Being in the Marines can be very dependent on who you are mentally, and what you do. One person’s experience will always differ from another. In my case I was a bit older when I joined and had mellowed out a lot in regard to my initial teenage temperaments.
In American society we will often try to glorify life in our military in order to produce numbers for our recruiters to fulfill in the ranks. This can often be tied directly to recruiting campaigns. In the past few years though we have started to see the dirtier side of life in the military thanks to social media, bloggers, and more independent thought. It seems that the most dangerous tool to dismantling the United States military is an 18 year old with a fucking cell phone.
I suppose I should start off by saying that I loved what I did in the Marine Corps. I shot cannons for a living. When I was shooting a cannon, working on a cannon, or being near cannons, I was truly a happy man!
The day I got to my unit was fascinating. I arrived at Twenty-Nine Palms, CA in March of 2006, and to say the least, the base is a giant mauve featureless fortress with sewage lake that would dry up and blow shit dust over the base randomly. My barracks were about two hundred yards from this shit lake.
The unit living in the barracks across the way from me was a GRUNT unit(Ground Unit, infantry). This particular unit had been used in the Iraq war extensively, and this had led to a lot of negative rapport with their unit command. I remember this particular day they had found out that they were re-deploying to Iraq again, and it seemed that the whole unit was in full riot. I was standing there in my fancy uniform checking into my first unit, and being walked to my new home for the next 3 and a half years.
Mattresses were being thrown off of third floor catwalks. Fights were carrying out of rooms into the sand. Down the alley way there was an ambulance with EMT’s running into a building. I would later find out that unit had actually been on two weeks of leave, and the ambulances were actually fetching the body of a young man who had hung himself instead of going home to see his family. Needless to say, life in the Marines was probably going to suck, and I knew this right away.
Meeting my new unit was pretty stupid. I’ve always been a big guy, I’m broad by nature. I know this, I accept it, and it was never going to change. Through out my career in the Marines, I was always hassled by skinnier than though assholes who always had a bone to pick with me. Regardless of the fact that I was stronger, smarter, and faster than a lot of skinny folks, my chubbiness would be held against me. I’m no hero, and I’m no badass, I am just a regular Marine with an average body who did what it took to get jobs done.
Checking into my unit was full of the usual comments about being chubby, which I accepted with the grace I always do…with a spoonful of what the fuck ever. When I got to my room, about five minutes after I put my bags down a drunk banged on my door and told me to get to work. Not really knowing what I was doing I went out and got yelled out for really no reason. The guy who had banged on my door had a bit of an anger issue, and later that evening would try to start a fight with me for no reason.
Coincidentally while he was trying to fight me, another man stepped in front of him, slipped off his sandals and said “don’t fuck with him”. I had the great privilege of later introducing this man to his future wife and mother of his children. Ben is a great doctor, husband, father, and friend, and I’m thankful every day that I met him even if it was under such circumstances.
All of this on my first day….We can only imagine how this is going to play out in the long run.
There’s a few things you learn once you get into the Marines, specifically in “Victory” units. First, being married is awesome, you get preferential treatment from your unit and pretty much the military as a whole. You have a kid, shit just gets better. You get sent to deployments early and have less oversight, and you get sent home from them early as well. This is all well and good I suppose, but for the rest of us, we got exposed to the hell of the barracks.
Barracks life is a lot like prison, only with a lot more PTSD. Walking around the base in general fucking sucks. You get yelled at a lot….it’s like the entire society of a base has disregarded their actual ability to interact in civil ways. Living in the infantry area of the base only compounds the issue. The military is full of people who have fucked up, and once they gain tiny morsels of power, they attempt to force that power upon anyone they can. I kind of categorized ass chewings as I grew acceptance of my new situation.
*Some of my generalizations may seem offensive, and for that I truly apologize; however, being in the military trying to be progressive at a low rank as I was can literally land you in legal trouble, stripped of rank, or just general discomfort on top of an already shitty personal life.
Females: Females in general when I was in the Marines had really no reason to be in the infantry areas as they were not allowed in it yet. This meant any female in the infantry unit probably had a bone to pick with males, and the easiest to take it out on was some rando PFC or Lance Corporal walking down the street.
High Ranking NCO’s: Basically these are the people that have stuck it out from the rank that you are right now and have spent 10+ years in the system. A lot of times these folks hate their lives too, and while I commiserate with them, they still yell at you.
Anyone freshly divorced: Divorces happen a LOT in the Marines….and they always breed shitty attitudes, if someone’s freshly divorced, they normally end up venting this on you for no reason.
Former Drill Instructors: These are the folks that you REALLY want to avoid…is your rank scratched? Fucked. Is your hat(cover) off-kilter? Fucked. Did you not render the proper greeting of the day at the proper distance from them? Fucked……Exist?…..Fucked. They spent three years of their lives screaming at people and demeaning them, and the gig didn’t stop there. They hate everyone. I saw someone that had failed out of being a drill instructor once that seemed snapped by reality. He would stand outside of the barracks and scream at a tree for hours like it was a Marine Corps recruit.
Accepting the above shitty situations can be rough at first, but I found that the best way to deal with this is to just avoid it all together. Avoidism taught me a lot of rather ingenious techniques. Walking behind cars….identifying rank or other traits from a distance and walking across the street and crossing back over when necessary. Was it a large group? In that case walk around the nearest building. The rule is….act like you know where you’re going. Always keep to the shadows, skulk, and never put yourself out in the open.
If you have no aspirations of gaining high rank and are simply there to do your job? This is your life for the next three and a half years.
Escapism takes many forms. I tried a lot of different things. Books, meditation, hiding, leaving the base, none of it works for a bunch of reasons. The barracks are fucking loud, and no one cares about you. Every Thursday you have to clean your room until it glistens, which honestly isn’t a bad thing…Marines are disgusting individuals….so count out that meditation. Books work, but only for a certain amount of time.
I had a roommate from Guam at one point, and I remember the day I moved in with him, I noticed that he had an entire kitchen’s worth of food in his locker. This dude was so serious about not leaving his room, he would cook food in his room. I realized then the genius of this man’s approach. By not going to the chow hall to eat food(which was a quarter of a mile walk through dangerous ass chewing territory), you avoided about an hour’s total of outside exposure per day!
What sucked the most about this approach you really didn’t get to take advantage of the meals you were fucking paying for and had no option of just receiving cash for(unlike the fucking married marines).
Another thing I attempted to do for a while was what I called “The Bushmills Challenge” Where I would drink a bottle of Bushmills whiskey in under an hour, which would normally leave me mindless for at least 8 hours and see where I woke up. I would wake up in a bed full of water that I thought I had pissed in only to look at the base of it and see 4 empty one gallon jugs of water. I’d wake up laying to my motorcycle(undriven) in the parking structure. I’d wake up to so many different random events.
It was around this time that I did this and ended up in Balboa California(from 29 Palms) when I finally came to that I realized perhaps the life of an alcoholic was not the life for me. Ever since then, I still have an appetite for whiskey; however, I prefer it in more moderate amounts.
Finding the escapism needed to mentally survive the Marines without compromising your moral integrity can be hard. It takes a LOT to get through it if you have got no ego, and do not fully endorse the Marine Corps lifestyle. It can take a lot out of you, and it can also compromise your beliefs. I still do not regret joining it.
Learning what I did while in the Marines led me to a life of avoiding drama in a lot of different shapes and sizes. This helped me out a lot when I became a business owner. Accepting the fact that I had to escape was really hard for me. One thing it did do unfortunately was make me a little too good at avoiding drama, and that is something that to this day I have to work with.