It was 90 degrees out side with 100 percent humidity. I was in the midst of the redneck rivera, otherwise known as Pensacola, FL. It was not quite the beach vacation I was needing, though. The resort I was staying at, some called Officer Candidate School (OCS) – and my concierge was a fierce Marine Drill Instructor, GySgt Erwin.
The rules were simple, do what ever they told you to do. One rule I was slow to accept was: we were required to learn to field strip our rifles. During every room inspection, we had to dissemble the rifle, and place all the parts in a very specific position on our rack. Usually, we had one of the prior enlisted Marines come help us put our rifles back together when the inspection was over.
One fateful day GySgt Erwin and the other DI’s were in a frenzy in our room, like a school of sharks ready to feast. Amazingly, they found nothing wrong, and were about to leave our room. GySgt Erwin accidentally (or perhaps on purpose) bumped into my rack and some of the pieces of my rifle bounced around. He looked at me and just said, “Re-assemble your weapon!” After snapping tall and screaming at the top of my lungs, “Yes GySgt Erwin!” I ran over to my rack and began “pretending” to put it back together in hopes they would just leave our room and move on to the next poor souls. I think if I had just kept a straight face, everything would have been fine. That old beast, fear, flashed across my face and the I could hear commercial tag lines in my head. “Never let them see you sweat, never let them see you sweat.”
Too late. WAY too late. He was wild – he smelled fear, and I was now his prey to toy with as he chose.
The entire company was assembled in the sandbox in front of our barracks with our rifles. “Eight Count Body Builders…. BEGIN!” ” 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, ONE, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, TWO! 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, THREE!” Then I heard my name, GySgt Irwin was calling me up to the front – with my rifle. Yes, while my entire class was getting beat in the blistering heat, I was about to get a lesson on re-assembling my rifle. “1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, SEVEN.”
GySgt Erwin gave me step by step instructions until I had no questions and made no mistakes and could get the rifle back together by myself. “1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, TWENTY-ONE.” Whew – that was not so bad. Please, let my classmates stop, please! “Do it a few times just to get some practice,” He bellowed. “1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, TWENTY-FIVE, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, TWENTY-SIX.” I did it again, this time it only took ten body-builders, then again, seven body builders, and again, five body builders. Finally – it was over and he sent us all back to clean up. It would have been SO much easier to have learned that in the comfort of my barracks, but I don’t think anything would have made it sink in so deep.
I was pissed, mostly at myself, and I made a point to become the absolute fastest at field stripping my rifle in the class. In fact, at the field-day competition against the other classes toward the end of OCS, GySgt Erwin selected me to compete against all the other classes in this event. I was the only girl, and we had to run up to the rifle, strip it, reassemble it, dry-fire it to ensure it was functioning, then run to the finish line. The men ran a little faster, but but this time I was so fast with my rifle that I made up serious time on the run and took our class to victory in that event.
Moral of the story: If you need motivation, there is no one better than a Marine Drill Instructor! (Thank you Gunney – I’ll never forget you!)