Testing a human to the point of breaking is what boot camp is all about. They apply maximum mental and physical pressure until you either break, or make it through. At the time I went through, depending on which part of the country you came from, you could have gone to Great Lakes, San Diego, or Orlando. I went to Orlando when the weather was turning warm and very muggy.
Our company, C118, was led by Chief Ford. We were his last group to train before retirement. Chief had a way of expressing himself when he talked (yelled) by moving his neck up and down like a chicken; especially when he added a certain four-letter word. If you know what I mean. We quickly learned that any negative response was met with pushups. Lots of them, and not just the one making the comment, but the whole company.
After the first few weeks, our company wasn’t doing well with inspections and Chief Ford had enough. After coming back from breakfast one morning and finding all our bunks pushed over and belongings thrown into a pile, we were told to pack up, because we were moving to a new barracks.
Not only were we having to pick up and move, we were subjected to several hours of pure physical exhaustion from pushups, and every other kind of exercise, in the heat. This was the end of ‘Hell Week,’ we later learned, and, by the end of it, we had all broke. We felt like we were at the very bottom, with nowhere to go but up.
It couldn’t have been a better thing for us to experience. We moved to the new barracks which was freshly painted and had a mural of the American flag covering the main wall. The first thing Chief Ford did was to have us all stand at attention, look at that flag, and listen to the song, ‘I’m proud to be an American’ while telling us THAT was the reason we were there. He began the process of rebuilding us from that point on.
The next day was Sunday and I, and another recruit, had to get up early to go to church. We had volunteered to help with the services each week. It turned out not to be a good morning. The person on watch failed to wake us, causing us to be late. We were all exhausted from the day before. Below is a picture of that chapel which was on the other side of the base.
Chief Ford didn’t care whose fault it was, so we all went that evening to ‘special training,’ for those who mess up, right after 'Hell Week.' It consisted of yet another hour of heavy exercise until we dropped. One of us didn’t make it out after that one. I barely did.
Our next inspection was only a few days later, but this time, it was different. I decided to speak up before the inspection while we were all in line. I said, ‘Chief Ford! Permission to PRAY before the inspection!’
He agreed, thankfully. I ended the prayer by saying, ‘and thank you, Lord, for giving us a perfect 4.0!’. His response was, ‘you’d better F___ g hope you get a 4.0…’ Amazingly, we did! A perfect score!
From that point on, the company had me pray before every inspection and we nearly aced all of them. We made it through ‘Hell Week’ with a new barracks, respect for the flag, unity of heart, and all with a bit prayer.
Life can seem like hell sometimes. Like we’re at our physical and emotional point of breaking. Our life can seem out of our control and as though we’ve failed, with no hope of return.
We may not see that ‘new barracks’ around the corner, or the answer to our prayers, but, if we pray and hold on, the answer may be closer than we think. Sure, life is longer than a week, but the principle is the same.
If there’s one thing boot camp taught me was, in the words of Chief Ford, ‘no matter how hard it gets, there’s always someone in the world who has it harder than me.’ It was a great lesson and one that I still think about today when I start feeling sorry for myself.
As we die to ourselves, and let God reshape us into His image, he will guide us through the storms of life. We’ll get past the hell and, with a bit of hope, love, and faith, we’ll get to Heaven. There is a light at the end of that tunnel. All He asks of us is to believe (and hold on...).
Thank you for reading and sharing one of my life’s memories today. Tomorrow, Boot Camp Pt 3 – Number One!