Marine Corps School of Ski Instruction
We were standing in line, shivering in the cold on a bright sunny morning, with the temperature barely in the teens. But then, this was the Marine Corps Winter Combat Training Course and I was excited because I was going to have my first skiing lesson. Our instructor glided to a spot about twenty feet in front of the group.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” he bellowed. “Welcome to the United States Marine Corps School of Ski Instruction. Those big things on your feet are skis. The long things in your hands are ski poles. The white stuff on the ground is snow. That thing over there is a tree. Don’t hit the tree. Congratulations, you have completed the United States Marine Corps Schools of Ski Instruction. Now, everyone turn to your right.”
This may seem harsh, but the Marine Corps is not known for warm fuzzies and gentle instruction. But here we were learning to ski after a minute and a half of instruction. Still, I felt ready and eager for the challenge.
We all turned to the right, and the instructor showed us how to walk with our skis. We were shown how to walk sideways and how to walk with a “V” by turning the front of our skis outward. For the next hour, we worked to master these two skills. Instead, we managed to master the skill of going downhill backwards and getting tangled as our skis crossed each other. Then the instructor showed us how to glide over the snow for cross-country skiing. A skill we managed to turn into the ability to run into each other with great frequency. The final skill our instructor attempt to impart to us was how to point the toes of our skis in so that we could slow down or stop when going down a hill. I was unaware that our feet could actually cross and somehow we managed to go faster downhill. I did notice our instructor did not show us how to fall down. It seems we mastered that skill all on our own. Our major accomplishment was no one had managed to stab any one with the ski poles.
We then migrated to a field where we practiced gliding for cross-country skiing. Our first attempt resulted in Marines running into each other. At one point we looked like a platoon of Marines in a giant pile of pick-up sticks. Someone pointed out that we were really bad at skiing. Someone else pointed out the snow was cold and wet. A third person pointed out it was time for lunch.
Before long, we were able to make it around the field without any serious problems or injuries; so the instructor felt it was time for something more challenging. We took off on a trail through the woods. For the most part, the terrain was flat and we were able to make some progress. Then we came to the hill. We were to practice the techniques we had been taught earlier to make it to the top of the hill. This meant for us, we spent more time going downhill backwards than we did going uphill. Our instructor showed us how to use a zigzag pattern of skiing to one side of the trail, stopping, turning 180 degrees by hopping on the skis, then skiing to the other side of the trail. After an hour of being pin-ball Marines, bouncing from one side of the trail to the other, we finally made it to the top. The fact that it would have taken us only ten minutes to walk up to the top of the hill was irrelevant.
After we conquered this monument to Mother Nature, our instructor had another brilliant idea; either that or he relished the idea of us living life dangerously. He wanted us to ski down the hill. I do not know why this came as a surprise to me. After all, there is only way to get off a hill, and that is to go down it. One by one, we started down the slope. Soon it was my turn and I was celebrating my accomplishment of swooshing down the hill. I was proud of skill and ability until the trail curved and there stood a tree in my way. I started to will the tree to move. In my mind I kept repeating move the tree, move the tree, move the tree. Soon I was actually yelling out loud. The tree was not moving. Someone yelled back for me to shift my weight so I could turn the skis. I bent to the left, shifting my weight to my left side, I was actually starting to turn. I would be okay. I would miss the tree.
The tree moved. Honestly, the tree moved right into my path. I did everything I could to avoid it, but I ran smack into it, knocking me off my feet. I’m not sure how one of my skis ended up in the tree. The worst part, I was still attached to the ski. I think the lower branches pushed it up there just so I couldn’t get down without some help. I do know that while I was battling the tree for my survival, I had this sudden overwhelming desire to give up skiing.
Someone came up and asked if I was okay. At least I think that was what he was saying. Hanging upside down in a tree made it really hard for me to answer coherently. Before I could answer, the tree spat me out onto the ground. The instructor informed me I would have to go back to the medical clinic where they could check me out and maybe take some x-rays. I was really disappointed that he hadn’t made this suggestion before I had gone up the hill.
Turns out I was just banged up, no serious injuries, except to my pride and ego. I do know that the next time they asked for volunteers for winter combat training, I signed up for desert survival school.
Marines run. From the moment we are told to get off the bus and get on the yellow footprints welcoming us to Marine Corps Boot Camp, we run. It starts with running everywhere for the 13 weeks of boot camp. Then it continues through our advance training. But it doesn’t end there. Every three to six months, we need to take a physical fitness test, which includes running three miles in less than 28 minutes. Of course, throughout our time on active duty, we train for the physical fitness test, as well as for our job specialties in the military. As a military police officer, I often had to run to chase down criminals.
For Marines stationed in Hawaii, it’s a runners’ paradise. There are runs and races every weekend. For example, the Honolulu Marathon is famous for encouraging all participants. Along all 26 miles, spectators line the course passing out water and supporting the runners.
Another famous run is the Perimeter Island Relay. For this race, seven-person teams run around the 140-mile perimeter of the island of Ohau. There are 45 legs, averaging three miles. Each person runs six or seven legs. The race starts the on Saturday night, with staggered times, depending on when the team expects to complete the race. The goal is to have all the teams finish up Sunday afternoon.
Our team was made up of seven Marines with the goal of finishing, nothing more. We knew we weren’t the fastest team, but we were looking forward to the challenge. We did complete the race, coming in 29th place out of about 50 teams. Still, we were rather proud of our accomplishment.
Now, of course, there is a girl, a beautiful woman from Asia named Rita. She was intelligent, sexy, charming and the kind of woman that any man would fall for, myself included.
Three weeks after the race, there was an awards ceremony. It turns out the top three teams got large trophies, but every team completing the race got participating trophies, which were much, much smaller. I was the person from our team selected to attend the ceremony and pick up our prizes.
On the way back, I stopped where Rita worked. I proudly displayed my trophy. Rita took one look at it, smiled, and said, “How cute, a baby trophy.”
A Purse is not Marine Corps Issue
One of the many benefits of military life is the military exchange, which is a mini department store on every military installation.
My wife was greatly please when I was transferred to a larger base, which meant there would be a larger exchange. She pointed out how most of the exchange facilities, especially those overseas, had limited selection of clothes, accessories, and jewelry. Like many women, she was pleased with the selection of shoes and purses, where she spent most of her time.
One day, while waiting to meet another couple for dinner, we spent some time in the exchange. Like many married couples, she was absorbed in shopping and I was more interested in where we would be going for dinner. I’m sure she told me exactly which purse she wanted. I looked at the one she pointed to.
We had an agreement, for impulse purchases, we would wait at least a day before committing to the purchase. It wasn’t that we couldn’t afford it. The issue was we didn’t have the room in our home for everything, and being in the military, which required downsizing and moving every few years, we had learned to really think about making any purchase.
A few days later, my wife made up her mind; she wanted the purse. She asked me to pick it up for her. She was insistent because another reality of shopping at military exchanges was the items you saw and wanted often were sold out quickly. I made it a point to stop at the exchange on my way home. I found the purse she wanted, or I thought I did. I went up the cashier, paid for it, and went home.
I was sure my wife would be pleased and reward me with praise and affection. Instead, as I took the purse out of the shopping bag, I saw a look of disappointment on her face. She immediately pointed out I had gotten the wrong purse. It was the correct design and color, but the wrong size.
The next day, I returned to the exchange. I walked up to customer service. The two ladies at the counter giggled when I, a Marine in uniform, brought out a purse.
“You got the wrong purse, didn’t you,” said one of the ladies.
I confirmed their suspicions.
“It always happens when a wife sends her husband to get her something. He always gets the wrong size or the wrong one.” They kept giggling.
While I was a bit embarrassed, I felt I had to explain the reason for my mistake. “Forgive me, but a purse is not Marine Corps issue.”