Marine Corps Boot Camp: 8 Periodic Events

At the rifle-range.

There were some things in boot camp that weren’t on a daily basis. Here are eight of those events.

1. The three-mile run. This was a regular exercise, but not daily; more like every other day. And we usually ran in full gear: boots and backpack. I didn’t mind this event or any of the other more physical events. I was in pretty good shape.

2. The twenty-mile run and walk. We only did this a couple of times during boot camp, and it was also in full gear. I think this exercise was planned especially for those who would be going to Vietnam (most of us). What a workout!

3. The rifle-range. I think I remember going to the rifle-range about once a week. It was basically an event to learn how to hold your rifle steady while shooting, and in different positions. We would shoot standing up, in the prone position, and sitting. We also did some shooting with the 45-caliber pistol. One thing I couldn’t understand is why we trained with an M14 rifle in boot camp and then were issued an M16 in Vietnam? It made no sense to me. And even though the M16 was lighter, I wish I had an M14 in Vietnam. I would have felt safer with it, because I think it was more accurate.

4. Weapons training. In addition to shooting the M14 and the 45, we would also learn how to throw grenades. That was scary to me, just knowing that you only had a few seconds to throw it after pulling the pin before it would explode. We were also introduced to a few other weapons like the M60 machine gun, the M72 LAW, a very nifty lightweight anti-tank weapon, and the M79 grenade launcher, which was my primary weapon in Vietnam. We all had our turns to shoot these weapons—kind of fun. We also watched demonstrations of other larger, more powerful weapons like tanks, cannons, mortars (an artillery weapon), and we even watched the fully- armed, black-hawk helicopter destroy things. A great show!

5. Self-defense and bayonet training. As for the self-defense training, I already knew quite a bit from high school wrestling. But the bayonet training we got I think was helpful—that is, it would have been if I had an opportunity to use it. Most of the close hand to hand combat was done earlier and during the Tet Offensive (from 1965-68). I didn’t get to Nam until 1970.

6. Guard duty. Guard duty in boot camp was on a rotating basis during the night, about a two-hour shift. I never liked it. I did the same thing in Vietnam every night. I didn’t like it there either.

7. Surprise cleaning duties. Every once in a while, our drill instructor would announce to the platoon that we had a project to do. I remember once when we washed a rather large concrete floor. We did it all by hand scrub brushes and white towels. I remember the instructor saying that it had to be clean enough to eat off of. And it was.

8. Punishments. We were harassed and yelled at constantly; that was part of the training. But punishments were different and less often. One time the entire platoon was punished, but I can’t remember what for. Anyway, we spent hours doing calisthenics in deep sand. Most of the time the punishment was on just one Marine. It was usually quite brutal and for the least offences. But then we were Marines and were expected to perform out duties well, and without complaining.

Marine Corps Boot Camp: The Daily Routine

When you left boot camp you had to be in tip top shape.

After boot camp processing, and all the preliminary instructions of the first day were completed, we finally settled into somewhat of a daily routine—except for events that we did less frequently, which I will cover in the next blog post. Here are six things that I remember doing on a daily basis for my three month long stay at boot camp.

Our regular morning routine. The first thing we did after getting up was to do our business, shower, and shave. Then we got dressed, made our bed (tight), and lined up outside for roll call and inspection. If we shaved properly (closely, without misses or blood), and if our boots were shined and clothes were fairly well pressed and clean, the drill instructor would usually pass us by, which was usually the case for me. But if any of those things were missed, he would let you know—very rudely. And also, it seemed to be always the case that the drill instructor would pick on someone just because he didn’t like the way they looked—or really, for any reason. Like for instance, if someone seemed to stand out because they were short or tall or a bit overweight, they had a good chance of being harassed, repeatedly.

Close order drill. This is probably the most impressive event that we did; and it was kind of fun. I’m sure most people have seen a marching band drill at the half-time of a football game. But when you see Marines in their dress blues and rifle, it is especially impressive. Most of the time we would drill without a rifle, in our regular uniform. At first, for me, it was hard keeping in step. But after a while, no problem. I especially liked hearing the drill instructor’s cadence call. Each instructor had his own unique style and sound. 

Some might question the value of drilling because we didn’t ever do it on the battle field. Yet, when I think about it, I think it has more of a motivational value and something Marines (and all branches of service) do just to build in themselves the pride of being a Marine.

Calisthenics. I think each boot camp unit was I bit different, but generally we did the regular exercises beginning with stretches and jumping jacks, then pushups, setups, pullups, burpees, and some sprints. Toward the end of boot camp, we would be tested to see how many of each exercise we could do. I was always at the top, probably because of the sports I did in high school—wrestling and track.

Classes. There were alwaysone or two classes each day pertaining to a variety of subjects the Marines wanted you to learn. The ones I remember were on general hygiene, Marine Corps history, cleaning and handling of weapon, and map reading. They were usually at least an hour long. I didn’t mind having the time to sit and relax, but I didn’t care much for the learning part of it. It was too much like school. I don’t remember getting tested on any of the classes. I think that is something they should have done, to force us to listen and learn.

Free time. They called it free time, but it really wasn’t your own time. It was a period of time, about an hour or so, to do things like polish your boots and belt buckle, write a letter, clean your pistol and rifle, study class notes, and get mail at mail call. I would usually get a letter every day from mom or a girlfriend. But most of my mail was from a young girl (about 14 years old) that I didn’t know.  She got my name and address from Stars and Stripes, a military newspaper. It was a great ministry for her, and I really appreciated it and always looked forward to her cheerful letters and homemade cookies! Now that I think about it, I’m not sure when she started writing me. It was either in boot camp or maybe in my tour of Vietnam; and we continued to write each other all during my time in service.

To be honest, I didn’t like writing that much. But I figured that since I enjoyed getting mail, I had to keep writing people to get them to write me. I also considered that I should probably not talk too negatively or about myself or my situation too much, and to talk more about them—so that they would feel more compelled to like me and write back. I was desperate to get mail, to hear from a friendly person, so I did what I thought would work. I kept this writing practice up all through my service time.

Mess hall. We always had three meals a day and the food was good. Unfortunately, though you could get as much as you wanted, you didn’t have much time to eat it. Sometimes, I remember that after standing and waiting for a long time at attention to get fed, when we finally got our food on our metal tray and sat down to eat, the drill instructor would yell out something like, “Alright you pigs, you’ve had enough, get out, get out,” And we had to just leave our tray full of food and run out of the mess hall into formation. Why did he do that? I would like to tell you that it was for a good reason, but I really didn’t know why. It is my guess that he just wanted us not to get too comfortable. Boot camp was a place to train us, not to make us feel good or satisfied.

This articles came from my memoir, below.