Heels and heartbeats…..

While scanning recently published books this morning, I noticed an interesting title from one David Brooks, who is billed as a “conservative” on the NYT payroll.

Hardly… Brooks is nothing more than an inside-the-beltway liberal when it comes to his politics, but he is also a keen observer of the human condition and writes very well.

Brooks’ The Social Animal–-described as “a book about the human need for connection, friendship, love—what Brooks identifies as ‘limerence’ or the desire to articulate a universal feeling: that all of us are caught up in what he calls “the loneliness loop.”

“We yearn for ‘community’; when two people are having an intense conversation, their breathing synchronizes; laughing together creates a feeling of joy; soldiers drilling in unison experience a surge of power.

“What drives us, ultimately, is the need to be understood by others.”

Naturally, it was the “soldiers drilling in unison” observation that  caught my attention. 

It rang true because of a singularly emotional experience I had in Marine boot camp.  

Late November, MCRD-San Diego; the winter coastal fog enveloped “the grinder”… an enormous expanse of pavement which has felt the boots of generations of raw recruits who entered the Marine Corps—as Billy Joel so accurately observed:

We met as soul mates on Parris Island
We left as inmates from an asylum
And we were sharp, as sharp as knives
And we were so gung ho to lay down our lives

Parris Island is the sister facility for training East coast would-be jarheads.

The 75 of us—Platoon 2084—were near graduation and through the magic of the Marine Corps Drill Instructor had become a fine platoon. We were en route to being named series honor platoon, by winning initial drill, rifle range, final drill, and PFT (physical fitness training).

Drill (marching) is the key element in transitioning the civilian into someone worthy of becoming a Marine. Brooks is spot on as using this as an example of “experiencing a surge of power”.

Late that November Sunday night we had earned a movie at the base theater and were headed back to our barracks.

Because it was after lights out and “taps” our drill instructors, cutting the volume down by 80 percent, called us to attention and we started out on his low, sing-song cadence unique to the Corps’ DIs.     

Once underway he simply said “listen to your boots, your own cadence… march yourselves.”

For the next two minutes there was no sound save for the muffled chuff… chuff… chuff of our heel strikes.

The sound of 150 boot heels on the tarmac, precisely in micro-second synchronization, raised a heartbeat that brought the hair on my forearms and neck to attention. As first squad leader, I had the heightened experience of leading my very first unit.

The sound was literally behind me, pushing me on, instilling in me the knowledge that no matter what the future held, I would never let down anyone who marched with me. 

At that moment the entire purpose of training revealed itself. Being a Marine is not the robotic following of orders, it is the deeply embedded feeling that you have been transformed from an individual entity to one part of a remarkable moving organism.

And if each and every component functions as it should with great “followership” as well as leadership… it (we) is capable of doing anything.

Marine Corps history has made good on that promise thousands of times over the last 235 years.

And it all begins with listening for the heartbeat of the Marines who surround you, and finding comfort and trust in the knowledge that they do.

Semper Fi.

About Gary Alexander

Volunteer coordinator for veterans support network in North Texas. Now retired from his private psychotherapy practice, I specialized in the diagnosis and treatment posttraumatic stress, working with victim assistance programs, veterans and the Veterans Administration for over 20 years. After being wounded in action in Vietnam, I was medically retired from the Marine Corps and know first hand many of the readjustment difficulties and psychological stresses experienced by today's OIF and OEF veterans. I am available, at minimal cost, to speak at your functions on several subjects including veterans issues, Vietnam, the Medal of Honor, Posttraumatic Stress Disorder and critical incident debriefings.
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3 Responses to Heels and heartbeats…..

  1. D. F. Otto says:

    As a former Viet Nam era Marine I found this quite interesting and a good summation of the Corps’ training. I forwarded it to a number of people I know; many former military and others that were only civilians.
    The response I got from one of the civilians, who is an AVID ohbahma true believer, simply astounded me with its gall and complete ignorance: he INFORMED me that this was grossly overstated. This from a person who has enjoyed ALL the benefits this great Country has, but who never contributed a day of effort towards helping or defending it. In retrospect…why was I suprised? DFO

    • D. —
      For years my motto has been… “never debate a leftie, their lack of mental acuity is far too frustrating.”

      Even if you explained it to them as you would a child–for he is a child, he wouldn’t understand…. it’s a Marine thing.

      • D. F. Otto says:

        Oh I agree, but being both of stubborn German descent plus a former MARINE; well one can never give up! OTOH, as I know it irritates the H out of the lefty ohbaahmee lovers…it’s FUN! DFO

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