On July 18, I arrived at Parris Island, SC. Less than two months later, on September 6, I was honorably discharged from the Marine Corps. I failed to make it through boot camp or, more accurately, boot camp failed to make it through me.
Everyone knows that Marine Corps boot camp is tough. I knew it would be tough before I went. What I didn't know is that the drill instructors often cross lines and break rules. In boot camp, the senior drill instructor is supposed to be a parental-type authority whom recruits can take their problems to. If the senior drill instructor is abusive to recruits, they can in theory plead their case to the series commander. The problem is, the only way they can have access to the series commander is through the senior drill instructor. And drill instructors have a special disdain for “snitches” (recruits who dare to mention instances of abuse.)
Soon after arriving at boot camp, I became sick. I remained ill for a month. In spite of being sick, I managed to fulfill the physical requirements of boot camp for over two weeks. I was one of the fastest runners in my platoon, despite being ten years older than most of my fellow recruits. I could easily perform fireman's carry and other strength exercises. I had some difficulty with drill and martial arts, having never practiced the movements before. But I did my best to improve in those areas.
One day, my platoon tackled the Confidence Course. I was doing the Slide for Life when the chief drill instructor yelled at me, ordering me to drop from the rope and fall into the pond below. I instantly did so, in spite of the fact that I am a poor swimmer. I fell like a rock into the pond, weighed down by my combat boots. I found that the water was deeper than I had expected and I accidentally sucked in some of the dirty pond water.
A couple days later, my platoon went to the PT field to work out. We were doing warm-up exercises when I felt my strength draining away. Also, it was getting hard for me to breathe properly. During the days leading up to this, I had been constantly coughing throughout the night and getting hardly any sleep, but I didn't know what was wrong with me. I thought maybe my cold had worsened because of the constant yelling we were made to do every day. I was worried because we were already on the PT field, and I knew that if I requested to go to medical, it wouldn't be received well. (In boot camp, if you request to go to medical, the drill instructors often accuse you of trying to get out of training.) I told my SDI (senior drill instructor) that I was dizzy. She sarcastically asked me if I was dying, and when I said no, she said, “Then you're going to PT with us.” I was assigned to my SDI's PT group. All morning, I struggled through PT. When we did pushups, I could barely lift myself off the ground, which wasn't normal. And when we ran, I was last place, instead of being in front as I usually was.
After PT, my platoon had MCMAP, the Marine Corps' martial arts. I was hoping to just make it through the day, but during MCMAP, my SDI singled me out and started yelling at me to do high knees higher and to yell louder, neither of which I could do at that point. She told me that she would drop me for not trying hard enough. She kept on yelling at me until I finally requested to go to medical. Once I requested that, she and the chief drill instructor (who had previously told my platoon, “I don't give a **** about you; I only care about your drill instructors”) started mocking me and telling me that I was a heat case and that it was my fault for not drinking enough water (which medical later told me was not true.) Then they asked me what time of day it was, and when I hesitated to answer, one said they should send me to mental health and another said I was “slow”. Finally I was taken to the hospital, where I was diagnosed with pneumonia.