woman takes readers
inside Marine Corps Parris Island
(March 2002) PARRIS ISLAND, S.C. - Editors Note:
Pfc. Heather Jackson, 22, in January graduated from U.S. Marine Corp
basic training in Parris Island, S.C. She is a Carroll County High School
graduate and the daughter of Rick and Becky Jackson of Carrollton, Ky.
She wrote this diary about her experiences at boot camp. Because of
its length, it will appear in three parts over three issues.
I - Arrival at Boot Camp
The infamous yellow footprints. Nobody can really understand the meaning
of them until they stand on them as they begin the challenge of their
lives. I remember the night very well. The bus pulled up to the footprints
at about midnight on Oct. 30th, 2001. We had arrived at our destination:
The U.S. Marine Recruit Depot at Parris Island, S.C.
The receiving drill instructor came on his
bus and ordered us to exit quickly. We scurried off the bus and got
on the footprints. From here, we were rushed into the receiving building
to make our phone call home to let our parents know we arrived safely.
My father answered the phone, and all I said was, Im here.
Ive got to go.
That would be the last call I made until my 10-minute phone call on
Christmas. Any other contact with the outside world was made through
In receiving, we were up for more than 24 hours doing paper work, clothing
issue and giving up our personal effects. Finally, we were bused over
to our squad bay, where we would spend the next three months with our
Here, we learned to do everything quicker than weve ever done
anything in our lives everything from getting dressed to using
the restroom (head). The drill instructor would literally
count us down usually 30 seconds, knowing full well that we werent
going to finish in time.
Looking back at those first days, I fully realize the mental stress
that was put on us. After a couple of weeks, it was nothing to hear
the drill instructor start her countdown. We actually didnt know
how to handle it if she didnt count us down. If feeling particularly
feisty, she would stand behind us during chowtime and count us down.
Its interesting seeing how much you can eat in 60 seconds.
Now I see that everything we did had a point to it. Everything from
holding our canteen a certain way while walking in a cool down circle
to sitting a certain way on the floor (deck) during a class.
The first big thing we did was swim qualification. It depended
on a recruits MOS (job) as to what level she or he had to pass,
with Level 1 being the most difficult. Since my MOS is Aviation Support
and has nothing to do with water, I had to qualify at Level 4, which
is the level everyone had to pass.
We first had to swim across the shallow end of the pool to weed out
the nonswimmers. If you touched the bottom, you were considered someone
who needed further instruction. If you made it across, you went down
to the deep end and got in line for the 10-foot tower. As the instructor
shouted Go! two recruits started across. We had to cross
our arms across our chest and grab our collars. If you let go, you had
to start over. I didnt let go.
After everyone jumped off the tower, we had to get in the water and
use one of four different life saving methods to float for four minutes.
I remember two methods. One was simply treading water, the other was
to pull your blouse tight around your neck, pull one side out, go under
water, blow air into that side, close the blouse and surface.
The blouse holds air, turning into a floatation device. This is the
method I used, and after getting the air into my blouse, I just laid
back and floated around for four minutes. It was pretty relaxing.
We were then required to swim 25 meters. I only heard bits and pieces
of what the other levels were like, but only two girls qualified at
Level 2. They said it was pretty hard.
Some stuff the other levels required was to jump in with a helmet, pack
and flak jacket on. Im not sure how far they had to swim, but
I know they all came back exhausted. If you were a good swimmer, you
probably wouldnt have too much of a hard time, but being one who
didnt have to do it, I cant really say this for sure.
I could be leaving some important events out because the whole time
has pretty much blended into a boot camp blur. Most everything was done
quickly and made to be stressful, even if it was just getting from point
A to point B. I want to add for those who cringe at the words boot
camp, that things are made to be stressful to prepare you for combat
and any other thing that comes your way. This was explained to us often.
Part II - The Rifle Range
During my experience at U.S. Marine Corp boot camp, the rifle range
proved to be one of the most stressful times for me. I didnt expect
it to be
this way at all. I have lived on a farm all my life and used a gun almost
as long. The big difference was that I have never shot with open sights
before. I also never had to adjust the sights on my own. I always had
my dad at my side and a trusty scope with crosshairs. This time I had
neither, and I almost didnt make it to graduation with my original
platoon. Six girls who didnt qualify were sent back four weeks
We lived in a different squad bay while at the range. The squad bay
itself was very disconcerting. If youve ever seen the movie Full
Jacket, you know what the rifle range squad bay looked like right
down to the red floor.
During this time, the drill instructors played more games with us than
before. Im not really sure why, but they did seem to enjoy themselves
like the Ken and Barbie dress up where we had to get dressed
and undressed while being counted down. There was always one recruit
who wasnt up to speed, so for us all to be alike, we would be
forced to repeat the dress-undress again. After we looked back on it,
it was pretty humorous.
We also had to do the two sheets and a blanket. This is where we had
to rip our blankets off the racks and get the lint out of everything.
This was usually done after cleaning the squad bay so, of course, we
had to clean it again. After the drill instructor thought our blankets
were lint free, we had two minutes to make our racks. Of course, we
never did make it, so we ended up playing more games.
Now, as for actually being on the rifle range, it wasnt too bad.
The coaches kept it pretty light and joked with us. My coach was great,
though he did eat Pop Tarts in front of us. Ive never had to shoot
without a scope, so the concept of lining the front sight up with the
rear sight was
completely beyond me for some reason.
My coach and PMI (Professional Marksmanship Instructor) nearly pulled
their hair out because of me. It took me three times to qualify on the
range, and it was only by five points. But I was very happy with those
Another thing that happened at the rifle range was pulling pits, which
was pulling the targets as other recruits were firing at them. This
was an experience in itself and where some of us recruits had the most
fun. We were allowed to talk and joke around while doing the targets.
When we left the rifle range, I swore I never wanted to see that side
of Parris Island again, but I ended up there two more times. The next
time I was to see it was during A-line. During A-line we did a lot of
the crawling in the dirt, going under barbed wire and shooting that
you associate with boot camp. We learned how to do the high crawl and
low crawl. These two things I hated doing because it was very tiring
and your elbows were raw, since the sand made its way into your blouse
while wallowing around in it with the M16. You can only imagine the
amount of sand shoved into the muzzle. Cleaning your weapon became a
major chore during and after A-line.
The coolest thing we did during this part of training was the night
firing. After it got dark, we were giving tracer bullets and told to
fire at stationary and moving targets. You had to wait until they shot
an illumination flare, and then it sounded like World War III had broken
out. Ive never seen tracer bullets being fired in real life, so
this was a major experience for me. In a weird way it motivated me.
After A-line was BWT or Basic Warrior Training. As you can tell, we
were starting to get into some serious stuff now that we were well into
recruit training. In BWT, we did the repel tower, slept outside in hooches
and went through the gas chamber. The hooch is pretty much a tent made
by using two shelter halves that are made of a heavy material.
During this time, we actually slept with our rifle as if we werent
tired of it by now. I am very scared of heights, but obviously I had
to conquer this fear to do the repel tower. We repelled two times. One
time was done without the wall and one time was with the wall. Both
times you had to hang your heals over the edge, hold your break and
fall backward. That proved to be the hardest part.
Falling into thin air is just not one thing Im very fond of. But
after I was able to suck it up and do it, the rest wasnt too hard.
I saw that there is almost no way that you will fall uncontrollably.
Actually, before you do that youll either spin around away from
the tower or flip upside down, something that happened often.
Everyone is curious about the gas chamber. Yes, its pretty rough,
but you dont die. Its supposed to teach you confidence in
your gas mask after youve learned how to use it. I must have not
learned how to use it right because the second I walked into the building
with my mask on, I could smell the CS gas, which is tear gas. My throat
started to burn, eyes started to water, and I started having a little
bit of trouble breathing.
I was the second girl in the building, so I had to walk to the other
side of the building and wait against the wall while everyone else filed
in. After everyone got in, they shut the doors and started stirring
the gas up even more. The sounds that were in the building would have
been enough to scare
anyone. The stirring sounded like a bell being rattled around and all
the girls were coughing, gagging and crying.
Then they made us break the seal. After the seal was broken, we put
the mask on top our heads for a couple of seconds and then put it back
on. Then we were told to take the mask off and hold it out parallel
to the deck with both hands. We stayed like that for a couple of seconds
and then were told to put it back on. Finally, our time was up and the
instructor banged on the hatch for someone on the outside to open it.
Nice to know that we were locked in.
During the time inside, the drill instructors were pretty cool. They
were there to keep us calm and under control, not to yell at us for
Part III The Final Challenge
The Crucible was the last and biggest test at boot camp in Parris Island,
S.C., for us to become Marines. It consisted of being up for 54 hours,
only having three meals and eight hours of
sleep the whole time. Our platoon was split up into three teams, with
three drill instructors who were more like mentors during this time.
During the Crucible, we had events and warrior stations. The events
were mandatory to accomplish, and the warrior stations were there to
us how to work as a team to accomplish a mission.
Each warrior station had a Medal of Honor story to go along with it.
All in all, the Crucible was pretty fun, even though it was challenging.
We used everything we had learned throughout basic training to finish
the events. As long as we worked as a team, the tasks were easy. As
you can imagine though, 10 or so girls cannot do this without some troubles.
The last thing we had to accomplish to become a Marine was to hike nine
miles back in the morning. We were sore, tired and hungry. We hiked
the Iwo Jima monument near the parade deck on Parris Island. They raised
the American Flag and then started handing out our eagle, globe and
It was a very emotional time for everyone, even the males because this
is what we had been working toward for 12 weeks.
When my team leader got to me and put the EGA in my hand, it was a moment
I will remember for a long time. I had actually accomplished something
only a few have accomplished and fewer women.
After being hungry for 54 hours, we were treated to a warriors
breakfast. This was awesome. We were given as much food as we could
handle and were allowed to go back as many times as we wanted. For 12
weeks, we were given only a certain amount and one pass at the food.
Now we could eat until we were sick, and this we did.
We had a week left at this point. When recruits passed us, they had
to give the proper greeting of the day, just like drill instructors
or any other Marine. It felt great! We finally had a little respect,
although we were still treated like recruits by the other Marines and
drill instructors, but not as bad as before.
We were due to graduate on Friday, Jan. 25, and my family came down
to Parris Island in time for Family Day on Thursday, Jan. 24. That morning
we had a 3.2 motivational run, where we ran by all the battalions and
rang the bells that were out front while singing cadence. It was pretty
cool mostly because we ran with the males, and it was a big, loud ordeal.
We were definitely noticed, although my own parents had trouble recognizing
That afternoon was Family Day liberty, and I got to hang out with everyone
who came down to my graduation. I was one of the lucky ones who had
14 people come all the way from Kentucky for my graduation. They were
ready for me with plenty of food and chocolate. I was allowed to take
them around the island and show them most of the stuff we went through.
It felt good to see that they were impressed with my accomplishments.
The day came for graduation. We had practiced all week for a two-hour
outdoor graduation, but it was raining, so we did a 15-minute ceremony
were dismissed. Although the outdoor graduation would have been a good
show for the families, I didnt miss all the marching and standing.
If youve ever been looking forward to getting somewhere, and its
far away, you know how I felt on the long ride home. I had been away
for three months and couldnt wait to see Kentucky. For anyone
who is ready to leave home, when youve been gone for a bit, youll
be happy to see your hometown.
During my leave, I visited everyone I havent talked to in three
months and caught up on some sleep. After my 10 days, I received recruiters
assistance. New Marines can get this if their MOS school isnt
scheduled until later. During recruiters assistance, you report
to your recruiting office and go to high schools and out in the area
to help recruit people to join the Marines.
I have now come to respect the job of Sgt. McDew and all the other Marines
who are on recruiting duty. It is not an easy job, and some people have
some funny ideas about what Marines do. Im sure everyone has heard
that Marines are brainwashed, crazy and all we do is roll around in
the mud and kill people.
I can say for myself that I didnt change that much in recruit
training; some people may call me crazy, but just jokingly. I havent
been muddy since recruit training, and we are trained to kill only if
My next challenge will be combat training at Camp Geiger, N.C., for
three weeks. Then it is on to Pensacola, Fla., for 17 weeks MOS training.
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