By William Manro
I stayed quiet the whole trip to San Diego. Others around me however spoke, and spoke too much. They talked like they knew what lay ahead. Their “experience” always came from a brother, a cousin, maybe a father, who had taken the same journey we were embarking on.
The more they talked, the more I disliked these people, and the more I dreaded my decision. As the trip dragged on, I came to terms with the incessant chatter. Once we landed, and were seated in the pick-up area at the San Diego International Airport, laughter filled the room. Boisterous jesters of anticipation, bravado and courage worked tirelessly to calm the fears that crept into everyone’s mind.
Then, without any warning, he walked into the room, his Smokey bear hat tilted suspiciously over his forehead, chest bearing his medals of past accomplishments and tragedies, arms battling his sleeves for room to breathe. The drill instructor shouted us to our feet. The laughter and the talk ceased.
In 2006, during my senior year of high school, I put all thoughts of college on hold. The fighting in Iraq was increasing, and Afghanistan was proving harder than any Pentagon official could have imagined. As I sat reading the articles in journalism class, and pondering when I would one day write for such prestigious publications, I had an epiphany. I shouldn’t just write about these events, but as a young American I should lend my helping hand. Within three days, I had joined the United States Marine Corps.
The whole experience of becoming a Marine is three months long, and to go into detail on the event would take a book. In fact, there are several books written on the subject. One such book is Daniel Da Cruz’s “Boot.” The book takes place nearly 15 years before I arrived at the recruit depot, but as I soon found out not much had changed. Bootcamp can be summed up with the first few steps off the bus. After piling into the bus that had arrived for us at the airport, we were shuttled to The Marine Corps Recruit Depot. The parking lot where the bus finally stopped was deathly quiet until another Smokey bear hat, spitting and shouting, forced us off the bus with the foulest language ever heard or imagined. More yelling ensued and we were rushed to stand on a group of yellow footprints perfectly covered and aligned to one another. It’s here that a significant experience, and a new chapter of my life occurred.
As I stood on those yellow footprints, painted to bring me to the position of attention, I heard the drill instructor’s speech. That Marines did everything as a team; they lived everyday with honor, courage, commitment; and that thousands of Marines who had come before us, and served their country with the utmost selflessness, had once stood where I was standing. That day, standing on those footprints, not only started that feeling, but their memory has kept it alive to this day.
Throughout bootcamp, our drill instructors instilled a sense of teamwork that only a football coach could envy. We did everything together, and when one recruit would screw up, we all paid. The drill instructors personify the phrase, “There’s no I in team.” As we stood on the yellow footprints, they explained we would no longer refer to ourselves as I; instead it was “this recruit.” The mere thought of slipping up made our bodies ache, because this recruit, and those recruits knew it meant an uncountable number of push-ups. In the beginning, having to pay for another’s mistake bred disdain for other recruits. Soon, however, the faster recruits were helping the slower recruits, and the stronger recruits would help the weaker recruits, until we all finished together. By the end, we were a team, one single body moving in unison. I look back on those times and relate them to my two deployments to Operation Iraqi Freedom. There were still the slower Marines, and the weaker Marines, but no one looking would have known.
The pillars of the Marine Corps, are honor, courage, and commitment. Walls within offices, street signs on base, and speeches from our command preached these values religiously. I had heard them used singularly, but never together as a unit, until I stood on those yellow footprints. As Marines, we were bred to take the honorable road, no matter how treacherous. I witnessed and applied this during our deployments over seas. Americans are governed by rules of engagement; the enemy unfortunately is not. And despite any opportunity that may arise to break such rules, we always maintained honor in our actions.
Courage comes in several forms. From the battlefield, to the classroom, situations present themselves that makes a person think of right or wrong, and which option is easier, but ultimately, which solution is morally and ethically sound. Once that solution is realized, courage is the force that sees it throug. Again, the yellow footprints changed that perspective.
Finally, commitment. Simply put, I had never committed to anything prior to bootcamp. I had the option of quitting whenever something turned sour. Once I stepped off those yellow footprints, the options vanished, and I was committed to the Marine Corps. No doubt, it was in part due to the contract I had signed with the United States government committing to four years of active duty, but starting on the yellow footprints, and throughout my time as a
Marine there was a bigger sense of commitment. Commitment to live with honor, to take care of your team, to honor the country and those who have sacrificed everything.
The most important thought the drill instructor placed in my mind that night was the history of those yellow footprints. Thousands had come before me, even the drill instructor himself had once stood in that very spot. I soon learned the Marine Corps honors its history more than any other branch.
There are stories of young men fighting in the trenches of World War I, who fought so bravely and fiercely that the Germans named them Teufel Hunden, which in German means “Devil Dog.” Today the term is a nickname for Marines. Marine platoons always end with a series of push-ups ending with a few dedicated to legendary Lieutenant General Chesty Puller. Puller had led Marines through several battles in Nicaragua, China, Haiti, World War II, and the
Korean War and is the Marine Corps’ most decorated Marine. Most important, however, are all the Marines who died preserving the fighting spirit and honor the Marine Corps is so well known for. To know we all began our journey on those same yellow footprints, created an overwhelming sense of pride for those Marines and the Marines I had the privilege of serving with.
Throughout my two deployments to Iraq, I had memories and met people I will not forget. But everything has a beginning, and for every Marine that beginning is painted with two yellow footprints.
William Mauro is a GRCC student