Individuality Kills

Perched above sun-washed San Diego is the Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton. The base lies just close enough to the ocean to receive the rare caress of a cool breeze.

There is an arid brown plateau far removed from the laughter and comfort of the city and past the quiet suburbanite military base, with its picket fences separating families from firing ranges.

Recruits stand at rigid attention, but the Drill Instructors only see solid green columns comprised of pond scum, bitches, punks and the occasional maggot.

Green uniforms hide us in the forest of fellow Recruits, but offer little concealment on the sparse, dusty hillside.

We are here for field week. Seven days in the hot and arid hills of southern California, alone and removed from the world. Our only comforts are MRE’s, Meals Ready to Eat, slick M16’s and sinister versions of Smokey the Bear – our Drill Instructors.

In an attempt to further reduce visibility we lather our faces with brown cammie paint. Perhaps the enemy will see only a well-tended grove with M16 A2 Service Rifles slung at shoulder arms, all thanks to the wonders of earth-tone makeup.

However, one Recruit seems especially intent on convincing the enemy that he belongs to the plant kingdom. Unfortunately predators with wide brims and scrutinizing eyes stalk the dead prairie.

Green cover, brown face, green body.

Green cover, brown face, green body.

Their eyes rove over ranks of the ‘crazy brave and phony tough’ searching furiously for inconsistencies. Smokey is ever watchful.

Green cover, brown face, green body.

Green cover, green face…

The eyes stop moving. He found his mark.

“Well, what have we here?” is the raspy half drawl half growl. There’s no response. The Recruit is a stout and sturdy 19 year old man-child with a hard-work ethic, good heart and high morals, but it doesn’t matter.

His name is Shinn. His full name is Recruit Shinn. He is here to become a Marine like the rest of us, but there’s more to it – just like the rest of us. He keeps a picture of his pregnant girlfriend in his footlocker and when it seems safe, he carries it with him. He’s the type of man to do whatever needs to be done for those he loves. I know he's that kind of man. I know, because he's doing it.

However, for all of his good qualities and admirable traits; he still has a green face.

“Hey you!”

“This Recruit sir?” Shinn barks back

“Yes you! Who the hell else would I be talking to? Let me ask you? What about you is different from everyone else? Here, let me give you a hint. Ribbit.”

The staccato of words fast and abrupt and Shinn is left stunned.

“Well, that requires a response RECRUIT!” The Drill Instructor yells louder, faster, harder.

“This Recruit does not understand the last command sir.” Cool, steady and calm, but it’s no good, one Recruit is not like the others.

“What don’t you understand, Kermit? Look around, do you see any green out here?”
“No sir!” Another sharp response.

“Well you must have because you look like a damn toad. You know what, hop over here and show me the green around here.”

“Aye aye, sir!” The Recruit moves with lightning speed out of formation, but breaks to a complete stop when he hears “ZERO.” He barks to the Drill Instructor “FREEZE!”

“I said hop.”

There’s a pause before the Recruit realizes where he is. I don’t have to see his face to know that his eyes have widened and his tan skin has grown one shade closer to mine – pale and pasty. Abruptly Drill Instructors fall on him from all directions and amidst the cacophony of growls and shouts “Hop, ribbit and Kermit” can be made out.

“Aye aye sir!”

Bending at the knees and leaping forward the Recruit begins to hop along the side of the formation.

A hoarse “ribbit” follows each leap.

“Louder Kermit!”

“Aye aye sir!”
With a clever smile that bodes poorly for the would be Marine, the Drill Instructor shouts “Stop!”

“Aye aye sir!

“Bud”

“Bud” repeats the Recruit.

“Weis”

“Weis” is the unsure echo.

“Err!”

Understanding, the Recruit sounds off “ERR!”

“Now say it all!”

“Bud-weiss-err!”

The frog man hops and croaks before the grove of tree-men who stand with impassive brown faces. No matter how good of a man he is, he made a mistake. He has become my friend. I trust him, I admire him, but I stand just like the others. Impassive and unmoving and when it’s me in his shoes, he will do the same, because mistakes kill. They murder your friends.