who that was?" Angrily, I responded that it was the bastard
firewatch messing with me. What came back chilled me to my soul's
"It was Drill Instructor SGT Robinson!"
"OH MY GOD!!!!!"
"Dead. I am dead. Dead people look at me and name me their
leader. I am so dead that my next ten reincarnations are dead."
I did not know what to do. I had just stressed out the baddest
son-of-a-bitch at Marine Corps Recruit Depot, San Diego and
he was waiting for me. I grabbed my prac manual and rushed off
to my doom. As I entered, there were recruits sat down and much
to my amazement, a few recruits were still straggling in. Best
of all, SGT Robinson was not there! For a moment, I thought
that I had been tricked by the jokester in the rack next to
mine. He got me good. I'll have to remember that.
In walked Drill Instructor Robinson with his boxer shorts,
white T-shirt, shower shoes, and that face that would scare
Satan himself. He copped a squat, hesitated, then looked up
at the doughy faces looking at him. He then said,
"Who was the lost one who decided to stress me out in the
He said it in a manner only the recruits of platoon 3075
could detect a hint of humor. By no means was he a joyful man
but sometimes it would peek through ever so slightly. But not
very often. What do I do? If he doesn't know, should I fess
up? What will he do to me if I do? What will he do to the squad
if I don't?
In the end, I rose my hand and bowed my head. I braced myself
for the onslaught. His reply was:
"Your about freakin' stupid!"
That was it. After a bit of giggling from the others present,
he started going over the knowledge.
I have thought about this for years. There were so many
unanswered questions and here is what I have come up with.
Why did he come to my rack and calmly try to wake me up?
I don't know, maybe he was too tired to go off on me or maybe
he did not want to make a scene in case an officer would hear
and would inquire about stressing recruits in the middle of
Why did he leave after I let loose on him? I think he knew
I was mostly asleep. I have learned since that, officially,
a recruit is not responsible for anything said for the first
15 seconds after he or she is awoken. This seems to support
his actions but it is a little hard to believe that a DI would
adhere to that after a recruit pops off like I did considering
he was breaking the rules by getting me up in the first place.
Lastly, why did he not make more of the situation when I
admitted to it in the shower? You might say he respected me
for my honesty. But I wouldn't. I was a recruit. He was a DI.
Touchy, feely moments were not exactly prolific. Tender moments
were as common as air molecules in space. I think he was amused
and knew exactly what happened.
Whatever happened, I'll never forget it and it serves as
a point of respect I will always have for Drill Instructor SGT
Robinson. I got to stress him out and he had the common sense,
and common decency, not to make me pay like a lot of DI's would