Spend the night - Hotel Company will leave the light on
By Staff Sgt. Scott Dunn
| | February 27, 2004
MARINE CORPS RECRUIT DEPOT SAN DIEGO, Calif. --
When smells of bar soap and mouthwash blend with the musty air hanging in the house, the Platoon 2150 recruits in Hotel Hell know they'll soon be asleep.
However, before lights-out - a cherished time comparable to meal time, or mail call - they must complete a basic daily routine drill instructors call BDR. This ensures good health and personal hygiene, and it also accounts for security, according to Company H drill instructor Staff Sgt. Rick Jimenez, Platoon 2150.
During their square-away time, which lasts little more than an hour, Co. H recruits prepare for the pre-bedtime inspection.
Every day is physical, and the recruits mind their personal hygiene as best they can. But like any household, a recruit squad bay has its own scent.
"Apparently, it smells anything other than pleasant," said squad leader PFC Michael R. Sadzak from Lansing, Ill. "That's what we've been told, but we could never smell it."
However, Sadzak can smell victory. Together, his platoon members scored highest on the practical application test and they took the highest drill honors in the company drill competition, according to Jimenez.
To uphold the platoon's glory, Pvt. Bradley McCuit readies his service C shirt for graduation. Meanwhile, Pvt. Robert A. Russo from Salt Lake City writes to his father and mother, Jim and Susan Russo, telling them that he's getting along and that he's ready to be a Marine.
After the recruits shave, shower and generally clean the washrooms and toilet areas, the nightly inspection begins.
In front of their footlockers - and wearing just flip-flops and not-so-tidy whities - the recruits stand at attention as drill instructor Staff Sgt. Jose Rivas inspects each man.
When he approaches Pvt. Rudy Serna, the recruit's hands pop up in a Sphinxlike manner. Serna's head turns, and he announces himself. Rivas looks for sores, injuries or anything detrimental to good health.
"Is that a blister?" asked Rivas. "You're going to get first-aid for that. Understand?"
"Yes sir!" answers Serna, who then turns around, lifts his foot and squeezes his Achilles tendon, a crucial tendon joining the calf muscles to the heel. Serna announces the verdict: "No-pain-no-pain!" He lifts the other foot: "No-pain-no-pain!" Serna then puts on his green sweat suit and goes back to attention.
After Rivas has inspected everybody, it's time for a rifle security check. Rivas gives a command, and the recruits dart to the wall behind their beds and check that their rifles are on safe and double-locked in a metal rack. Their footlocker padlocks must also be secured and zeroed. Rivas and each roving sentry will inspect these things again after the recruits are in bed.
THE SANDMAN COMETH
They'll be sleeping soon, but not before a watery nightcap. When Rivas gives the command, each recruit chugs a full canteen and holds it upside down over the twist top, proving he drank the full quart. Now hydrated, they slam their canteens onto their footlockers in one synchronized wallop.
With water-injected stomachs, recruits begin about five minutes of prayer or spiritual devotion. The platoon's lone Buddhist, PFC David J. Morin from East Los Angeles, sits crossed-legged and meditates alone. According to Morin, who serves as the platoon's scribe, he uses the evening devotion time to reflect and focus. Across the room, 25 Catholics recite the Lord's prayer and the Hail Mary. They pray their platoon's men will become Marines. They pray for one recruit who could not continue with them because his father passed away.
They snap their fingers to signal time is up. To a man's faith, this gesture is more respectful than a drill instructor's usual commanding methods, according to Jimenez.
Back on line, they prepare the house for night cleaning by pulling the footlockers away from the beds. Sentries will sweep the floor and reset the footlockers.
IN THE RACK
After the recruits count off the day's last roll call, they prepare to mount their beds.
They position and freeze like freestyle wrestlers waiting for a referee whistle. On Rivas' command, the recruits either climb up top or dive below onto tightly made beds.
After recruits lie at attention on their green wool blankets, they begin singing the Marines Hymn, which the platoon started singing during boot camp's second phase.
"That's something you earn," said Jimenez. "Recruits aren't ready for (singing) that in first phase."
Harmoniously roaring each lyric, rather than singing in a key, the recruits give louder emphasis on the "If the Army and the Navy" verse.
After the hymn, the lights in the adjacent building go dark, prompting a chorus of "Lights-out!" from several recruits. As recruits remain motionless at attention, the last bugle call of the night plays over a loudspeaker.
When Sadzak hears Taps, he said he replays a movie scene in his head where he is in the field or marching on parade grounds. To him, Taps is a call to those serving today from those who have fallen.
Choking up when talking about Taps, Morin said, "The possibility is there that some recruit from this platoon could be one of those to fall while fighting for his country."
When Jimenez sleeps, he leaves the light glowing from the DI hut through the venetian blind. Though recruits need sleep, Jimenez said, "Recruits don't need to know if I'm sleeping. They can wonder."
A roving watchman's red flashlight jiggles in the darkness as he returns recharged canteens to the footlockers.
Recruits stand watches at the front and rear exits while large droning fans clear out the stagnant air. According to Jimenez, the fans have reduced pneumonia, and Platoon 2150 lost zero recruits to illness. The fans, however, cannot drown out noise from jetliners arriving and departing neighboring Lindbergh Field, something every recruit here remembers.
Early in recruit training, according to Sadzak, recruits would torture themselves wondering when they would get back on one of those planes. Now, with graduation in sight, they don't even think about it.
Most recruits rarely dream. Sadzak said he recalled having two dreams. One dream in particular, he was at home drilling on his large backyard patio. Sadzak's fellow recruits said he has yelled "aye aye, sir" and "no, sir" in his sleep. But sleep is mostly just turning your body off for six to eight hours, said Sadzak. "It seems the eyes close; darkness rolls over, and it's lights, lights, lights."
This morning, however, the lights shone on a proud company of men ready to become Marines and check out of Hotel Hell.