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A Momentary Lapse of Reason by Lex McMahon
“Sir, no sir, this recruit does not think that Drill Instructor Staff Sergeant Carpenter is an asshole, Sir!” This phrase became my mantra for twelve long weeks in 1991. The Drill Instructor in Full Metal Jacket had nothing on the sadistic bastard who pounded sand up my ass and crushed my ego.But I’m getting carried away and starting to get an erection again.
Let’s start from the beginning.
When I joined the Corps I was 230 pounds of mostly muscle, I’d just completed my first season of college football.I was the easiest sell the recruiter ever had.I walked into his office and said,“Sign me up, I want to be a grunt. I can leave tomorrow if need be. I’m ready to go. I’m a big dude. I can handle it.”
My recruiter, Sergeant Mack, flashed a toothy grin across his demonic visage. During the month that I was waiting to ship to boot camp, Mack filled my head with delusions of grandeur. He assured me that with my gung ho attitude I’d surely be the next Chesty Puller or at least graduate as company honor man.
Emboldened by Mack’s assurances that I was destined for my own statue next to the Iwo Jima Memorial, I stepped off the bus at Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego with an arrogant swagger and placed my feet upon the yellow footprints awaiting what was certain to be immediate recognition of how bad ass I really was. Of course the DI’s did not quite see it my way. Over the course of the first sleep deprived days, where it seemed that I could do nothing right, I began to question Mack’s motivation for praising my abilities.
By the time the receiving process ended and my platoon was finally formed, I no longer had the swagger and cockiness. The first few days had been rough, but I figured it couldn’t get any worse, right? And Bill Clinton did not have sexual relations with that woman, Monica Lewinsky, either.
It was time to meet the training cadre and the DI who would quickly become my nemesis, Drill Instructor Staff Sergeant Carpenter, a Force Recon Marine who I was convinced by looking at him could drink napalm and piss pure fire. He was the living incarnation of John Wayne.
On one of the first training days my platoon was taken to the PT field for an introduction to log drills, where a team of 5 or 6 recruits join together to conduct exercises using a 500-pound log. In the civilian world it would make sense to put teams together of people of similar size so as to spread the workload evenly. But this was the United States Marine Corps where adversity routinely dropped from the heavens so we could experience how to fuck it in the ass. I was placed on a log with the newest members of what the DI’s called the Midget Militia, not one of the recruits was over 5’4’’ tall and weighed more than 145 pounds. To add insult to injury, I was placed on the end of the log, which resulted in me having to do the lion’s share of the work. As I grunted out each repetition Drill Instructor Carpenter began hurling insults at me.
“Recruit Fat Body (that’s me), you’re not working hard enough, you’re letting the Midget Militia down, are you going to let your fellow Marines down in combat? I think so! You don’t deserve to join my beloved Corps!”
That’s when it happened. The words came out before I could stop them. Like the lead singer from the Dixie Chicks who bashed President Bush, I said something that would reverberate through my entire life and I instantly regretted. I looked Drill Instructor Carpenter square in his Charlie Manson gaze and said, “You’re an asshole!”
Oh. Dear. Lord.
The earth cracked open. People began falling into the deep chasm that threatened the very survival of the human race and yet, Carpenter and his minions felt the need to correct me instead of run for cover. In the midst of the hellish thrashing I endured (during which my ass nearly ignited spontaneously) several thoughts occurred to me:
1) Did I really just say that?
2) In a split second I’ve made my stay on the Depot infinitely harder.
3) I wonder what my friends back home are doing right now? I bet they are at Fat Burger.
4) I miss Fat Burger. Especially when the cheese melts over the sides of the bun and you have to pry it off the plate with a sharp knife because there ain’t no way in hell I’m not eating it.
5) Isn’t it elk season?
6) Someone just broke wind.
7) OK, snap out of it. It’s time to suck it up and prove that I deserve to be a Marine, despite my catastrophic loss of bearing.
It was in this moment of clarity that I resolved to never be broken again. I was determined to be the toughest son of a bitch in the valley!
At the conclusion of my epic thrashing, I thought, “Well that pretty much sucked, but it’s over, I’ve paid my penance and atoned for my sins.” Ah, to be young and naive again.
Drill Instructor Carpenter saw my insult as an opportunity to teach other recruits how not to be the shit bird that I was.
At the start of every class throughout the remaining twelve weeks of boot camp, Drill Instructor Carpenter would call me to attention in front of the rest of the platoon or company and ask if I thought he was still an asshole. My robotic response was always the same: “Sir, no sir, this recruit does not think that Drill Instructor Staff Sergeant Carpenter is an asshole, Sir!”
The payback did not stop with the public inquisitions. Every time I turned around there was Drill Instructor Carpenter, whispering in my ear that he was going to rip my eyes out and use my empty eye sockets as his personal spittoon. In the middle of the night, I would awake to find him hovering millimeters from my face ready to administer some “old Corps” remedial training.
Despite, or more likely, because of Drill Instructor Carpenter’s constant pressure, I graduated as honor man and was meritoriously promoted. On graduation day, basking in the euphoria of the moment with my family, Drill Instructor Carpenter approached with a grin and asked, “So Marine, am I still an asshole”? I thought for a moment and responded: “Yes Staff Sergeant. You are, but thank you. You made me the Marine I am today.” We shook hands and he walked away. I would never see Carpenter again, but I have thought of him often. The lessons he imparted helped me persevere and thrive when the bullets started flying in Somalia. Discipline will not only separate you from the long haired hippies who saunter through life with blinders on and not a care in the world, but it will also save your life.
Even if an asshole has to be the one to make you realize it.