WARNING- The following article contains adult language!-WARNING
“Officer Meraz, have you ever read Extreme Ownership by Jocko Willink?”
A woman asked me that in response to some story I posted on Instagram. I replied, something along the lines of, “No, I don’t have to read it, it’s what the Marine Corps raised me with.”
Flash back to Summer of ‘05. Recruit Chan sits in the middle of a “school circle.” He is crying. A grown man brought to tears by the words of another grown man. I don’t remember anymore what Recruit Chan did, but he definitely had a lapse in discipline. His mistake was probably petty, as most mistakes a Marine recruit can make are. Before you get on your high horse of Monday morning quarterbacking and judgementality (yes this word exists, I just made it so), know that a lapse in discipline is inevitabel in Marine Corps boot camp.
Here was Recruit Chan sitting cross-legged and filthy, hating life, and the sun was cooking his over-sized bald head. With the sunscreen melting into his eyeballs, it was probably good he was crying. Since none of us were allowed to touch our face, the tears helped in clearing out the gunk collecting in his eye lids.
As I mentioned earlier, I don’t remember what he did wrong, but it’s irrelevant. It’s irrelevant because what I remember was the lesson, once again inculcated into our soul. Take responsibility for your own actions. Don’t worry about how things could have gone better or worse. Don’t worry about anything anyone else did or didn’t do. Worry about what YOU did and what YOU can do to accomplish the mission.
Recruit Chan was from China and didn’t even speak English properly. The Drill Instructors treated him like shit. In the civilian world, Chan may have gotten by with people realizing he had special needs because he was an immigrant trying to get assimilated. However, in the Marines, no one was given special treatment. WE WERE ALL TREATED EQUALLY SHITTY. Drill Instructors discriminated based on your level of discipline, not your race, not your creed, not the color of your skin, and not your degree of assimilation.
Whatever Recruit Chan did got us all in trouble. Our punishment was a typical session of intensive training, a gauntlet of calisthenics which we never did fast enough and we never counted properly. In Marine Corps bootcamp, recruits are never right, the game is rigged for recruits to continually fail: The exact opposite of the everyone-gets-a-trophy culture the 83 recruits in my platoon came from.
This time, Recruit Chan wasn’t in trouble though, we were. Sure he was slow at comprehending. Sure he was lazy and wasn’t as intense (compared to Marine Recruits). Sure, he was not very good at paying attention to detail. Sure, he was who the platoon deemed the “shit bag.” But all of that was irrelevant. When the drill instructor showed up and demanded discipline, Recruit Chan failed. Which means we failed.
Now we were in the hot sand, doing push-ups, eating the dirt grains our drill instructor kicked in our face. I looked over at Recruit Reyna, his glasses were already half coated with sand as the beads of sweat poured off his shiny bald head and added to the cake mix. Just five minutes ago we were ready to enjoy the rigid metal bench under an awning. We had been sitting at attention, but happy to feel the relief of not moving and maybe feel whatever little breeze could be had on a 100 degree Southern California day.
“Faster, faster, faster!” Drill instructors always demanded you move faster. No such thing as anything other FASTER. Even our shoes were reffered to as “go-fasters.”
“AYE, AYE SIR!” We blared in unison, crisp and sharp (“Singing,” that is pretending that you are louder by lengthening words, was not allowed and was also punishable).
It didn’t actually matter that we reach an acceptable speed, there was no such thing. All there was, was faster. We were finished when the Drill Instructor felt we were, or when time ran out in the already tight schedule.
So, we went faster with our calisthenics. Then more calisthenics: Mountain climbers, crunches, jumping jacks, etc. After we were done with a set, we were not fast enough. We had to do another, then another.
Recruit Chan’s job was to sit cross-legged in the center as we poured another avalanche of lactic acid over our muscles.
Then Recruit Reyna got pissed. As a Marine Recruit, you are always pissed. But this was extra pissed. Right before Recruit Chan shed his first tear, Recruit Reyna blares out, “Don’t fucking cry Chan, you fucking pussy!” Recruit Reyna was in the middle of doing a set of mountain climbers. Looking back, its pretty damn impressive to be able to say anything other than the shrieks you are already supposed to be screaming in response the drill instructors. But Recruit Reyna was well on his way to becoming a warrior. His intensity was endless and Recruit Reyna was just general population. He was just a regular recruit.
And his extra remark was not taken well by the drill instructor.
“REYNA!!! SHUT THE FUCK UP AND PUSH BITCH!” No hard feelings. The drill instructor didn’t hate Reyna, albeit if you ask him he’ll still tell you he did. “Bitch” was just the preferred nickname for all recruits. All recruits are considered equally worthless but with the potential to one day be useful, self-motivated, and regardless of rank or billet… are expected to be a leader.
“AYE, AYE SIR!” Recruit Reyna blared out and just as a thick drop of sweat slipped of his pointy nose, another equally thick took its stead.
Therefore we continued to be taught our lesson. Recruit Chan sucks at life, because we suck at life. He wipes his ass weird, he goes left when he’s supposed to go right, he doesn’t blow the drill instructor’s ear drums out when spoken too (as any good recruit is expected to), the list goes on. All of his shortcomings are our fault. As everything that ever goes wrong is our fault.
You starting to get the picture?
Everything we do in life has consequences. Everything we don’t do in life… has consequences.
It doesn’t matter the weather. It doesn’t matter that aliens could have invaded the planet and rained down the apocalypse. We didn’t accomplish the mission. Recruit Chan sucked at life, and we had to pay.
Since it was evident no amount of calisthenics and sand eating was going to make him change his ways, we got punished in his stead. His punishment was to feel the shame of seeing his squad putting in work to drench the sand with our sweat, not his. This is why Recruit Chan started to cry.
However, we didn’t actually care. Sure it sucked. But everything in boot camp sucked. We had slept eight hours, in the entire week. Our muscles no longer got sore, they just burned, constantly. We were already full of sand before we had more sand kicked in our face. We already understood, we embraced the suck. We were in a perpetual Zen, pain didn’t matter, we lived in the moment.
This lesson of failing was not a new one to us. This was just another day with a friendly reminder we needed to take ownership of our actions to the extreme point which we could no longer. If that meant we had to teach Recruit Chan how to wipe, then that’s what was expected. One team, one fight.
But it was not just about team work. It was about individual success as well. Recruit Chan’s problem was he saw himself as an individual. That is why it was not possible to punish him for his own mistakes. Individually, he didn’t care enough about his own success and he didn’t realize his easy acceptance of failure could one day make it easier for the enemy to kill his fellow Marines.
Reyna wasn’t calling Chan the “p” word because he was mad at him for failing. None of us were mad at him. There was no such thing as a perfect recruit, the game was rigged against us anyway. We all just did our best. We all understood the lesson. Taking responsibility for the totality of your environment.
What Recruit Reyna and the rest us were mad about, was Recruit Chan’s lack of style. His lack of bearing and discipline, to be exact. How dare he cry just because we had to twitch our muscles a little extra under the sunny California sky… WHILE WEARING THE UNIFORM OF A U.S. MARINE.
Ain’t nobody got time for that… EXECUTE!