My Career as a Marine Corps Drill Instructor
By Glen T. Hogoboom
The first thing they do to you in Marine Corps Boot Camp is to break you down. You are picking up paper, cigarette butts, and anything that is not attached to the ground. You will do that for 10 to 14 days, for 16 hours a day. They will not allow you to look like a Marine, or pretend you are a Marine, or even to be like those that have been training for months who are still recruits.
It will be pointed out to you that you will never amount to anything, that you are a piece of shit, and that it was a mistake that you were ever born. The only thing that you can rely on is that you will eat 3 times a day. Sleep is unlikely, and just when you achieve it, you will most likely be hit over the head with a flashlight and told to get up.
Among your Platoon are 88 or so other recruits, all scrambling every day just to keep track of their own underwear. Friendships are impossible to start, and harder to keep up. One day you know the other recruits next to you, the next day they may be gone.
Then there is the point where you meet your drill instructors, and it almost seems like they are nice, and they introduce themselves. But then all hell breaks loose, and they become devils, and you have to pick up your footlocker and march 3 miles, all the while they are yelling at you.
So then you are at your home for 13 weeks, your barracks. For the most of that time, that is where you will sleep when sleep is allowed. Everyone has to stand fire watch, one hour per night, so if you go to sleep at 8 PM, and have to stand watch at 3 AM, you get awakened for that hour.
Each Platoon has a “secretary”, usually a recruit who has college experience and is older than the others, and that was me for this Platoon in 1977. The secretary does a lot of the paperwork for the Drill Instructors, along with being harassed multiple times per day.
The only way to address a DI is to be at attention, and first saying “Sergeant Drill Instructor Sir” (then say what your business is) followed by “Sergeant Drill Instructor Sir!” Most of the time, your business was merely that you were reporting as ordered.
There are three phases to Boot Camp, the first is try and kill the recruits and if they don’t die, keep them! The idea that they are looking for a few good men is preposterous. If you have a heartbeat, they will take you. Although you might argue that those of us who survive Boot Camp are a few good men.
During the first stage, there was IQ testing, and I did very well, to the point that I was asked to meet with the Lieutenant for an interview for potential Officer Candidate School. But that was worse for me than if it never happened, since it got my hopes up without ever amounting to anything.
I got it in my mind that someone would summon me, and say, “Sir, this was all a mistake, and you don’t belong here!” But that never happened.
I was a smoker, and I never thought about it before going to Boot Camp, about what its deprivation would mean. The idea was that you would get one cigarette per day. But that rarely happened. The first time the DI’s asked who smoked, only I and a few others admitted to it.
Those who admitted to smoking rose from 5 or so to 60 or more, as time went on. All of the DI’s smoked. But we would get one smoke per day if we were lucky. All day I would wait for the DI to yell, dirty ones to the classroom!
The classroom is merely the front of the barracks, and once summoned if we didn’t get there quick enough, the DI would say hell no, you don’t want it bad enough, just go on back to your bunks. And that was disappointing, to say the least.
During phase one there were several disciplinary actions that took place regularly. One of them was if a recruit did not make his bunk properly, all hell would come down. The DI’s would come out of the woodwork, they would be yelling at the top of their lungs, ordering us all to bring our mattresses to the classroom.
So we would scramble, taking the blanket and sheets off, and dragging it to the front of the barracks, all the while trying to avoid the congestion of traffic. Of course, 88 mattresses would not fit, but that didn’t matter because before we could complete the feat, the DI’s would say “JUST STOP!”
“Take your mattresses back and make your bunks!” Of course, as soon as we accomplished that, they would start all over again, making us drag them up again, and so on.
Then there was the problem of some recruit leaving the combination lock on his foot locker unlocked. That was a holy sin! The DI’s would go wild, get your asses up to the classroom! Now go back and get all of your locks and bring them back! Then they would make all 88 of us lock our locks together, which sounds impossible, but believe me it can be done.
Now, if you were one of the recruits who failed to write down the serial number of your lock like you were ordered to do on the first day, then you had a long day ahead of you, waiting for those that knew which their locks were and the combination to unlock them.
To summarize, the first phase of Boot Camp is pretty much evaluating, testing, harassing, cajoling, and learning that this is pretty much your dissatisfactory life for as long as you can survive it, and then add eternity to that.
In phase two of Boot Camp, the emphasis is on marching, drilling as a unit. The DI’s were brutal, one time one of them marched alongside me and yelled in my ear that I was a bitch. It didn’t help my marching much, but it sure got my attention.
But, everyone got yelled at; it apparently was the choice of weapon, and it worked. After a few weeks we were marching as a unit, and no one dared make a mistake.
Finally, there were 88-foot steps in unison. And we suddenly dared to make a smile as we marched. Sometimes our marching took us in view of recruits who had just arrived, who were picking up paper and cigarette butts just like we were a month earlier.
In phase two there were many classes, like instruction in the history of the Marines, at Iwo Jima and Guadalcanal. We were so tired sometimes, you could hear the clunk as a recruit hit his head on the desk as he passed out.
The desks that we sat at were inscribed by those that came before us, with dates like 1956 or 1967, always followed by the time they had left in Boot Camp, like 20 days and a wake-up. We soon learned that the last day never counted, since all you had to do was wake up and you were done!
And there was so much time spent standing in lines, for the dentist, or the hearing doctor, or the eye doctor. You were not allowed to be a Marine and have a health problem, hence the age old expression hurry up and wait.
By the end of phase two, you started to think there might be an end to this madness, and you started to make your own marks on your desk during a class, like 32 and a wake-up.
Then comes phase three, the hardest of all, along with a chance for me to get out early.
In the third phase of Boot Camp, you go to the rifle range and the infantry training at Camp Pendleton. And the DI’s appear to let up on their infernal behavior.
At the rifle range, the rules change quite a bit, since you can’t really badger a recruit into being safe. If you ever point your rifle in the wrong direction, they write a big white X on your back, and if you ever do it again, they throw you off the range, and you might have to start Boot Camp all over again.
The first week all you do is learn the basics, along with forcing you into a sitting down position that most bodies cannot do. And you sit there for hours, day after day.
The second week you are in pre-qualification. And finally Boot Camp seems like a bit of fun. Your time is split between live fire and working in the pits. In the pits, you move the targets up and down and mark the hit of the shooter.
Also in the pits, when there is a break, private companies would drive up with their food wagons, and we could order hamburgers, hot dogs, and ice cream, without being hounded by the DI’s. The DI’s at this point apparently took vacations, much to our satisfaction.
On pre-qual day I shot as an expert. There was a rumor that on the day of qualification that would we be able to smoke all we wanted. So all of us came loaded with cigarettes.
Unfortunately, it was true, and I smoked so much I was almost sick, and I barely qualified as a marksman, which was the lowest designation, behind Expert and Sharpshooter. Still, one of my DI’s said later that he wouldn’t care if he was shot by a marksman or an expert, it would hurt as much.
Then we went into infantry training and came face to face with Mount MFer.
August 16, 1977, Elvis Presley died, and I was in Boot Camp. A DI asked me if knew who Elvis was, and of course, I said: “Yes Sir!” He told me Elvis had just died. And he asked me how old I was and I said 22, and he asked me when I was born, and I told him, and he said: “Jesus! You are older than me!”
In fact, in my Platoon of 88, there was only one recruit older than me. And for that reason, I probably had a chip on my shoulder. Nevertheless, I was the Platoon secretary, and I knew as soon as the DI’s did, what our schedule would be, sometimes even earlier than them.
While in phase 3 and just starting infantry training, I walked into the DI’s shack to check on the schedule for the next day, and I asked if lights out for the night would be at 2000, and literally, I said “two thousand.” The DI’s laughed like crazy since it would normally be pronounced as 20 hundred hours. One of the DI’s said I can just see Hogoboom writing his mom, saying they keep us up until two thousand here!
Training at Mount MF was beyond belief. We had all heard of it. When we finally got to it, we found it was a desolate piece of land that seemed almost straight up, and the march up it was over 5 miles. There were recruits throwing up, and 50% of them falling behind, including me.
It took the whole day, and when we were finally done with the march, we were exhausted. Exhausted is a mild term, we were ready for the hospital. But we made camp for the night. Our feet were bloody, and we knew the next day would not be any better.
I had to go the bathroom like crazy, and there were some old fashioned outhouses there. With my flashlight in hand, I went in to sit down, but then I saw a tarantula spider sitting there waiting for me. I don’t care much for spiders, and those the size of my foot I care even less for. So I just had to hold it in!
The next morning all of our canteens were empty of water. We had some c-rats to eat, but no liquid. It must have been 110 degrees, and apparently, it was a problem the DI’s had not anticipated. There was supposed to be a water buffalo on site. They stopped training while we waited for water, and four Platoons, over 300 recruits were stranded on Mount MF, in danger of heat exhaustion and water deprivation.
We all laid on our backs, told to not move until the water got there. We must have looked like the street in Atlanta with all the wounded soldiers laid out in ‘Gone With the Wind!’ I was never so thirsty in my life. In fact, even today when I take a drink of water, I remember that thirst.
It was not until maybe 2 PM before we finally got water. The water buffaloes (huge tanks of water) rolled in, and we all cheered. We were told we could fill two canteens each, and then go back in line and fill another two canteens. Some recruits who were at the front of the line shared with those in the back of the line, as they started over.
We got back to the barracks that night. And there were only about 15 days and a wake-up left in Boot Camp.
Now we were back in our barracks in San Diego. With 2 weeks left (and a wake-up), the emphasis was on the classroom, where we had many tests. The DI’s were now rebuilding our spirits, after breaking them down for so many weeks.
I first noticed the change when the DI yelled, dirty ones in the classroom! And then we were outside, standing at attention, passing the garbage lid from one to another, to ash our cigarettes. Meanwhile, DI Staff Sergeant Joe was standing in the balcony overlooking us. When we finished our smokes, Staff Sergeant Joe said smoke another if you want.
So WOW! He actually spoke to us in a normal tone of voice, and had a smile on his face! Some recruits replied, saying “Sir, we don’t have another one.” Then he threw his pack of cigs down to them.
I now had an assistant secretary for the Platoon, his name was Hawkins. And most of the time when our Platoon was at a class, drilling, or physical training, we were held back to do paperwork. Our Senior Drill Instructor relied on me to do most everything, and at one point he and I were going through the list of recruits, determining if they should be promoted to PFC, and what their MOS should be.
Sixteen could be promoted to Private First Class, and he named off the list, pondering each one for promotion, then he got to Hogoboom, and said yes of course. Things were looking up!
Sometimes I would sneak out and make a phone call, usually to my brother Will. Since I was in the reserves, I was to start classes at the University of Wisconsin when I got home. But it looked like I would not be home in time for registration. Then a rumor started going around that some of us would be going home a week early so that we could register for college.
I anxiously awaited each morning, to see if I might be one of those going home early. Alas, I was not, but Hawkins was. I was crushed! I got a hold of Will and set it up so he could register for me.
Meanwhile, I got a letter from my brother Gene, who was stationed in Okinawa and was a Lance Corporal. He said they might be called into action, and I asked Staff Sergeant Joe if he knew anything about it. He said no, but added that is what Marines do.
There were just a few days left, and a wake-up, but I was depressed that Hawk got to go home, and I was worried about Gene. With two days left, we got to go the PX, 2 or 3 at a time for 2 hours. That was pretty exciting, to be alone without the DI’s supervision. And most of us had $500 or more that we had been paid during training.
I bought some cigs and a lighter, unlike many recruits who spent every cent they had. And now there was one day left and a wake-up.
That final full day I got a big surprise, although I knew my parents were coming, I didn’t realize I would get to see them before graduation! Sure enough, the DI’s said my parents were downstairs, and I had 2 hours to meet with them.
To see them in this Boot Camp environment was surreal! I could barely contain my emotions, and of course, I chain smoked. The overwhelming feeling of freedom was hard to handle. And the two hours were over in the blink of an eye, and there I was back in the barracks, and even with less than 12 hours left before graduation, I could not find happiness.
But of course graduation did take place, and I could see my parents in the stands, and then just like that we all threw our covers in the air, and yelled oo-rah! Before I knew it I went from Boot Camp to a fancy restaurant and hotel with my parents, and we ate well and drank, and laughed like the summer had never happened.
At age 22 I probably took the deprivation of freedom harder than the other recruits, where many of them were just 17, and most 18. I had been jealous most of those 105 days of those recruits who actually seemed to enjoy themselves.
And when I got home, I still had a commitment with the Marine Corps to fulfill, but I vowed I would have as little to do with the USMC as possible. And boy did I fail in that vow!
After I got home from Boot Camp it took some time to adjust. I was immediately back in school at the UW, and there were football games, and while the world had stood still while I was gone, it was different for me.
One time when I was at a bar, trying to get a drink, the girl next to me gave me a weird look, and said: “Are you a Moonie or something?” Back then we all had to have the same hair length, less we would suffer the inquisitions of others.
I called Hawk, the assistant secretary, who lived in Indiana and asked him about what happened when he left early. He said Senior DI Staff Sergeant Garrett actually drove him into San Diego, and they went to a bar while waiting for his flight, and they had drinks. I was so jealous!
I had to check in with my reserve unit. I was now a PFC. and I hated doing that. I was in my hometown, and to have that feeling again from Boot Camp, was not pleasant.
Just a week after I got home, I had to attend a drill weekend, and we went up to Camp McCoy, Wisconsin. I was not at all prepared. They had not even given me a field jacket. And we flew in a helicopter in 40-degree temperature, with my legs hanging over the side of the helo, and I about froze to death.
Back at school, just walking between classes, I ran into another Marine, and we knew each other just by our haircuts. He said, “Hey, are you an OCS Candidate?” I said, “Well no, what is that?” I told him I had just completed Boot Camp. He said “Why would you do that when you are in college? You qualify for OCS.”
So I called the recruiting office where I had enlisted. And I asked them why they never told me about OCS. They said I had not told them I was in college. Soon after that, I applied, and I was accepted to Officer Candidate School.
So then, in the summer of 1978, I found myself back in the Marine Corps, in Quantico, VA in Basic Training again! That first night, laying in my bunk, I thought here I am again, and I was mad at myself! My goal was to get out of the Marine Corps, not get more into it!
I survived that training. Some did not. The contract for OCS was that you could quit whenever you wanted. And those that quit usually did it in the middle of the night, they would just get dressed, and walk down to the Sergeant, and say I am done.
In the mornings we would see that some bunks were empty. And many of us were jealous because it took guts to do that. Why would anyone stay at a place like that?
After the first two weeks in Junior OCS, we got leave for the weekend. We would take a bus into Washington DC and get a special rate at the hotels. One night we went down to 14th Street, and there was more to do there than anyone could do in a weekend.
I met a woman at a bar, she was 44 and I was 22. Her husband had died in Viet Nam. Not much was said before we found ourselves in a cab going back to her apartment in Falls Church, VA. The next morning she gave me her phone number and suggested I should call the next weekend. I did not call her, although I liked her, she made the time of my weekend go by too quickly!
I sometimes wonder about her, she would be 83 years old now. But at the time it was a good memory when I got back to base, and most of the other Officer Candidates were buzzing with rumors about me and what happened at the bar on 14th Street, and that was not a bad thing. I was quite happy when that summer of 1978 was over, and I was back home.
But it took more than one summer at OCS, to become an Officer in The Marine Corps.
It was now 1980, and I was due to attend Senior OCS in Quantico. I was a senior in college and was now engaged to be married. Once again that first night I found myself in a bunk, back in Basic Training! And I hated myself for continuing to make decisions that landed me back in Basic Training.
Senior OCS was much more difficult and was designed to weed out candidates. Our barracks was located about 50 feet from an Amtrak railway, and it came flying by every night around 2 AM. The vibration was such that our bunks would actually move across the floor. And I thought this was going to be one long arduous 6 weeks!
But after the first week, I never even heard the Amtrak during the night. I had become used to it. And the training had become redundant; there was nothing new anymore. All I had to do was wait it out, and survive until it was over. After all, there were no records kept of training, other than one had completed the training successfully.
This time when I went on leave, I met with my fiancee in Washington DC. I sent her the money for the flight, and gave her detailed instructions on what hotel to check into, and when I would be there. While we had a great weekend (actually about 30 hours only), it was so sad when it was over. I got in the bus, which did not leave right away, and watched her through the window, sitting on the side of a hill and crying.
By Senior OCS, most of us candidates were already receiving payment during college, like $100 a month, and you could no longer just quit, unless you wanted to immediately be sent to active duty as a PFC or Lance Corporal, depending on your experience. That was plenty of motivation to hang in there and get through it.
And of course I got through that training in the summer of 1980, and then all I had to do was graduate from college to get my commission as a 2nd Lieutenant. But that was not all that easy since in my first two years of college I had done miserably, hovering around 2.0. To graduate in the School of Education, I needed a 2.5.
Shortly after getting home from Senior OCS in 1980, I got married. I had one semester left in school. Using my calculator, I determined exactly what grades I would need to get to 2.5 GPA, and I needed 3.75 out of 4.0. So in all the first classes of that semester, I told every teacher this is what grade I need, and if I am not on track, please let me know.
I ended up with a 3.75 overall for the semester, and reached 2.500 exactly! In December I attended my graduation ceremony wearing the traditional robe and hat. Then I went back home and changed into my blues where Captain Hooper swore me in as a 2nd Lieutenant. It was a great day!
In February of 1981, I was scheduled to attend (TBS), also sometimes called “The Big Shit.” Now instead of having Corporals and Sergeants yelling at us, we had Captains and Majors. And instead of 13 weeks or 6 weeks, TBS was 23 weeks. By the end of TBS, I had attended 48 weeks of Basic Training, in some of the most demanding and rigorous conditions imaginable.
My mom and dad drove Roberta and me to Quantico for TBS, and when we arrived, they had no housing for us, so they put us up in the Officer’s Club. We had no car, which was due to a great miscalculation on my part. But fortunately, there were hundreds of businesses that thrived on new Lieutenants such as me. We walked just two blocks down the street and got a 1979 Mustang, then drove to an appliance store and got a TV, all on credit.
While I was at my first day of training, Roberta hiked 2 miles into town, with our clothes in a backpack and did our laundry; she did not yet know how to drive a car with a stick shift. Later, when we had time I taught her to drive the car, and then she really got busy. She got us on base housing and went and picked out furniture for it, which they delivered compliments of the Marine Corps.
Meanwhile, I was going through the induction of TBS. There were 40 of us each Platoon, and the first time we had a formation, I recognized the guy next to me, and it turned out we had been in Boot Camp together! I knew Lt. Heineman quite well, given that our last names were close in the alphabet, and we had often been next to each other in Boot Camp as well. Without the alphabet, the military would be in shambles!
He said our drill instructor, Staff Sergeant Joe, was also here, having been commissioned as a Warrant Officer. We would see him often, and now he had to salute us! What a turnaround that was! But he had been a very good DI, and we had nothing but respect for him.
We had some very good leadership at TBS. Our company commander was Major Conway. He was very hands on, leading every 10-mile march we had, and being at every occasion. He was especially interested in those of us who were married and attentive to the problems that training would have on a couple. He invited all of us who were married Officers and our wives to his home for dinner and drinks.
One time, when I was having problems qualifying with the pistol, Major Conway took me under his wing, so to speak. I was doing so badly, and I needed to hit bullseyes on all of the ten shots I had left. And he put his arm around my shoulder and said I know you can do it, just relax. And I did hit all ten. And he told me that was the most impressive marksmanship he had ever seen since it was done under such pressure.
In 2006, James T. Conway was nominated by George Bush as the 34th Commandant of the Marine Corps and promoted to 4 Star General. I am very humbled that I served with him, and knew him personally in my brief career.
Like all other training that I went through, TBS ended. Finally! So then I was off to the “real” Marine Corps!
When Marines are not fighting, they train. In essence, they are supposed to be the same whether training or fighting. In reality, it is impossible to maintain that sense of alertness when they all know nothing is going on. In my case, that meant going on to train to become a Supply Officer.
After TBS, I went to Camp Geiger (next to Camp LeJeune) for training. There were around 20 Lieutenants and 5 Warrant Officers in the class. Some of the Lieutenants were “fallen angels.” They had failed to be pilots. Before, and after our trips to the local bars for lunch and beverages, we studied supply, and inventory, and “mechanized allowance lists.” There became a competition to see who could do the best in the tests.
I was far and away the best, at 99.6%, until the last test, when all the Warrant Officers exceeded me, in what was an obvious fix. They had all spent at least 10 years in the field, and they should not have had a worry about me. Nevertheless, I was assigned the best duty location, at Cherry Point, North Carolina.
And there I went, with Roberta, in our new 1980 Nissan Maxima, equipped with a trailer hitch, and a u-haul and everything we owned. The smart folks would just let the Marine Corps handle it, where you just open your doors, and a dozen people come in and pack everything up, and before you know it, everything arrives at your new location. But we were not smart, just cynical, and distrustful.
We did not want to live in base housing, so we bought 1/2 of a duplex for $27,500. It was a home where grass would not grow, and the backyard was a sinkhole. The people in the other half of the duplex were great at first until they got transferred to Japan and they rented it out to a disc jockey (or so it seemed).
Our daughter was born at the Naval Hospital at Cherry Point in 1983, and we were worried that even the sound of a pin dropping would ruin her sleep and ours. But I was deep into my new duties, and could not spend my time with things like grass that would not grow, backyards that sunk, and noisy neighbors.
I was an Officer of Marines!
My best friend in TBS was Tom Downey. He was a Corporal before he was an Officer, and he was as cynical as I was. Now that he was an Officer, he was never lost when having to express an opinion. When some young Lieutenant would say these enlisted guys have to salute us, he would say, but you have to salute them back!
One time I was assigned to show a new 2nd Lt. around the base. We were walking through a parking lot, and a car with a blue Officer’s sticker pulled in and he saluted the car. I told him Officers do not salute cars unless maybe it has a General’s flag on it. He said, “but I’m a 2nd Lt. and all Officers are senior to me.” Then the occupant of the car got out, and made a point of standing at attention and saluting him because he was a Warrant Officer!
At this point, I was firmly implanted in my new job, as the Officer in Charge of MAG-32 ground supply. As a junior Officer, I got all the shitty little jobs. My new boss was Major Owens, and he took care of me, but when he was gone, I was at the mercy of whoever was senior at the air supply side of the unit (until later when I became senior when the Major was not around). Being on the ground side, I and my 80 people, always got the shitty little jobs.
I was a cake escort for the Marine Corps Birthday Ball, for Marine Air Group-32. When we showed up for the rehearsal there were 4 of us, and I was the senior Officer. (Yes, we actually practiced!) So the plan was, as we were stationed at each 4 of the corners of the cake as it was wheeled in, that I would give the commands as to when to start and when to stop. Once stopped and at a position on the stage, well, that was the end of what we had rehearsed. So we were standing at attention, and a Colonel came up to speak.
We were kind of in the way, and the Colonel turned to me (obviously recognizing that I was the one in charge) and said Lt. put them at ease. At that point, I issued a command, previously unknown in the USMC, and probably never used since, “Cake Escorts, on my command, stand at ease”, huh. At which point the four of us snapped to parade rest.
So another time some, when the Major was gone, some Captain assigned me the role of being the drill instructor for a Platoon, for the upcoming Wing Wide inspection. They gave me some Gunny Sergeant to assist me, and I tried as hard as I could, but the two of us sucked! After a few weeks, the Colonel sent down his CWO-3 Warrant Officer to check on me, while I was drilling the troops. And he took me aside and said you are not doing very well.
I was not really in the mood, and I told that Warrant Officer to stick it, he had no right to talk to me that way, I outranked him! And he was pretty surprised that I told him off. He thought he would have his way with me. But I knew I was in trouble, so that night I got a 12 pack of beer, and marched inside my home for hours and hours, giving drill commands, and marching from one side of the room to another, while Roberta was in the living room, wondering if I was OK or just crazy!
The next day I showed up at work, with a hangover, and Major Owens, finally being back, called me to his office. He said Glen, you are being relieved of your duties as Drill Instructor. And we both kind of laughed, and he applauded me for my efforts, but said there are plenty of actual Drill iInstructors available to train a Platoon for the inspection.
I even had two prior DI’s working for me, and they said the mark of a successful DI, is getting kicked off the field! And they said that was usually followed by a promotion in rank. So that is the story of my brief career as a Drill Instructor in the Marine Corps.
I was selected for promotion to the grade of Captain in the summer of 1984 but did not receive the actual promotion until a few months after I left active duty in 1985. I took it as a belated congratulation for my duty as a Drill Instructor, but who knows? It could have been for my outstanding performance as the “Senior Cake Escort” for the Officer’s Marine Corps Birthday Ball.