I have been writing down some of my service stories for my daughters in the hopes that they can tell their kids about the time I was in the Marine Corps. If these also benefit others, all the better!
Currently, if you are keeping track in the series, I am talking about my time in Okinawa Japan. I spent two years there and deployed to many other places from there. As I was thinking about what to write about next, a memory of my time at Fort Bliss, in El Paso, Texas came to me and I thought I’d share it because it provides a lesson.
I wrote previously that physical fitness was one of my struggles while in boot camp. I had no strength or endurance. Gradually, I increased my strength and endurance and scoring a first class on my Physical Fitness Test (PFT) was never an issue. But I never knew how far I could push it.
The Marine Corps plan for all recruits in recruit training is to break them down and then build them up. They make Marines from civilians. They break bad habits and replace them with discipline. They take soft civilians and make them hard Marines. It has worked over 200 years. It is in recruit training that you learn that you can do more than your mind thinks it can. Recruit training takes what you think you can do and stretches it until you are doing something you would never have imagined, or going longer than you thought possible, which brings me to this story.
One day during Stinger school at Fort Bliss, someone got out of hand after a night out. They ended up putting a huge man-sized hole in one of the walls in the barracks. The First Sergeant (1stSgt) learned of this and decided that the whole training battalion needed a little extra training. So, he woke up the whole barracks at 2 am and ordered us to line up outside in formation wearing PT clothes. After a very stern tongue-lashing from the First Sergeant, he told us that since some had, it seemed, too much energy, we’d go for a little run. It was in the middle of the night!!!!!!! So, off we ran; in formation. We ran all over Fort Bliss. If you’ve never run in formation, it is different than running on your own. You can’t set your own pace. You have to run in-step with everyone else or you will end up tripping yourself and most like the people in front or behind you. The pace is set by the person who was leading the formation. In this case, it was a very angry First Sergeant. We ran and ran, singing the whole time. At about 4am, we found our selves running in the area where the Army had their recruit training and the First Sergeant decided that we’d make sure that the recruits knew we were there. We ran up and down the streets where the recruit barracks were, singing at the top of our lungs. We saw the Army Drill Sergeants come out to see what all the noise was. It was kind of funny. As we turned back to where we came from, we encountered an obstacle course. 1st Sgt ordered us to run the obstacle course in the dark! After we finished the obstacle course, we kept running. We ran and we ran. I never thought we would finish. My whole body was numb. We ran until 6am. Once we finished running, we had our normal PT of calisthenics before we were dismissed to get ready for class. From our best calculations, we ran 13 or more miles, in formation. I had never ran that far.
It’s been about 34 years since that happened and to this day, when I think that something is too hard or that I can’t endure something anymore, I remember back to that run and I think that before that run, if you had asked me if I could run 13 miles, I would have called you crazy. I never would have even attempted that length of a run. But – now I look back at that and I can say that I made it. I ran that distance and it didn’t kill me.
That also helped me when I was in Okinawa. Every Friday, we were given a challenge. Run the 6 mile Habu trail around the base in less than an hour so we could get liberty for the weekend. It was a challenging trail, winding around the base, up and down hills, but I always finished under an hour. You didn’t want to let your platoon down.
So – when things get tough and you don’t think you can push through, remember a time in your life where you accomplished something your mind told you you couldn’t do, but you did anyway, and then push forward.
Never quit. Never surrender. Always forward