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The Transformation: Parris Island, SC

February 23, 2014. I stepped onto the yellow foot prints of Parris Island, SC and thought, “what the Fuck”. Pardon my language. I didn’t curse like a sailor before but I do now. (Side note: Cursing around sailors is frowned upon now so this saying is outdated…) I didn’t have many expectations. All I knew was what I was told and what information Youtube provided me. I wasn’t ready but I wasn’t NOT ready, if you understand. I recall a lot of screaming. I was screaming. The other recruits were screaming. The drill instructors were most definitely screaming.

Receiving is what they call the first week when you receive all of the gear you’re going to need and learn the basic ropes of how to be a recruit. How to form up, how to respond, how to move, how to request permission for anything, how you will eat, sleep, and go to the bathroom. You do not sleep for the first 2 days. You eat out of a box for all three all week, if I’m remembering correctly, and you spend long hours at medical receiving shots. At the end of the week, you are greeted by your drill instructors. Four women, Marines, stand before you in their uniform sharp and crisp, moving precisely as one, disciplined, staring straight ahead as they perform their creed. You sit there, memorized, fantasizing about becoming one of them, and then suddenly, as if the sound of an inaudible bell went off, they unleash hell and fury on your ass.

These women you were just admiring are chasing after you while one of them count down all kinds of wrong, skipping numbers, from 100 to 0 as you run and try to make it to your spot in front of your rack. I remember honestly not even thinking or being able to understand what was being said, but somehow, I gave a response and moved like I was supposed to. Even in boot camp I managed to live inside of my own little world. Observing enough to know where I needed to be but at the same time distracted by my own thoughts. It was not for me. I hated it. Just like everyone else. My first heavy hat, Sgt Perez, always would say in her raspy voice, “Quit your complaining. I don’t care if you don’t like it here. You’re here so do what you have to do.” She was my favorite until 2 drill instructors later, Sgt Harris replaced her. There was no time feeling sorry for yourself. Something, I was a pro at doing like many others. I complained every chance I got in my head. In boot camp, that comes to an end eventually especially when they are constantly reminding you, “No one cares!” It’s true. No one cares about it hurting. No one care about what you don’t want to do. No one gives a fuck. That was true then, before the Marine Corps, and now. We were weak, mentally. I got so frustrated by the constant yelling in my face and being told I was nothing. I wanted to quit. But that’s the trick. When someone is constantly beating down on you and telling you, you’re nothing, you either prove them right or you prove them wrong. I was tired of being called selfish and weak and feeling like I was incapable. At first, my motivation was getting off the island and the fastest way off the island was to graduate. (But the fastest way out the Marine Corps was not to) Gradually, my mindset changed and I wanted to be better and I actually believed in myself. Until the last few weeks, I was over the BS and all I wanted was to get off the damn island again.

I was a stature recruit meaning I didn’t stand out from the different recruits. I blended in like I have all my life. My second heavy, whose name I can’t remember, I hated her. She stayed on my ass. Confused me and this other black girl up, who also had a short hair style, same skin tone, and wore those boot ass glasses they gave us. She always caught me doing the wrong thing. It felt like she always had her eyes on me. She picked me out to go to the pit with three other girls. As we were running outside, I was the last recruit in front of her and I just let the door slam in her face. I’m surprised I didn’t get in more trouble than I did. She exclaimed, “Harden, this is exactly why I don’t like you.” I was cracking up inside. Throughout boot camp, I appreciated all of the black, female, Marines I saw. Although scary as hell, they were beautiful and badass. Rare they became when I finally reached my duty station.

Photo by Lance Cpl. Vaniah Temple

Not once did I ever get dropped to another platoon. I thought I would have. I couldn’t swim, I couldn’t shoot, I can’t run, I’m afraid of heights and my ass can’t hike. I was an iron duck meaning I needed extra time to pass the swim qualification. In all honesty, I didn’t even try the first time. They wanted us to swim 25m in our uniform and boots. I paddled in place for a moment and the next thing I know, I’m just standing in the pool confused, thinking, “wait, what am I suppose to be doing?” I came face to face to a swim instructor in goggles who asked if my feet were touching the floor. I shook my head and was told to get out. My biggest fear was getting pushed off the high board. I’m scared of heights. But I stood there, arms folded, blind as a bat, counted down from 3, and shouted “MARINE CORPS” and was pushed into the water. I came to the surface, swam 25m like it was nothing. I had no problem shooting when we finally went to the range. I know everyone’s says this but I swear, the day before qualification, I shot an expert!! But on the actually day, I scored the lowest for marksmen. I don’t know how that happened. Getting through all the hikes really surprised me. My feet were always barking and I just wanted to stop. Just stop walking, drop my pack, and call it a day. This never happened. I don’t know how often we ran but I can’t run for shit. I run so slow a person can walk at a normal pace right pass me. Gratefully……I made it through all of those obstacles. I the most fearful person I know was becoming fearless.

Besides all of the training, there were moments we could bond and interact with one another. Chow was not one of those times. An hour before lights out we were able to communicate with one another freely as we prepared for the next day or wrote letters. I took that time to write letters and talk to my rack mate. She was always in a good mood. I don’t recall ever seeing her bothered by anything. Even when she’d make a mistake, there was a smile on her face. Maybe it had something to do with her getting letters from her family every night. Sundays, we went to church. Mainly to get away from the drill instructors. They couldn’t mess with us there. I was the most religious I ever been in my life at boot camp. Call it sad or whatever, but aint no way I was getting through boot camp without some Jesus.

I was motivated at the end of it all. The morning I received my eagle, globe, and anchor emblem, I cried tears of joy. It was hard. It was challenging and I made it. I almost didn’t want to leave. (lmaooooooooo, let me stop, I wanted to leave) I was so used to everything, when my mother arrived to family day with my then boyfriend and sister, I didn’t know how to react. After graduation, I fell immediately asleep on the car ride back home. It took probably a day or so before I could feel myself again. 10 days I was home, enjoying sleep and stuffing my face with my favorite food and hugged up with my boyfriend at the time. I was happy. I had made it. I was a Marine. The hard part was over…or so I thought.

2017 Bathroom Selfie in my Bravos