View Full Version : Recruit knows road ahead is full of hardship

07-20-03, 09:58 AM
Article Published July 20, 2003
A Marine’s life
Recruit knows road ahead is full of hardship

Story by Julio Ochoa

She mentally prepared herself for this moment for six months. Videos of boot camp showed her what to expect.

But this is real.

A drill instructor boards and shouts at the recruits to get off his bus.
Jennifer steps out into the cold February night and onto the yellow footprints that form two rows on the street.

As she stands shivering with the rest of the new recruits, the enormity of her situation comes home.

She is alone for the first time in her life.

Jennifer left the warmth of her family’s home in Greeley and traveled thousands of miles to brave the elements of Marine Corps boot camp.

She is sure of herself but unsure about the road ahead.
If she is going to make it through the next 13 weeks and become a Marine, she will be forced to change.

The 17-year-old will have to grow up quickly. She will have to get used to not getting her own way. She will have to learn to get along with other women and work as a team. Her weakness as a runner will be exposed every day.

If she makes it, she will be the first female Marine in her family. If she fails, she will return to Greeley without direction for her future.

She came motivated by pride, but there is no room for pride now.
During her first week in boot camp, Jennifer often thinks about quitting.

On one of her first nights a drill instructor asks the recruits who would go home if she handed them a plane ticket.
Jennifer raises her hand, as do several others.

Too bad, the drill instructor says. Unless she goes crazy or is seriously injured, she is government property.

She will have to get used to this new status. She is stripped of her individualism. She is no longer allowed to refer to herself as “I” or “me.” Instead, she uses the third person and says “this recruit” or “these recruits.”

Every move she makes, from a trip to the restroom to a walk to church on Sunday, she does with at least one other recruit.

So, what do I think of boot camp? It’s awful. The atmosphere, the advantage of authority. It’s not my cup of tea. Physically, it’s OK. Not awful. Well, not yet. I made it through processing and forming and training didn’t get any better. I miss my family so bad. — Jennifer’s diary (Training day 2)

The discipline starts from the moment Jennifer wakes up until she goes to sleep at night, drill instructors scrutinize her every move.
They make her life unbearable by singling her out and pointing out her weaknesses. Everything she does is wrong.

They work to instill an urgency and immediate response to orders through repetition and constant correction.

Jennifer makes mistakes often, and the drill instructors are in her face to let her know. They call her stupid, slow, worthless and a variety of other names.

She must learn to handle stress and follow orders without thinking.
Insubordination is not tolerated. Jennifer’s only acceptable response: “Aye, ma’am.”

She is barely out of high school and has never lived away from her parents. The longest time she’s spent apart from them is six days.
She came from having her own room at home to living with 50 other women.

She is filled with self-doubt.

The first week she is too busy to miss her family, but as the weekend comes, homesickness sets in.

She questions her decision to join the Marines.
“My family wanted me home and nobody wants me here, so why am I here?” she asks herself.

The first time she is away from her drill instructors is at church on Sunday. She breaks down and cries.

My first Sunday! Yea. Even though it was awful. Church is the highlight of the week. From chow to chow. From church to church. I think the drill instructors’ plot is to figure out who gets to yell at me first. My biggest issue, besides having the flu, is being homesick. I still haven’t gotten a letter from home and I feel awful for leaving my family. Physically, I am in a hurt. I do what needs to be done, but every muscle I have aches. My legs are bruised, my skin is rashed and I’m stuck carrying around a cooler all day. I guess I’ve adjusted OK. I’ve only cried twice, once at church and the first night I wrote home. Being so secluded I have lots to think about. And yeah, I still want to be a Marine. It takes a lot to earn that title and I learn what my limits are. — Jennifer’s diary (Training day 5)

A brief respite
Sunday Mass gives Jennifer a welcome break from the stresses of boot camp.

The drill instructors show the recruits where the church is but leave them alone to worship.

For the first time since Jennifer came to boot camp, she feels like a normal person and can talk to other recruits.

She reflects on the week. It hits her hard.

But the service also gives her an answer to her questions and peace of mind.

She goes through a spiritual change and gets her rosary.

The services helps Jennifer understand why she came to boot camp. She believes God played a part in her decision and wants her to be here.

The Marine Corps motto is God, country, semper fi (always faithful) and Corps.

Along with water, mail and bathroom breaks, Jennifer cannot be denied a meeting with the chaplain upon request.

Chaplain Cassie Allen brings comfort to Jennifer in her darkest hour.
“When you get tired and frustrated, it’s going to take a higher power to get through it. That is the strength that God gives you,” she says. “I don’t ever want any Marine to think that he or she is alone, wherever they are because they are not.”

Allen reminds Jennifer and the other recruits that their spiritual training is just as important as their mental and physical training.
From the beginning, Jennifer’s drill instructors can tell that she is not adjusting well.

Most of her fellow recruits are gung-ho and pumped for the challenge, but Jennifer is passive and uncomfortable.

Her drill instructors place her and seven other recruits in the Recruit Adjustment Motivational Program to help them adjust.

Parris Island, I would not come here for fun. No offense, but between the sand fleas and mud, my eyes itching and my throat hurting, the island is not a paradise. Pertaining to the training, well, it’s feasible you really can’t fail at anything with so many people yelling at you to not quit. The issue I have to deal with: Can I kill someone? It is so real now. Being trained on how to most effectively kill a person is not something I’m OK with, yet, at least. The big deal was seeing the senior platoon graduate. That was motivating, knowing it is possible. — Jennifer’s diary (Training day 11)Training or torture?

Physical training for Marine recruits is painful enough. Parris Island brings additional hardships.

The island is in the shallow waters of the Atlantic Ocean on the southern coast of South Carolina.

Of the island’s 8,095 acres, only 3,262 are habitable. The rest is covered with salt marsh and muddy flats blanketed with thick, tall grass that flood during high tide.

Jennifer trains in heat that is usually in the high 90s and a constant humidity that makes the heat stick to her body.

Coming from Greeley, Jennifer must adjust to the humidity. She never gets used to the sand fleas.

She awakens each morning to a physical training session that is much like an aerobic exercise class.

She lies on the grass in an open field while a drill instructor on a platform leads her platoon through the exercises.

Three other drill instructors walk around correcting the recruits’ form and making sure they are performing in unison.

Jennifer must maintain her military bearing at all times. No matter what is biting her or burrowing into her skin, she cannot swat or itch.
By the second week, Jennifer has welts on her arms and legs from mosquitoes and sand fleas.

When she loses her bearing and gets caught, she is reprimanded with a punishment called incentive training.

In her first five days of training, Jennifer is sent to incentive training five times for losing her bearing and other offenses, such as not securing the locks on her footlocker.

During incentive training, drill instructors force Jennifer to do push-ups, sit-ups, hops, mountain climbers and other calisthenics for five-minute periods.

It usually takes place in an area of sand outside the barracks. Recruits call it the “sand pit.”

By learning to do simple things in unison, Jennifer learns how to work as part of a team.

“As an individual you are weak. As a team you can do anything,” says 1st Sgt. Carl Curtis, the senior development trainer of the drill instructors.

During Jennifer’s first two weeks, every recruit in her platoon is afraid of the drill instructors.

Every time Jennifer needs to use the bathroom, she has to get permission from a drill instructor, and it must be phrased perfectly.
If she asks improperly, drill instructors force her to do it over and over until she gets it right.


Marine recruit Jennifer Rivera of Greeley screams her war cry as she prepares to stab a target during bayonet training at Parris Island, S.C. Rivera was going through the part of boot camp called the crucible, a 54-hour event in which recruits incorporate everything they have learned in 12 weeks of training at Parris Island.
Jim Rydbom


07-20-03, 09:59 AM
Some in Jennifer’s platoon can’t handle the pressure. After seven weeks some have not even talked to a drill instructor. <br />
<br />
Mentally, I think I’m adjusted. I know I’m here and I’ll be here and I’ll...

07-20-03, 10:01 AM
During missions she is not afraid to take the lead and stand out.
She gains confidence in her opinion and is not afraid to voice it.
Basic Warrior Training. I got broke off and beat up. Our little foreshadow of the crucible was warrior training to the T. I never liked camping and the past three days I was eating my MRE’s with black nails and bugs. Sleeping on pine cones with the friendly toads and now I get to do it all over again. This time, though, we get to do about 30 more events and 40 more miles. But hey, I’ve made it this far, nothing is keeping me from seeing my family in 12 days. The Physical Fitness Test was last Wednesday. I put out and did well and am proud of myself. There’s not much to say except I am anxious. Let’s be done and be Marines. — Jennifer’s diary (Training day 56)

Climactic crucible
Jennifer’s training culminates in a 54-hour event called the crucible. It is a rite of passage for Marines and incorporates everything she has learned in boot camp.

At home she was neat and attentive to personal hygiene. She liked to make full use of the shower.

During the crucible, she spends nearly three days doing extreme physical activity, in the same clothes, without access to running water.
“At home this recruit wouldn’t touch food with dirty fingernails. Now they are black and this recruit doesn’t care,” she says. “It bothers this recruit to think about germs, but this recruit came to boot camp to be a Marine, not to worry about bugs and dirt.”
After running one obstacle course through the mud, she actually is proud of how dirty she is.

“This team’s blouses are more sandy than the other team’s,” she says. “The drill instructor said it’s because these recruits didn’t cheese on that course — they threw themselves through the mud.”
Everything about the crucible is designed to resemble war.
She is tired and disoriented from 20-hour days of constant movement. She is hungry from surviving on only one meal per day.
Her elbows are raw from crawling hundreds of yards through the sand. Her feet are blistered from hiking more than 40 miles during the course of the event.

But when she is in the middle of an obstacle course, her mind focuses on accomplishing the mission.

She digs her raw elbows into the wet sand, soaked from a downpour the night before, and crawls forward.

Over walls, under razor wire fences and through trenches, she pushes herself toward the front of her platoon.
Simulated machine gun fire buzzes over her head.
“Get your head down, Rivera,” a drill instructor shouts. Jennifer presses her helmet to her head and buries her face in the dirt.
The 98-degree heat dampens her camouflage fatigues with sweat.
She’s been through some of the obstacles once during Basic Warrior Training. Now she is taking what she learned and applying it.

“This recruit knows from the first time that they break us off and beat us up. The recruits get tired and the drill instructors try to make them weak,” she says. “The second time this recruit is trying to overcome that.”

The crucible closes with a nine-mile hike back to the barracks and the Warriors Breakfast.

The recruits slowly limp into the chow hall. Their faces are black from a mixture of camouflage paint, mud and sunburn. Their uniforms are stained with sweat, grass and dirt.

The breakfast is the first hot meal for Jennifer in days and the first food since she ate the last bit of her rations at 8 p.m. the previous day. Since then she’s hiked more than 15 miles and gone through several obstacle courses.

The menu includes steak, eggs, bacon, hash browns, sausage and fruit.
She takes full advantage of it and
makes three trips to the buffet.
The breakfast marks the end of the crucible, but it also marks the close of boot camp.

The next week is mostly filled with administrative duties before graduation.

“All that this recruit’s gone through is a blur. One big dream,” she says. “The weeks go by fast, but the hours take forever. Every hour is a day.”

She is happy to be done with training, but still does not know what to expect of being a Marine.

“It’s exciting to know that this recruit is a Marine,” she says. “Being a Marine is surprising. I can’t even conceptualize what it will be like. Being here, this recruit can’t figure out what the next day is going to be like.”

She misses conversations with her family, her individualism and driving a car.

The tough survive
Only 17 recruits who started training with Jennifer graduate on time.
At first, Jennifer’s mother, Regina Rivera-Liscano, cannot even pick her daughter out in a crowd.

Jennifer is in the front row during a medal ceremony, but her mom mistakes someone else for her.

Finally her stepfather, Ray, walks up to the front row with his video camera and focuses in on the recruits’ faces to pick Jennifer out.
She is tanner than usual, her hair is pulled back under her hat, she has lost some weight and gained some muscle.

Her mother’s first concern is for her daughter’s welfare. She’s read the letters from boot camp.

Jennifer’s little brother, Isiah, 10, is so excited to see her that he can’t sleep the night before.

When they meet after the ceremony, he notices she is less affectionate at first.

“Sister, why aren’t you holding my hand,” Isiah asks.
“I can’t here,” she replies.

While his sister has been gone, he’s begun to feel like an only child.
Still, he is proud of his sister’s accomplishment.

“I like it because I can tell my friends all about her, but sometimes they get mad at me because I talk her up too much,” Isiah says.
Marine Corps graduation is just one of two graduations she will go through this week.

I’m feeling good right now. Here I am sitting on my flight home. It’s 6:10 in Denver. When I get there, it’ll be about 9:30. These past few days were great. Thursday was the best. We had the emblem ceremony. We became Marines at 1300 Thursday and were allowed to see our family for the first time. Family day was so good. Skit night was fun. Our drill instructors liked it too. Toward the end, the drill instructors really became our friends. They’re great people. They put in tons of hours. They’re the most disciplined people in the world and their job isn’t easy. I have a lot of respect for the drill instructors of O Company.

Going home again
When she comes back to Greeley, her first stop is a fast-food restaurant.

She’s missed eating what she wants, but during her next 10-day leave she will catch up with friends and relatives taking her out to dinner.

She comes home proud and cocky.
She feels more mature and older than her classmates at Greeley Central High School.

When she stops by the school to pick up her cap and gown and fill out paperwork, she sits down next to two senior girls. The two complain about how stressed they are.

She gets up and moves. She thinks, “What are you complaining about?”

Everyday problems pale in comparison to what she’s gone through.
At graduation, she looks older and carries herself differently than her peers.

She catches herself a few times during the ceremony holding her military bearing — left hand on left knee, right hand on right knee, back straight.

It’s who she is now.

It’s who she will be for at least the next four years.

So now that I’m a Marine, I feel proud, but lost. People come out saying boot camp is easy — yeah right. It beats you up. No, it’s not what you expect, but in no way is training to be a Marine easy. Some days are less straining than others, but every day is a challenge and something is accomplished.

After thinking about it, I’ve come to believe that even though I’m not the best Marine, I don’t have a 300 on the Physical Fitness Test, or I’m not an expert, I’m still a Marine. And being a good Marine in my eyes is still 100 times better than not being one at all. Plus, the pride I’ve earned for my family makes me feel good. They’ve put a lot of effort into raising me and I want to prove I appreciate it by doing well.

Now about being lost ... I still have no idea what exactly happens next. I know I go to Marine Combat Training, but I don’t know what to expect. I’m beginning to think that’s how this all works: Everything is unexpected.

But, of course, I’m going to make the most of it.


The Drifter

07-20-03, 10:57 PM
Fine words from my fellow Marine;

After thinking about it, I’ve come to believe that even though I’m not the best Marine, I don’t have a 300 on the Physical Fitness Test, or I’m not an expert, I’m still a Marine. And being a good Marine in my eyes is still 100 times better than not being one at all. Plus, the pride I’ve earned for my family makes me feel good. They’ve put a lot of effort into raising me and I want to prove I appreciate it by doing well.

Semper Fidelis