As the weeks of training continued, he and his platoon felt more and more accustomed to what they believed to be the warrior way of life, the reality dawned on each of them in time that SOI would soon end. Like basic training, one could acclimate, in time, to the rhythm and regularity of the training environment. Training for what, though? Soon they would be getting their orders and be sent to the fleet. Perhaps they would even put their training to use. Some longed for getting their orders and an escape from the endless tedium of training for war to actually get a chance to use it. Those few seemed only to yearn for the real thing. Romero wasn’t quite that gung-ho. He didn’t lust for violence like some of them did. He was more worried about the future might have in store for him, if he would get into a good unit. He wasn’t alone in this. For others there came with the realization of their looming graduation day the fear of the uncertainty. No one really knew where they would be a year from then and that was unsettling. Romero wasn’t sure how he felt. He just waited and continued his training, putting the worries away, since the Marine Corps didn’t care about his opinion anyway.
Near the end of SOI, one of the instructors, a Sergeant, came into the squad bay and called the men into a school circle. He had a box with folders.
“Gents,” the Sergeant said, “You remember these? These here are the Service Record Books you turned in when you all got here, your SRB’s. Along with them, you’ll also find a copy of your new orders. After graduation, you all will be directed to meet up with others heading out to your same duty stations.”
He took out the box with manila envelopes and directed for the platoon’s squad leaders to hand them out. At that moment, the Sergeant pulled out his phone and pressed a few commands. Inside the lockers across the squad bay, phones could be heard chiming and buzzing.
“I’ve just given you all the itinerary information you’ll need to get to your next duty station. Those of you who won’t be staying on with us for follow-on occupational training will be reporting directly to your units. These units will be your life for the next few years. They will be your family. Everything you learned here over the last two months will be used as the base of your training once you reach the fleet. Remember that these grounds have produced generations of the greatest warriors in history. You inherit that legacy and you represent the School of Infantry. Do not fail.”
The platoon gave out a hearty, “Aye-Aye, Sergeant!” as they each waited their name to be called and the chance to see what their orders said.
Romero was lucky enough to end up in the same platoon as Kruger again. His friend came over to his locker and they waited together. Kruger started the conversation by stating the one thing already on everyone’s mind.
“Dude, I just hope my unit doesn’t suck. You get in with a crap unit and your life is screwed for the next three years.”
Romero parsed his lips and nodded in agreement. The platoon squad leaders were handing out the packets from the boxes, calling out names one by one.
“Deroest, Darden, Compton…”
“It ain’t even like you can a thing about, you know? You follow what’s in the orders, right? Not a lot left to say after that.”
“Anders, Petrizzo, Kruger…”
“Ah, here we go. Wish me luck, dude.”
Romero watched his friend walk off to collect his orders. Part of him was fatalistic about it. What he got was what he got. Part of him, though, was getting nervous.
“Sheehan, Rangell, Sweeting…”
The pressure was mounting in his chest. He didn’t think it would matter to him this much. Whether it was just butterflies or true to life nausea he didn’t know, but a pit was forming in his stomach.”
“1/1.” Kruger said. “They’re pretty good right? Ha, I ain’t even leavin’ Pendleton.”
“Romero.” Said one of the squad leaders finally.
“Good luck, dude.” Chimed Kruger as Romero stood up to take his orders. Taking them from the other Marine, he walked back to his rack and wall locker, thumbing the metal clasps on the envelope. Frustrated, he thought “It’s 2025. You’d think the Marine Corps wouldn’t be the last organization on the planet still using paper and manila envelopes.” He was stalling. Standing in front of his wall locker, Romero swallowed his anxiety and opened the folder.
“What’da get?” insisted his friend.
Fox Company, 2nd Battalion 2nd Marines, the “Warlords” of Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.
The Sergeant walked over to Romero, “2/2, huh?” He asked as he spit a mouthful of chew into his cup.” Romero was mildly repulsed. “That’s a damn fine unit. They’ll make you into a good Marine.”
His words brought a hint of relief. Then, his lip still bulging with the tobacco that remained, he continued.
“You’re hella lucky, too. They’ll be deploying soon with the Second Marine Expeditionary Force. You never know, by this time next year there might just be a war going on and you’ll be one of the first ones to get to do anything about it. Know what I mean? You might very well be the first one of this platoon to see real combat. What you think about that, PFC?”
For some reason, a lot of people seem to think that you go to boot camp, they train you up and then you to war with those guys. Those that survive, go on to be the Sergeants and Corporals of the next batch of fresh meat. No, it isn’t like that.
We go to school and get all the good knowledge they can pump in us and then in the last few weeks, we find out where our destiny will lie for the next few years. I was in 29 Palms, training to work in the beautiful field of Comm. I was also married already, so my greatest fear was that they were going to stick me with Okinawa. Don’t get me wrong, Japan would have been awesome, but they don’t send junior Marines out accompanied. i.e. you go alone. We had already been apart for 9 months and I didn’t know what I would do if they threw another few years at us.
I lucked out, though, Camp Pendleton.
Either way, those first orders are a crazy adventure. You don’t have a clue where it’s going. Everyone wants something, but nobody knows what it is and once they get there, most just want anything else, but that is a different story. Getting your orders is that crazy moment when you finally start to see what’s inside the box that contains your miserable and/or awesome future.
Next week, we find out what Romero’s future holds.