After the first few days of training at the Marine Corps Recruiting Depot in San Diego, AS President Ramiro Espinoza met the drill instructors he would have for the rest of his time at boot camp. There were three men, one in the middle wearing a black hat and the other two wearing green hats.
“Then the black hat turns to the green hats and says, ‘Drill instructors, carry out the plan of the day,'” Espinoza said. “All of a sudden, everything goes nuts. The other two just start yelling at everybody to do things, but we don't have any idea what those things are.”
Everything from folding clothes to asking to use the bathroom is done in a specific way, Gerald Stackpole, Western senior and petty officer third class in the United States Coast Guard.
“You don't have a choice on much of anything, except maybe how many breaths you take,” Stackpole said
Veteran's Outreach Center coordinator Robert Marshall described his training at Lackland Air Force Base as “all-consuming.”
“I loved it and I hated it,” Marshall said. “It's something I'd never want to do again, but for some reason it's romanticized in my memory.”
Stackpole, Espinoza and Marshall all agreed that the high points of their days at boot camp were meals and mail.
“When you don't get mail, your heart just sinks,” Marshall said. “When you get in line for chow, no matter what it is, your heart's racing because you can't wait to get that beef slop inside of you.”
The average recruit burns about 4,500 calories per day in boot camp, Stackpole said, so meal time is important.
Meals are also a benchmark for how close the day is to being done, Espinoza said.
“Once you get through three meals, the only thing left is to go to bed,” Espinoza said. “There's not that much left for people to do to you.”
Even bed time is not as relaxing as it sounds, Stackpole said. It was rare to get a seven straight hours of sleep.
“You're not supposed to be able to fall asleep standing up, but you do,” he said.
Stackpole, whose father was an army drill sergeant, said it is difficult to be prepared for the experience of boot camp.
“My goal was to fly under the radar,” Stackpole said. “If they don't know your name by the end, you know you did a good job…they learned my name pretty fast.”
Marshall, whose parents also served in the military, said it is easier to get physically prepared for boot camp than it is to get mentally prepared.
Although boot camp may sound impossible in the abstract, it becomes routine eventually, Espinoza said.
“People are naturally more adaptive than they realize,” Espinoza said. “They just don't have a reason to have to be adaptive.”
After boot camp, Espinoza went on to combat training, which he said was harder than boot camp. Espinoza sprained his ankle during a 20 mile night march.
“At the end of it, I ran into the person in front of me because my legs were just walking,” Espinoza said. “It wasn't even a conscious thing anymore; my legs were just doing their thing.”
After the strict environment of boot camp, having freedom again feels unreal for many people. Marshall described the nervous looks on the faces of trainees during their first week out of boot camp. Stackpole said he had a casual conversation with one of his former company commanders after boot camp.
“Once boot camp's over, the military is a totally different world,” Stackpole said.
Marshall, who's 18-year-old sister is considering entering the military, said boot camp was a good experience overall.
“If I can feel good about seeing my sister go into something like that, I can't say it was bad at all,” Marshall said.
Marshall said he offers the same advice to anyone going to boot camp that his parents gave him.
“Don't volunteer for anything, and do what they say,” Marshall said.
People eventually get the hang of boot camp, Espinoza said.
“Don't wear your favorite shirt on the day you go to boot camp,” Espinoza said. “I got blood on my favorite shirt…I was not happy.”