By: Jim Barber
After reading recent pieces about the old rifle range at Camp Mathews I wanted to share one of my more memorable boot camp experiences which, in this case, occurred at Mathews. Comments and other funny boot camp stories welcome at email@example.com. This excerpt is from my book “SH*TBIRD! How I Learned To Love The Corps”
Private “Jones” wasn’t the sharpest tack in the box and he had two left feet to boot. Between the two problems Jones could have easily had a shortened enlistment.
Jones constantly was getting out of step when our platoon was drilling which brought much grief to the First Squad, Second Squad and, to a lesser degree, the rest of the platoon as a whole. The problem, of course is that when the guy in front of you is out of step, you step on, trip over his feet, throwing you and the guy behind you out of step and so on. The domino effect screws up everybody and gives the DI reason to raise hell. So Jones already had a strike against him by the time the platoon got to Camp Mathews for rifle qualification.
Every day we marched from our tent area to the live fire range, out after morning chow, back in for noon chow, back out to finish the day. We always took the same route morning and noon- a pretty easy march. But after the training schedule concluded for the day we invariably took a different route back that was over rougher terrain. At one point this route forked as it approached two hills, one low, and the other steep, rutted and rough. They were known affectionately as Little Agony and Big Agony, but not because they were so tough to march up and over. They got their names because Drill Instructors loved to punish their platoons for any real or imagined offenses, by making the recruits duck-walk to the top. Which fork we took might depend on the severity of the “offense” or simply on how much time they had to screw over us before they had to get us back for evening chow.
Once, at MCRD, after a perceived pitiful showing on the grinder that day, our DI had us fall in after evening chow, with weapons and cartridge belts. He marched us to a dirt lot next to the obstacle course, formed us in a circle and forced us to duck-walk all night in a cloud of dust. Actually it was only about a half hour but if you’ve ever had to duck-walk, you get the picture. By the time you are allowed to attempt to stand erect again you are walking like an old cripple. Duck-walking was difficult enough on flat, open ground but going uphill, in formation, while holding a nine and a half pound M1 Garand over your head during the climb, then add rough ground and you’ve got chaos.
On this particular day the C.O. had inspected our tent area and found some discrepancy. As they say, “Sh*t rolls down hill.” He passed his displeasure to our DI who, in turn passed it down to us. We finished early on the range and were marching back. When we approached the fork in the path we knew we were in trouble because he turned us toward Big Agony. At the foot of the hill he halted our formation and ordered us into the duck-walk position. “Forward, march,” and up we started. Then, about three-quarters of the way to the top, with the formation looking pretty ragged with everyone grunting and straining, Jones loses his balance, falling backwards, rifle swinging, ass-over-tea kettle, like a bowling ball, knocking down the next two or three guys who, in turn knock down everyone around them. In the mayhem, guys are getting hit by rifle butts or barrels or banging into rocks, all while rolling in dirt. The DI is in full form as others try to get past their fallen buddies, telling us what pitiful specimens we’ve turned into while not being very complementary of our parentage. Finally he halts us and tells us to get back down the hill and fall in. We’re going to start over.
Up we go, only this time we don’t get as far up the grade when Jones does his bowling ball routine again. More bruises, same result. Back down the hill, this time with Jones starting to take some verbal abuse. The DI is starting to have fun. “Knock it off, you shitb*rds, and get in formation.
Here we go again. Jones is trying mightily to keep his balance, threats of bodily harm urging him up the hill, but to no avail. Back he goes. This time, however, the DI doesn’t even bother to hide his amusement, but he doesn’t stop us. The guys who have been knocked down struggle back to duck-walk position and the column slowly works its way to the top. As the DI re-forms the platoon, guys are bruised, spitting dirt and cussing about scratches in the stocks of rifles that have been lovingly Linseed oiled and rubbed to perfection for weeks.
We are looking forward to getting back to our tents now – maybe even a few minutes of slack – but when we get there the DI halts us, left face, and spreads the formation. He tells us we’re an undisciplined herd and that we’ve not been getting enough exercise since we’ve been at Mathews. He calls out our platoon guide to lead us through the exercise manual.
True to form, Jones can’t stay in rhythm with the rest of the platoon while we’re doing pushups. At first the DI just shouts at Jones to get with us. After about the 3rd time, he stops us and makes us start over again so Jones “can get it right.” No such luck. Jones is out of sync again.
“On your feet,” we’re ordered. “Jones, front and center.”
Jones runs to stand at attention in front of the DI.
“All right, Jones. Face the platoon so you can see them while you are doing the exercise.” Now Jones has two left feet. It’s obvious that watching us is not going to improve his coordination.
The DI gives us the order to do jumping-jacks. After about 5 counts Jones is out of sync and the DI halts the exercise. “Okay, Jones. At ease. Just stand here and watch while they show you.”
It is hot. We are tired. We are filthy. Jones watches as we go through a hundred counts of jumping-jacks.
“Okay, Jones. You think you got it?”
“Uh…Sir, the private isn’t sure that….”
“All right,” the DI says. “One more time for Private Jones.” There are some muted threats coming from the platoon. “Quiet it the ranks, sh*theads, or I’ll have you out here all night!”
Another hundred counts and the DI turns to Jones. “You think you got it now?”
“Sir, the Private isn’t sure, Sir.” The threats aren’t muted this time and the DI screams “Quiet!!!” He’s as dumbfounded as we are as he turns to the hapless boot. “Jesus Christ, Jones! Are you f**king suicidal?”
Jones is ordered to report to the Duty Tent after evening chow along with his squad leader. After an extended session in the Duty Tent, they return to the squad’s tent. The squad leader has been assigned to personally see that no harm comes to Jones until this incident blows over.