What We All learn
Somewhere at this very moment there is a young man or woman at Parris Island or Marine Corp Recruit Depot San Diego screaming their leadership traits at the top of their lungs. JJDIDTIEBUCKLE; Justice, Judgment, Dependability, integrity, decisiveness, tact, initiative, endurance, bearing, unselfishness, courage, knowledge, loyalty, and enthusiasm! Get one wrong? Now Push!
I do not know a single Marine Corps veteran today, regardless of how long ago they served, that cannot cite these traits off the top of their head. But these are just words and without the proper application, have no real effect on your behavior and chance of success within and outside the Marine Corps. But the fact remains they can recite them, because matters of discipline demanded they be able to do so. The way matters of discipline demanded you understand how to assemble and disassemble your weapon; the proper measurements of your attire (you better be right); your responsiveness to orders and your ability to carry them out to the letter. We all learn discipline, whether you like it or not.
I remember waking up to the sound of our drill instructors screaming "LIGHTS LIGHTS LIGHTS!!!!" at the start of every morning. Every marine races to put together their rack (bed or bunk), straighten their area and prepare themselves for a hygiene inspection. It does not matter how well you performed, your instructors will find something you did wrong, flip your rack upside down and have you start again. This could last hours. On one beautiful recruit morning, I awoke to a new addition to the typical morning call. "LIGHTS LIGHTS LIGHTS MILLER ON THE QUARTER DECK!!!" My turn for incentive training, a clever name for what amounts to a very brief punishment.
What did I do this time? Who in my squad made a mistake that I am now paying for, as collective punishment was the go-to method of team building at this phase. I run to the quarter deck and I start pushing. mountain climbers. sit ups. more push ups. After what feels like hours, but likely 15 minutes I am told to stand at attention. What was my crime? I made one step out of lock in formation the day prior, and I wasn't done being reminded of the importance of discipline. I was distracted the day prior by the entertaining discipline a poor soul was receiving across the courtyard, and just those few seconds of distraction was enough to catch the attention of my drill instructor. They always catch you and I did, in fact, learn my lesson that morning.
The focus of these stories is not horror, because the only real pain you receive exists inside your head. It is designed to break you down, starting with your poor habits and inability to focus. Rebuild your mind into something capable of attending to detail, for extended periods of time, even hours at attention . . . standing . . . without moving a muscle. Real discipline.
You can expect this for the remainder of your career. Adherence to a real discipline that never existed before in my life.
In high school I achieved maybe the lowest GPA possible without being held back. I thought school just wasn't for me, or maybe I wasn't a particularly intelligent person. Fast forward briefly to 2014. I am out of the Marine Corps. My goal at this time was to get a degree at the State University closest to my family home, and return to the Marine Corps as an officer. Of course I was scared, scared of the opportunity for failure, knowing I had failed academically before. At the end of my first college semester I had a 4.0 GPA. This held steady for sometime. I felt no smarter in college than I felt as a teenager, and certainly wasn't any more interested in these random electives; creative poetry, ancient philosophy or any other ridiculous class.
The difference was discipline. I did not dare reach for my phone. I sat in the front of class. I took notes, I read the material. Never interrupted the instructor. It was beyond my new capability to do so. Why? Because these were the tasks assigned to me and I was not going to be the undisciplined young man that failed and had to return to my family or the Marine Corps defeated by books of all things. I performed well enough that I was immediately accepted to a high performing law school and the story is what it is.
What we all learn in the Marine Corps, is discipline. That was the key to my journey in becoming an attorney.
What I Learned
It was sometime in 2012, I cannot remember the date nor the exact location. I was somewhere in Afghanistan, daydreaming about the plans for my life and what I would become. I dreamt of becoming a teacher somewhere, teaching history or writing. Maybe becoming a Marine Corps Officer to live a different version of this life. I dreamt of home, doing nothing but enjoying the air conditioning and eating what I pleased because it was all available to me.
I remembered my father and mother, who worked hard enough to allow me to live that dream as an unruly teenager. Causing more trouble than peace, and what it took for them to do give me that. The problem was I felt I couldn't go back to school because I had performed so poorly before. I felt I couldn't become a Marine Corps Officer because I wasn't able to pass that base educational requirement. You can't possibly be a teacher if you can't be a student. I tried to imagine what it would be like to be in a classroom again. Suddenly I realized, I couldn't. I couldn't imagine what being in a classroom was like anymore because I was not that hooligan that attended high school anymore. I couldn't even imagine interrupting a teacher to tell a joke, or cause an issue with another student for entertainment. I couldn't imagine being who I was at all because that person was not me. Not anymore.
The Marine Corps taught me that the only pain or obstacle stopping you from doing what you need to do to accomplish your goals exists inside your head, and nowhere else.
There was a poster in my recruiter's office, of a marine struggling to perform a pull-up. In big letters across the top it read, "All we ask is that you give us everything you have, and we will let you know when you have given it." The Marine Corps had often demanded everything I had, and often I realized it was more than I thought I possessed. Much more. I learned that if you are going to do something, give it everything you have, and if you think you have more, then give that too. The Marine Corps taught me to give more that I thought I could, and it turned out I had more again and again.
Connie Penland Reply
Posted Mar 01, 2023 at 19:26:24
Love this Story.
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