Proving Grounds – Part 7

From the yellow footprints, Romero and the other recruits filed into another room, where they would each be checked for contraband. Their pockets were emptied and if they had anything to declare, they had one final chance to make it known. From there, the endless line of young men progressed through a long series of darkly lit hallways. They stopped every few rooms to receive some aspect of the first night’s treatment: the unceremoniously ceremony of losing all their hair, being issued their gear, and speaking to a small army of admin staff as they began the process of becoming “in the system” of the United States Marine Corps. This whole while, Receiving Company Drill Instructors barked at and berated the fresh recruits for every time they looked in the wrong direction or made even the slightest of false moves. Little did they realize that this process of standing in endless lines, filing endless paperwork, and being physically transformed into as uniform an individual as the Marine Corps could create, would continue for three more days. Those four days Romero and the other recruits would see little food and enjoy little sleep, but would be moving almost nonstop until the end of the receiving phase prior to the actual start of recruit training.

In those first few days of boot camp, fatigued and exhausted as the recruits were, their minds slowly began to embrace the subtle suggestions hidden among thundering cries of the Drill Instructors aboard the depot. “You are inferior,” bemoaned the overarching theme over and over, again. It was a simple suggestion, but in their weakened state, it sat, permeated, and it stewed. In the long hours of standing in lines while fighting sleep, and while waiting to be issued whatever piece of equipment they would be using over the next few months, their minds were free to wonder. In those long hours of silence broken only by the DIs’ pouncing on a recruit guilty of some incalculable slight, that suggestion of inferiority sank in. Eventually, though none realized it, each began to start believing the ideas delivered to them were true. They began to accept that there was a weakness in them and that they were less than the Marines who had come before, those who had already “earned the title”. On some subconscious level for all of them, they embraced the idea that they must change to live up to the obligation they had taken up. The recruits had to accept the inferiority inherent within them before they were truly ready to begin training.

As that first week wore on, Romero too passed that point. Throughout it all, he kept thinking about the fact that the real training hadn’t even begun. At the end of receiving, they would enter their first real day of training, T-Day 1 – Black Friday. That would be the day recruits meet their real Drill Instructors, not those simply overseeing them throughout receiving. These Marines would govern their every movement, as well as their every waking and unwaking second, for the next three months. Their only purpose, Romero kept telling himself, was to make each of them warriors. On the last night before training, Romero enjoyed little sleep – an unfortunate mix of anticipation and anxiety towards what the next day would bring.

On June 4th, 2025, that day finally came, Training Day 1. After nearly a week together since the airport and the yellow footprints, Nathaniel and eighty other recruits were told to quickly gather their gear and belongings, all packed into large green sea-bags, and form up outside the squad bay. From there, they were marched to a new set of barracks, far across the base. This one overlooked the massive parade deck. Romero had never seen anything like it. It seemed like it had to be the single largest slab of asphalt anyone had ever lain, nothing but half a mile of pristine slate grey real estate. Distantly, he could see another platoon marching through the corner of his eye. They movements were so crisp and polished, with such unison. They’d obviously been on the depot for months, almost real Marines by now. As for Romero and the other eighty recruits of his platoon, their training was only about to begin.

Once inside the barracks building, they were led to a large squad bay. Here the platoon would share a singular fate and become more intimately intertwined with one another than any of them would ever have believed before. Romero’s eyes first saw perhaps a hundred bunks lined along two aisles along the windows, with one centered between near a large opening in the front of the room. With only a few minutes, the platoon was directed to stow their gear in their assigned bunks, their “racks”, and then stand at attention when finished. Following this, they quickly filed into that large opening of the room and told to sit in a tight formation, legs crossed, facing forward towards a wall with a single door and one man standing by it.

As they sat waiting for whatever was about to happen next, in the distance, they could hear other platoons crying out in unison the “Yes, Sir!” and “Aye-Aye, Sir!” that they had so far heard many times before. The shouting didn’t stop as it seemed to go on forever. Silently to himself, Romero asked, “What were they doing?” as were all the other young men in the formation.

The Marine at the front began to speak. He was oddly soft spoken, Romero thought. They had already learned not to look directly at anyone, but with a quick glance, he noticed a shine from this Marine’s collar. He must have been an officer. He introduced himself as their Series Commander and welcomed the recruits, or at least gave what passed for a welcome. It seemed like one of other well-rehearsed speeches, only differing from the others by the relaxed poise compared to the Drill Instructors, with which he delivered it. Towards the end, he said the words Romero and the rest of the recruits had been paradoxically been waiting for and terrified of.

“You are now members of platoon 2094, Lead Series, Company ‘F’, 2nd Recruit Training Battalion. I will now introduce you to your Drill Instructors who are responsible to me for your training.” From the room at the front came three Marines wearing the grim faces and attire of the Drill Instructor. The figures stood at the front of the room in stiff, imposing, and erect in military stances. They stood this way as his speech continued on. Together the four Marines raised their hands as the Series Commander led the Drill Instructors in a creed meant to constitute their responsibilities to the platoon. They were to train them, discipline them, indoctrinate in them a love of both Corps and Country, and to demonstrate to them by example the highest standards of personal conduct, morality, and professional skill. This oath they swore before every member of the platoon they would be leading. Following the Drill Instructor’s Creed, the officer handed over command of the recruits to their Senior Drill Instructor.

“Senior Drill Instructor, take these men and make them Marines.”

The Marine saluted with a forceful “Aye-Aye, Sir.”

As the commander walked away, the Senior Drill Instructor, Staff Sergeant Clifton, screamed out for all the Marines to place their eyeballs on him.

Gone was the soft-spoken poise of the polished officer. Staff Sergeant Clifton roared with yet another deliberate show of hostile force and aggression that Romero was growing to expect of all Marines. What followed was yet another well-rehearsed speech where he demanded absolute effort and show the highest of military virtues, most notably discipline and spirit, and respect. Clifton’s speech was delivered with such an impossible force and intensity, that the recruits had no choice, but to be motivated, while also fearfully in awe of the man who stood before them. Then the speech ended.

What followed the Senior Drill Instructor’s welcome was nothing less than a torrent of hate and terror the recruits could have never imagined. The recruits were ordered across the squad bay as the Drill Instructors screamed with the pent up fires of a thousand angry suns. They dumped the recruit’s sea bags if they didn’t move fast enough, spewing all the belongings they owned out into massive mounds on the floor of the squad bay. They tossed the recruits bunks they would sleep on across the room. Bottles of soap, toothpaste and shaving gel broke and shattered, leaving the piles of personal belongings and issued gear trashed all over the floor. Then the recruits were marched around and around, back and forth, following every command of the Drill Instructors, though never fast enough, never loud enough, and never with enough of the ever loving intensity demanded of them. All the while the parade of pandemonium continued, recruits were kicking each other’s gear around in chaotic piles across the squad bay. Amidst the bedlam, they were again filed as fast as their collective feet would carry them to a pit of sand outside the barracks. The entire platoon was commanded to push up, flutter-kick, side-straddle-hop, and run in place until they gave out, basking in the precious moments when their sweat covered faces rested against the sand.

Finally, covered in sand and sweat, they filed back to the barracks and pulled out their canteens. They drank, and drank, and drank, drinking until they had proved they had finished every last drop, then they would refill their canteens, and drink some more. This cycle of what seemed to be mindless torment wouldn’t end until many hours later. They still had to return their home back to some semblance of normalcy after having been reduced to what could best be described, metaphorically, as a warzone. As the new recruits paraded around the room, being screamed at by terrifying men, Romero wondered what he had gotten himself into. Regardless of what he thought at that moment, they were still a long way from the end of T-Day 1. At least by that point he understood why it was a day known throughout the Corps as Black Friday.

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Cover Art

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