Updated: Oct 27
RIP was where they culled the herd. Attrition was the mission. It was all assholes and elbows the whole time. Constant grinding and classes and ruck runs and paddle drills back and forth through the surf zone for miles along the California coast. We lived on the beach out of old-school shelter halves, or out on patrol under the night sky. We would eat our dinner MRE every night sitting linked together arm in arm in the frigid surf with the waves breaking over us and singing “Leatherneck” till we got it right. This is “Leatherneck” as I was taught it:
I’m a Recon Ranger,
I live a life of danger,
I run everywhere I go.
I dream about wars,
And slant-eyed whores
At fifteen dollars a throw.
I’ve had all kinds of kills
and all kinds of thrills,
but the thrill that you’ll never know,
Is the thrill that’ll get ya when you get your picture on the cover of the Leatherneck.
I’m gonna buy five copies,
I’m gonna send them to my Pappie,
I’m gonna call the Sergeant Major and tell him I got my picture on the cover of The Leatherneck
I’ve got an M-16, It’s super fuckin mean,
It gets me dozens of kills each day,
But I don’t bitch and I don’t moan,
even thought I gets no pay,
You see it’s all just designed
to fuck with your mind,
but your mind will never know,
the thrill that’ll get ya when you get your picture on the cover of The Leatherneck.
We sat in the surf zone in our “deuce gear” to eat. Your deuce gear (short for 782 Gear), no idea what the hell 782 is…. Anyway, your deuce gear was a Y harness and belt and had all of your “go to war” stuff on it. That’s why you always wore it, and even slept with it on as something like a pillow, but with arms still through the shoulder straps. Mag pouches enough for at least 12 magazines, grenade pouches, utility and handbook pouch, canteens, sling rope, Med Kit, and an ass-pack that contained a survival kit and usually a survival chow, as well as our only dry things of the night, and if the waterproofing leaked, you slept spooning, shivering under a wet poncho and poncho liner. We got good at waterproofing.
I won’t go into all of it. It would take up too much time. I just remember long cold nights swimming all night long through that heavy surf zone with El Niño coming down. Doing Confirmatory Beach Reports. Diving for bottom samples 20-30 feet down in the dark. Finning with all your might, and dragging someone’s slow ass through that incessant pounding surf. Special Operations is just hard fucking work. It looks cool and all but there is nothing glamorous that is all too important to it. Most of it is just hard fucking shitty work.
Recon was volunteer only, so if at anytime anyone quit they were out. They were immediately separated from the rest of us. The instructors had us construct a cemetery and when someone quit they were made to put a rock in the cemetery as a tombstone. I was instructed to write a eulogy and hold a service with all the students and cadre present. This is what I read that cold, wet, and sandy night on Red Beach:
We are gathered here on this 28th day of August in the year of our Lord 1996 to remember these fallen comrades, and hope in due time, that we can forget all about them and all like them. May we never stoop to the lowness that they did, and never, never in our lives utter the words they did. The words that can disqualify us from our greatest hopes and aspirations, and worst of all, disqualify us from being and serving among the best men in God’s universe: United States Recon Marines.
May those here among us with a heart like theirs join them soon, and the men who have the heart and mind to drive on, no matter what the obstacles, soon achieve that which we have striven and will continue to strive for: The Title of Recon Marine.
The entire selection and training process never really ended. You could be canned at any time and “sent to the grunts (the Infantry)”, and a lot more people quit than passed overall, but within a few months time you had a pretty solid crew of guys that would most likely make it if they didn’t get injured, and that was the purpose of RIP. That, and to start things off teaching guys the way it was done in the field before teaching them the way it’s done at a school. It was the beginning of the selection process and very ad hoc which made it miserably incessant. There were no rules. The instructors were operators who were in platoons and looking for fresh meat for their own platoons standing up for the deployment cycle, so there was no school mindset. Guys were literally training and screening new guys that they would go to war with if they made it through the rest of the training, so the standard was high in both selection and in the quality and care of instruction. Everyone had skin in the game. If you made it through RIP, that meant Recon would give you a chance and send you to the Basic Recon Course or Amphibious Reconnaissance School, West and East Coast respectively. If you could make it through that, you had a shot at a future in Recon. RIP finally ended. A meager and hard ass handful were left and went straight into a Pre-scuba. Round two for me. I used to sing Pearl Jam’s “I’m still alive…hey, I’m still alive.” Every night on the way home from the pool, crammed into the back of the HMMWV with all the dive tanks and equipment, breathing in exhaust fumes, shivering because you’ve been in the water for so long that your core temperature has dropped. Haunted by underwater crossovers… over and over and over. Try to come up for air before touching the other side of the pool and shoved down by the back of the head to the bottom of the pool you keep swimming and gulping in your throat because it feels like breathing and the other side is getting closer and one more kick, and you touch it and you have to breathe so bad, and only break the surface of the water with your fist above your head and gasp for air and drag yourself up and out, your eyes feel like they’re bleeding from the chlorine but you ignore it, and get into the pushup position and hold it. Hold it until your whole body shakes and the sweat drips off your nose and keep your back straight, and keep holding it, then the cadre: “Push…Up”, and down and up “One!” you yell, voice shaking. “Push…Up” and “Two!”, and on and on… can’t catch your breath, “Pays to be a winner” the cadre yells, “crossover!”, and gasping for a final breath and splash into the water and down as deep as you can and clear your ears and swim like mad across the bottom, lungs burning, tunnel vision, get there first and you’ll get a rest… if you don’t, you won’t… For hours…
For years after that, I’d sometimes just sit back, relax and be thankful that I could breathe.
NOTE: Finally Somehow Home is a separate book from The Perfect Fucking Life, and is not yet in publication at the time of this post.
All this shit is written and created by Jason Lee Morrison © 2022