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thedrifter
01-24-09, 08:22 AM
Give 'Em Hill: Semper Fi and stay off the grass
By Angela Hill
Oakland Tribune
Contra Costa Times
Posted:01/23/2009 09:03:30 PM PST

For the sake of my husband's brother's wife's son from her previous marriage, I tried to be always faithful that day, but inevitably I strayed off the path.

I mean, c'mon. It would be one thing if the grass had been particularly attractive, magnificently manicured and neatly nurtured, naturally deserving of respect. But not only were there brown patches, likely because of California's water conservation needs, but there were also worn, clearly tromped-upon sections of lawn where the bare dirt was showing through, resembling the outer surface of a short-haired, green dog with a fierce case of mange.

So it made little sense to me, during last week's Family Day event at our nephew Nate's graduation from the U.S. Marine Corps boot camp in San Diego, that the stocky drill sergeant "host" with excellent posture, a well-cultivated scowl and a voice like a packet of Pop Rocks mixed with Coca-Cola in a rusty blender sitting on the engine block of an idling M1 Abrams tank, spent the day admonishing people —— innocent, mild-mannered, vegetation-loving civilians like myself — with countless repetitions of: "Do NOT walk on the GRASS, you lowly maggots, you!" the "lowly maggots" part being merely implied in his tone.

Ooh-rah! Yes, SIR!

Oh, and heaven forfend we set foot on the Parade Deck, which is not so much a deck as a large part of the parking lot separated from the regular civilian part of the parking lot with orange cones and a small asphalt berm where the recruits were later to emerge in crisp formation and demonstrate their evolution from lowly maggots to lowly soldiers. "Do NOT walk on the parade deck, or I'll SQUASH you like the lowly maggots that you are!" (Squashing maggots part again implied.)

Ooh-rah! Yes, SIR!

Then there were rules we didn't even know were possible to violate. To observe one of the events, rather than being absorbed into the mob of squealing fiances and moms, we claimed an archway in the name of Nate under which to stand out of the way. Our conquest was short-lived. "You'll have to move from this area," another sergeant commanded.

"Why?" I asked spontaneously. Impertinently. Foolishly.

He did not respond verbally, but with a glare that would leave all other glares shriveled in the fetal position, balled up in a corner of a dark room, rocking, rocking. Clearly, in the Marines, there is no "why." There is only "Do as I say" or "Do not," and doing not gets you a complimentary tour of the inside of the brig. We moved. Good thing President Obama is closing Gitmo. Whew.

To no one's surprise, I would not last the first second of a minute of a single day in the Marine Corps or any other agency of authority for that matter. I even balk at being forced to provide personal information to get a discount card at Safeway. So fortunately for me, and for national security, we were just visiting, along with about 2,000 other relatives who had come to see nearly 500 recruits graduate. Apparently, they hold graduations like this every week. Not all are boot camp. Some are special forces and such. But gee. That's more than just a few good men, and women too.

Other than the beleaguered grass, the San Diego recruit facility is very nice. Spanish-style buildings with tile roof tops, resembling a spartan version of Balboa Park, San Diego's version of Golden Gate Park.

"It's probably even better because they've got slave labor here," said my not-the-least-bit-bitter brother-in-law, Mike, Nate's stepdad, who is an ex-Marine himself. Way ex. Not so much in years, but in sentiment. "You can't possibly understand, at the end of my four years, my intense desire to get out of the Marines," he said. And after the 1,274th time they told us to stay off the grass even though we were not on the grass, I did understand. So why did you join in the first place, Mike? "To escape the discipline at home," he said.

I see.

Mike admitted this was a different Marine base than the one he once knew. For one thing, the music of Kenny G meandered around the main courtyard where the family members were first corralled. To pacify the civilian masses, no doubt. And the Marines have a gift shop. Who knew? Complete with USMC mugs, coasters, antennae balls, "fight song" ball point pens and stuffed English bulldogs in camo. It's like Disneyland, where you come off the ride and are immediately swept into a sea of merchandise. Except we didn't get a ride, and buying things here felt more like paying taxes.

We eventually gathered on the bleachers, carefully sidestepping the Parade Deck, although I saw some seagulls out there, defiling it, and they didn't get in any trouble. Then our Marines marched out in perfect rows, as though someone had taken a big comb to a bunch of stray guys. Their heads shaved to the nub, it was hard to pinpoint Nate. "Where is he?" one relative asked. "They all look alike."

"That's the whole point," ex-Marine Mike explained. "Originally it was for lice, but now it's to crush your individuality."

They all looked so very young. Young enough that it felt as though we should be protecting them, and not the other way around. Family members cheered and cried and took photos. Then the recruits were given "liberty" and everyone went down and hugged them close.

From here, Nate gets his MOS (military occupational specialty — basically his assigned job from now on). He'll be a combat engineer, building structures and working on equipment for soldiers in battle zones. So, he'll likely go to Iraq or Afghanistan, unless Obama can do something about that. Soon.

I flashed on the time we saw Nate back home in Iowa, and we drove him to the DMV to get his license. Then we all went to the video arcade in the mall. Nate liked to shoot things, even then.

Now, at the ripe-old age of 19 and with three months of intense training under his belt, he looks so polished. So very much not needing a ride to the DMV or anywhere else. Excellent posture. He's cultivating the scowl. Semper Fi, Nate. Be safe.

Reach Angela Hill at ahill@bayareanewsgroup.com.

Ellie