Changing service



Changing service

My friend Mark Perkins joined the Navy right out of high school. After a few years, he decided to join the Marines and quickly found the Marine Corps to be the most intense organization he’d ever encountered.

The highest enlisted rank the Marines would give a new trainee is enlisted level two regardless of the recruit’s rank in another service. Thus, Perkins accepted a one-rank reduction and reported for boot camp in San Diego in 1994.

Early in training, a drill instructor asked, “Who here has prior service and wants a leadership position?”

Perkin’s recruiter had cautioned him not to let his Marine drill instructors know he had served in the Navy, and he knew from Navy training that these leadership positions were terrible. The so-called leader merely had more work and was punished for others’ mistakes. Perkins kept his mouth shut.

But after a week, the recruits reported to the dentist. When Perkins recognized the Navy dentist’s lieutenant commander rank insignia and addressed him accordingly, the officer was excited.

“You’re the first Marine recruit who’s identified my rank!”

Perkins made sure no DIs were around. “I used to be in the Navy,” he whispered.

The lieutenant commander sold Perkins out at once, bragging to the DI about the Navy.

The DI glared. “You were in the Navy, Perkins?”

Boot camp suddenly became so much harder. A fellow former Navy Marine recruit named Hammond had come in from the physical conditioning platoon, a unit comprising trainees who’d needed more time to meet the initial physical standards. Mostly, they needed to lose weight. The men called it the Pork Chop Platoon.

Whenever Hammond was dropped for push-ups, which was often, Perkins was punished too. While Perkins was being thrashed, he was often forced to sing the classic 1979 Village People hit, “In the Navy.” Now Perkins hates that song.

In Marine boot camp, Christmas was just like any other day, so they were surprised Christmas morning when the senior DI shouted, “For some reason, the chaplain has lobbied to allow you recruits to go see a movie. You all must see it. Each of you will take one chit from your ration ticket to purchase one f***ing treat at the theater. One! You eat popcorn, get thirsty, share your buddy’s soda. I’ll know if anyone gets more than one thing, and you’ll all be f***ed!”

The base theater was showing the 1994 Jean-Claude Van Damme classic Timecop. Each man enjoyed one treat. Except for Hammond, who ate and drank everything.

Somewhere in that cinematic masterpiece, someone asks the hero where he learned his rad combat skills. “In the Marines,” was the reply. The men cheered.

The DIs greeted the men after the film.

“You all enjoy the movie?” asked the senior DI. “I got a sneaky suspicion somebody got more than one treat. There’s always one. Better tell me.”

It was a trap. Despite the DI ordering the men to tell, they knew they couldn’t. Any snitch would be punished more for snitching.

“Since nobody wants to talk, we’ll start with side straddle hops.” Jumping jacks. Doesn’t sound hard, but they made the company do them to the point of exhaustion. “Grenade!” The men dove to the ground. “Up!” The men jumped up. “Grenade!” They dove.

Eventually, Hammond burst with “spectacular projectile vomit.”

“There it is!” shouted the DI. He examined Hammond’s puddle. “What do we got here? Popcorn. Maybe Coke. Some Skittles.” He called in another DI. “The f*** is that, Milk Duds? No way Hammond ate all that by sharing. Now, you’re all gonna pay.”

There followed hours of brutal thrashing, and one by one each man puked. Each eruption was carefully inspected for one-treat uniformity, until exhausted, they were allowed rest. Merry Christmas.

Eventually, Perkins became a model Marine, but the Marine drill instructors did not make it easy for him to “come ashore” from the Navy.

Trent Reedy, author of several books including Enduring Freedom, served as a combat engineer in the Iowa National Guard from 1999 to 2005, including a tour of duty in Afghanistan.

*Some names and call signs in this story may have been changed due to operational security or privacy concerns. 

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