Intruder On Deck!
By Jim Kuiken
So I’m in Marine Corps Boot Camp in San Diego, somewhere in March of 1973, going through Third Phase just a few weeks from graduation, when I flubbed a very simple question / exercise during our final Field First Aid test. I don’t remember what it was, but I believe it had to do with a gut wound or a compound fracture of the femur…but in any case, it was an exposed wound – and should have been pretty simple.
I was up for Meritorious Promotion to Private First Class
(E-2, to be effective a week before graduation), because of my outstanding performance, attitude, and Esprit de Corps…and I had screwed up a simple test question for no good reason… A GREAT way to get some attention from your Drill Instructor – just not positive attention.
There had been plenty of screw ups by pretty much every Recruit during Boot Camp (you can read about this one, and lots more of them in my upcoming book – The Making of a Warrior), but as we say about our rifles – “There are many like it, but this one is mine…”
The Senior Drill Instructor, who was not a large man, but who was a combat veteran (Force Reconnaissance) from Vietnam – and was terrifyingly perfect – swooped in on me, nose to nose with the brim of his “Smokie” (hat) touching my forehead, and said “What the #@*! was that Kuiken? I felt a quiver in my legs, and my heart jumped into overdrive.
Before I could open my mouth to answer, he stepped back and pointing to the floor said “Bends and Thrusts. Begin!”
Without a word or any hesitation, I immediately began a four-count exercise – with enthusiasm – by dropping down to a squat position with my hands on the ground in front of me “ONE”, kicking my legs back and landing in a good push-up position “TWO”, jumping my legs back up under me into a squat position – hands still on the ground “THREE”, and shooting back up to a standing position – hands on my hips “ONE”. That was one squat-thrust. He hadn’t said how many, so I just kept going. “ONE, TWO, THREE, TWO – ONE, TWO, THREE, THREE…)
Getting bored, he walked around the tables and stations, and watched the other recruits perform their tests until they were all done and dismissed, then he went into the Drill Instructor’s Hooch (an office at the end of the squad bay with a cot, small table and a couple of chairs), made a cup of coffee, and came back out to watch me. “ONE, TWO, THREE, FIFTY-SIX – ONE, TWO, THREE, FIFTY-SEVEN…”
Either I was starting to slow down, or he just got bored watching me do the same thing over and over, and he said “Mountain Climbers. Begin!”
Having just shot up to standing, I immediately dropped back into a full push-up position, and remaining down, I began that four-count exercise – with enthusiasm.
Hands remaining on the floor, I jumped my right leg forward until my foot was under my waist, knee under my chest while my left foot remained back in the push-up position…looking very much like a runner getting ready to start a race “ONE”. Then I jumped slightly up, keeping my hands on the floor, and switched feet in one move, my right one all the way back, left one under my waist with the knee under my chest “TWO”, repeated the move, switching feet…like climbing a mountain…“THREE”, and one more time “ONE”!
By this time I was huffing and puffing, and sweating profusely with the sweat dripping off of my chin and nose, forming a puddle there on the floor under my face. He turned and walked into the Drill Instructor’s hooch, and slammed the door – probably getting some more coffee.
About a minute later, I heard the front hatch (door) open, and looking out from under the folding table I was down behind while doing my mountain climbers, I saw shiny shoes…this was not one of my Drill Instructors, so I shot to my feet at the position of attention, and in a loud, clear voice, announced “SIR, SPY ON DECK, AYE AYE, SIR!”
It was a Lieutenant.
As the Drill Instructor shot out of his office, the Lieutenant asked me “Private, what were you doing down there?” My Senior Drill Instructor started to say something, but the Lieutenant held up a hand, and said “I’m not talking to you Sergeant. I’m asking this private.”
I knew something was wrong and the Drill Instructor was in trouble, but an officer had asked me a question, so I had to answer.
“Sir, the Private dropped his pen, looking for his pen, Sir.”
That got me a stern glance from the Lieutenant, and he stepped a bit closer and said “I’m going to ask you again Private. I saw what you were doing down there when I walked in, so don’t play games with me! What were you doing down there when I walked in?”
Now I was on notice – he had seen me and knew exactly what had been going on when he came in, and I had no choice but to answer him.
“Sir, the Private dropped his pen, looking for his pen, Sir!”
He said some very un-‘Officer and a Gentleman’ words, gave the Sergeant a dirty look, spun on his heel and walked out.
The Senior Drill Instructor stood there for a moment, watching him walk out, then he turned back to me, and looking me straight in the eyes, said “Did I tell you to stop?”
“SIR, NO SIR!” I dropped as quickly as I could and resumed my mountain climbers – with enthusiasm – as he turned, walked back into his hooch, picked his coffee cup back up and slammed the door behind him.
I knew that was his way of showing appreciation…