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Private Alejos by JGusmc
As a former recruit, I can say the following with full conviction. Recruits are truly stupid animals. An old drill instructor maxim states that "If you put a naked recruit in a totally empty room with two bee-bees, he'll lose one and break the other." In such a high stress environment with such controlling factors, the average teenager loses all common sense. It is no wonder why drill instructors often view recruits with contempt.
The first goal for a drill instructor is to break down all individuality so that everyone is on the same level, regardless of status. Like Gunnery Sergeant Hartman so eloquently put it in Full Metal Jacket, "Here, you are all equally worthless!" This may sound harsh on the surface. No one likes to think of a situation where everyone is stripped of their individual attributes. Most anti-military types jump on this aspect as the beginning of the brainwashing but never understand the entire purpose. We live in a society with prejudice, divorce, loose ethics, loathing of authority, selfishness, and shaky morals. Children grow up with combinations of wrong examples such as none-for-all and all-for-me. Then there are those at the other end of the spectrum that have never had to lift a finger in their life. Money and status has always shielded them from "The Real World." The recruits that show up to boot camp come from every point in this spectrum so how do you deal with such a varied group?
The breakdown is the answer. In boot camp, the high school quarterback/prom king is the same as the street kid who is the same as the computer nerd. Your worth is your performance. No resumes, no letterman's jackets, no $100 haircuts. You are all recruits. Period.
The building-up process is later but in first phase, everyone is "equally worthless." The first thing that happens when you arrive is the world-famous haircut. This happens within minutes of arriving at the depot. Believe me, after having your head shaved, everyone is the same: goofy and scared. You stand in a line facing forward. At the front of the line, the recruit on deck turns 90 degrees to watch the recruit in front of him get shaved. It is not pretty. Drill instructors are yelling, calling the long-haired recruits "Jesus Christ" and threatening to shave them themselves. I had not cut my hair for a month because I though, "What's the use?" So when I sat down, the hair came down like black rain. It took all of about 30 seconds and my head was numb. I was afraid to look in the mirror and did not even have the opportunity for a couple of hours. When I did, ugliness was definitely the word of the hour.
Here is where the differences between San Diego and Parris Island begin. In San Diego, your first haircut is a buzz cut and the rest are high and tights. This means that the top is not cut again during the training cycle. In Parris Island, you get shaved bald until the week you leave.
What develops in San Diego is an interesting status symbol. The longer your hair is on top indicates how long you have been there hence your seniority. By third phase, your hair has had two months of growth and you are looking less and less like an alien. The lucky ones in this situation are the Hispanics and the Asians. I am half Mexican but my hair does not grow straight up. But those with thick hair get quite the island on their grapes by third phase. Enter, Private Alejos.
Private Alejos was 5 foot nothing and a buck ten soaking wet. I did not get to know him very well but everyone knew he had a chip on his shoulder the size of New Jersey. He spoke with an accent and thought he had something to prove everyday. More often than not, his oversized mouth was forever getting him thrashed along with the rest of the platoon. Personality-wise, he was a scrapper but mentally, he was, well, he was Alejos. So it was of no great surprise when one morning, his world came crashing down.
It seems that during the night, Alejos got the idea that he needed a flattop. He had got his scissors from his sewing kit out and trimmed the top of his black, straw-broom hair, resulting in a pretty good flattop. As a little bonus, he decided to take his razor and shave the hair from mid-forehead level down his sideburns. This did not sit well with SSGT Wertjes.
Everyone was looking at him in the morning. No one knew what could have possessed Alejos pea-sized brain to make him so obviously defy the drill instructors authority. All morning, he acted as though he had done nothing wrong. Finally, the moment everyone had been waiting for came. SSGT Wertjes spied himself fresh meat. As credit to his training, SSGT Wertjes spewed forth such a vicious attack on Alejos that everyone sweat. He was soon joined by SGT Robinson and the "stereo system" was turned all the way to maximum. It was both beautiful and frightening.
"YOU THINK YOU RATE A FLATTOP?! WELL I'M HERE TO TELL YOU SON, YOU DON'T RATE!!!!"
SSGT Wertjes threw his smokey to the deck to exposed a meticulous flattop.
"YOU HAVE NOT EARNED THE RIGHT TO WEAR ONE OF THESE AND WITH THAT CUT, IT LOOKS LIKE YOU NEVER WILL."
In disgust, he grabs his cover and goes into the duty hut.
Without hesitation, SGT Robinson starts in.
"I DON'T BELIEVE MY EYES! I DON'T KNOW WHY I SEE A FREAKIN' NASTY RECRUIT IN MY SQUADBAY WITH A BARRACKS CUT. YOU MUST HAVE LOST YOUR FREAKING MIND. DID YOU HAVE A STROKE LAST NIGHT? WHO'S YOUR SQUAD LEADER, FREAK?"
In what may be the only humble expression I can recall on his face, Alejos meekly answers, "I am 1st squad leader, Sir."
SGT Robinson explodes.
"HOLY SCREAMING EAGLE S**T. TELL ME IT IS NOT TRUE. INFORM ME THAT THIS IS ALL A BAD DREAM. YOU ARE ABOUT THE DUMBEST PIECE OF WORTHLESS TRASH EVER TO GRACE MY MARINE CORPS. A FREAKIN' SQUAD LEADER, A SO-CALLED LEADER SETTING AN EXAMPLE BY DESTROYING GOVERNMENT PROPERTY AND DISGRACING THE ENTIRE PLATOON. EXCELLENT! OUT-FREAKING-STANDING! WE'LL PLAY. EVERYONE, ON YOUR FACE. YOU WILL BEND AND THRUST WHILE I CORRECT THIS SLIMY PUKE. ALEJOS, LET'S GO, LOST ONE!"
SGT Robinson left with Alejos and we were joined by SSGT Garcia who made sure that were kept busy being thrashed until they returned. After about a half hour, they returned and Alejos was once again bald as a cueball. After two weeks, he had another full head of hair. Personally, I think the lesson lasted as long as the haircut. Hopefully I am wrong.