The Sand Castle Blues, Part 5- Yut-Yut Midshipman


[People I know are in this picture. I am not in this, that or I can’t pick myself apart from all the knobs. Pretty common problem actually.]

And now we get to the article you have all been waiting for,  where I break down the Citadel’s NROTC program! Going for a commission via NROTC is considered the wiser, safer, less horseshit way of becoming a US Marine, versus just enlisting. Other than going to OCS or PLC, it’s the most popular route to a commission. Now, units and lifestyle vary. Someone who went to Partyville State Bro college is not gonna have exactly the same type of midshipman experience I did, for obvious reasons. But the doctrine and scope of training is the same, so here’s my perspective on things.

As stated before, I went to the Citadel with an NROTC, Marine option scholarship. I was therefore a midshipman in the naval reserve, paid a lovely 250 dollar stipend each month along with a book allowance and tuition paid for. I was one of 8 freshmen to get in with this, and we were given a ribbon to wear on our uniforms with an EGA on it. Your feeling of accomplishment and distinction goes away when you recall what I’ve said in previous articles about standing out at a school like the Citadel. Having that ribbon makes you a target, makes it easier for upperclassmen to pick you out and pick on you, whether out of jealousy for your scholarship or because they are service snobs and don’t like Marines. Even though I earned that ribbon, cadre would punish me for uniform imperfection by ordering me to take it off. Upperclass who were midshipmen heard about this and told me to disregard such orders, as well as not bracing while in Marine Corps issued uniforms. It was an unresolved back and forth between Marine uppers and non marine contracts, wasn’t much I could do about it.

All cadets with a scholarship(often referred to as a contract) are in ROTC, but not all cadets in ROTC are contracting. If you aren’t going for a contract, it is just a one credit hour class, and a fairly easy one. Death by powerpoint, and the tests are easy as hell. We spent a month worth of classes watching some british mini series about the royal navy, and even though they turned the lights off, the navy LT who taught my class would get on you for trying to get some needed sleep during the movie.

If you have to commission, and it has to be the Citadel, do it as an enlisted MECEP. From what I understood, they didn’t have to be knobs, or live on campus as part of the Corps of Cadets.  All they had to deal with was classes, and typical Marine Corps bs.

If you are a MECEP,contract or wanting one, you have to be involved in the NROTC’s so called “Marine Contingent”.  It’s organized as a company with five platoons, each from a different SCCC battallion. Its chain of command muddies the water with the Corps of Cadets. A guy who has no position in the Corps might be a platoon leader in the marine unit, for instance. Our contingent 1st Sergeant was also my cadre CO.

Being in the contingent required your participation in 3 PT sessions a week at 0500, which  earned you minor scorn back at battalion from knobs who were still sweeping galleries while you took a shower after PT. Every thursday from 4 till before dinner mess(if lucky) you had a “lab”, where the unit formed up on the parade field and usually did something physical or had a class on land nav and formations, Physical activities ranged from fun stuff, like obstacle/endurance courses, to hum drum like CFT’s. We also went on conditioning hikes with packs, I forget how much weight it was but it was heavy as hell. Upperclassmen had priority when getting issued the more ergonomical and newer gear, I had some old BDU color pack thing from the 80’s. The army rucked more than us, but their gear was either a lot better designed or they didn’t carry as much on their backs. When hiking they also seemed a lot less supervised and like they were going on a nice little stroll, objectively speaking we humped harder than they did.

The closest we recieved to tactical training was low budget to say the least. We learned how to give covering fire and advance in groups of two(I’m up-they see-me I’m down- type shit), while wielding imaginary rifles and making gun noises with our mouths.  We once did squad formations, also with imaginary weapons, and very rarely we pulled out rubber duck m16’s. I would see the army guys training at the same time as us, they always had really cool looking rubber guns, they even had eastern bloc replica weapons and RPG’s and would set up make shift bunkers with camo netting. It always looked like they had the money to do stuff we wanted to do but had to play pretend with. We once learned room clearing, where the walls  and boundaries of rooms were denoted by ropes on the grass laid out in squares. Real exciting stuff.

Occasionally we would have a classroom instruction period during lab before we put skills into practice. These usually consisted of some motivator sergeant or corporal, MECEPs most likely, giving us a powerpoint about squad and fireteam formations or about land nav.  These marines had the impression that we were probably not very smart or able to focus on something for more than a few minutes at a time. They would make deprecating jokes about how this was all boring and hard but we had to bear with it, as if it was calculus or something. They would have us stand up and stretch every 15-20 minutes. I was, you know, a college student, and didn’t have a problem sitting still and taking notes. I don’t get why everyone else would, but sure enough even college officer candidates live up to the stereotype of the dumb, muscular marine who isn’t book smart.

The land nav classes in particular were a huge let down for me, because they were EXACTLY the same as the ones I had done for four years in JROTC. Exactly the same outdated map of fort benning with the same locations to find, exact same powerpoint we used in high school.  At least I could say I knew what I was doing, unlike a lot of the clueless fellow officer candidates who were scratching their ape brains about azimuths and such.

One to three FTX exercises are held during semester. They take up one to three days. Mine was 2 days and a night bivouac in Charleston Naval Weapons Station in september. Pictures of FTX on the contingent’s website sold me the most on going to the Citadel over other schools, so I was surprised to find out I hated every second of it. We built fighting holes, rucked like 9 miles, did a landnav exercise. It rained and was miserable, I had at least an inch deep puddle of sweat in my boots at one point, how humid it was.

The culture of the ROTC unit is a lot less hostile than in the SCCC. 4th class system isn’t in effect during training, so its the only time upperclassmen don’t make you act like a retard and treat you like a person. The Marine officer instructors(MOI and AMOI, latter is an SNCO, gunnies usually) were professional and polite. But being in a Marine Corps environment, I did witness some of the stupidity described by others on this site. Our unit platoon sergeant got racked out by some motivator NCO, and so he came to us and in his most exasperated sarcasm, apologized for being such a horrible leader. That he would fail to set the example by having missed a notch on his belt or some such, he had lapsed in his integrity, he hoped we would all forgive him for being such a poor example and shaming the Marine Corps and the Citadel.

A few stories for you of douchebaggery. I always figured it was the Citadel’s culture contaminating the unit, but knowing what I do now, the Marine Corps is certainly capable of negative experiences such as these:
During a timed 3 mile run, I did what I was wont to do in cross country in high school. As people started catching up to me or passing me, this would motivate me to push it and speed back up to beat them. One particular motard saw this and racked me out for doing it, something like ” Oh hey bitch you’re not gonna put out all the way when people aren’t around huh”. Another time we were running on a track. We had a motto in cross country, “finish strong”. I would pour out whatever was left in me for the last leg of the journey. My unit squad leader yelled at me for doing this, saying I should have been running that hard the entire time. Well, shoot, maybe next time I will just not bother to put in all my effort, so no one can accuse me of holding out by being totally unexceptional . What the fuck.

The biggest blow to my opinion of fellow midshipman came at the end of FTX. As we waited for hours for the bus to come pick us up and take us back to school, we were given lunch  in the outer part of Naval Weapons station,and it was pretty chill. I decided I would do something nice, and take my trash and that of others to the dumpster on the fence, across the way. When I came back, all the upperclass midshipman jumped on me for walking a hundred feet away by myself without a battle buddy, even though I was in plain view the entire time. In an instant my fellow midshipmen reverted to being Citadel upperclass, and I was a stupid knob.  Back and forth, I heard “who the fuck is that?”,” is that knob gaudy”? ” doesn’t that knob have a contract”” ” I cant believe they give nasties like him scholarships, what bullshit”. The culmination of all my frustration was in this moment, it was rock bottom for me in terms of morale.

To change gears slightly, my experience being at the Citadel and in the marine unit was a constant realization that everything I had planned my life around, everything I thought about who I was and my mission in life, was completely wrong. It was a destruction of my self image and my imagined dreams. The first week I stood up and was made to swear the oath. Every word felt like a lie, and I didn’t understand what the hell was wrong with me.

When in training or in academic buildings, fellow midshipmen were still full motard. They proudly joked about being yut yuts, oorah marine corps this and that.  In high school I was much the same. I realized then that I had been trying to be something I saw on TV, something divorced from reality, and here I was surrounded by people who were still in fantasyland. They looked so absurd to me, and I couldn’t get myself back into their mentality. They took pride in being meatheaded neanderthals, and it offended me to be associated with them. It felt offensive for others to judge my intelligence based on my uniform.

The bloodthirsty cadences, I couldn’t sing along anymore because I was comprehending what we were saying. On the Marine Corps birthday we had 0500 spirit run, a staff sergeant had us sing “napalm sticks to kids”.  Corpsmen would give us lessons on tourniquets and field questions about injuries, and I found myself unwilling to listen to any of it.

When I was in high school I would look at myself in the mirror with my high and tight cut and say  “I am a United States Marine.” I would imagine myself in MCU’s or dress blues, older, stronger, perfect.It felt good, I was so sure it fit. But before labs at the Citadel, I would look at myself in the mirror, above a sink where I brushed my teeth and was made to urinate. Here I was, wearing MCU’s, or boots and utes,  just like I had always wanted. I no longer saw a marine in the mirror. I saw a skinny, tired 19 year old kid, wearing a hand me down uniform that was too big for me. I was wearing a costume, pretending to be something I wasn’t and doing a horrible job at it.  I had zilch in common with anyone, even less without a desire to commission. People resented that I had a full ride and a path to commission, yet wasn’t motivated or boss at anything. There was no longer any doubt. I didn’t want this, and I was getting out.

They try to really make it a pain in the ass for you to leave. You get counseled by multiple MOI’s, they try to guilt you into staying in, making you feel like if you leave, you will never accomplish anything else.  I felt like someone who actually was motivated deserved my scholarship, someone who didn’t have any qualms about it all. What good would I be to marines under my command if I didn’t believe in the mission, the organization, the culture, the war? No good,and thats the part no one counseling me seemed to understand.

If you get a 4 year scholarship out of high school, you don’t incur any financial obligation to the Department of the Navy until the start of sophomore year. I didn’t want to waste anymore taxpayer money or time, mine or the Marine Corps’s. I left after finals in the fall, and transferred to a school in the state where I was from. I dropped my scholarship, my career, an entire life I had been setting myself up for. I have turned a new corner in my life, but the experiences I have been through are still very much a part of me, they brought me to where I am now. It is for that reason that I sing the Sand Castle Blues, and I still have  a few stories left to tell, for my benefit, and for that of anyone who can be saved from making a big mistake with their lives.

[More stories from me and others about El Cid at http://brokengrayline.tumblr.com/ If you went there or know someone who did, and you didn’t fit in, you aren’t alone. You are among friends. Drop us a line]

Author: Knob_Gaudy

Ex-Knob,Ex contract midshipman, mechanical engineering student. axes need grinding, this here is a great stone for it.

  • FailedToAdapt

    I had that same feeling: “I don’t want to be in charge of 40 give or take men/women if I did not believe in the cause”.

  • FailedToAdapt

    Oh and the thing about training. We had the exact same thing. We would look like idiots playing pretend, while the army unit had all the toys at their disposal. They had a gear storage room so big that they had two guys full time working in it! We had a shitty little locker with inadequate gear, but its okay. We were going to be BIG BAD MARINES! That would more than make up for that.

    • Knob_Gaudy

      If they thought Marines could win a war with t shirts and box cutters, they would issue that instead. I can’t wait till they make those super soldier armor suits, plaster the recruiting posters with them, and then you join and don’t get to use them, train for it by wearing cardboard

  • StillintheFight

    I find your posts intriguing, especially since I’ve read most of Conroy’s stuff. However, I couldn’t think of many places more distant from reality than the Citadel to begin with, let alone from the Marine Corps. I’ve seen firsthand the NROTC unit down there in Charleston, and it’s stuck in a peacetime, garrison USMC mindset from the 80s/90s. There’s so much institutional inertia at el cid that it’ll likely never change… BUT, it is a 4-year college where people pay to have a ‘military’ experience. It is not, no matter what anyone thinks, the military…let alone indicative of the Marine Corps (for better or for worse…)