January 9th, 2010
The Crucible… the final test in Marine Corps recruit training that pushes you physically, mentally and emotionally beyond the limits of what the average human being can endure. The Crucible is designed to break, torture, try and teach. Eight events, several stations, 2 degree temperatures, frozen mud and 55 miles of hiking, obstacle courses and team building missions. Sleep deprivation, food deprivation… that was the easy part.
We kicked off the Crucible at 2:30 a.m. with an easy 6-mile tactical hike in the darkness of the night. Twenty degree weather can really crumble your morale. The cold cut through you like a knife and there was nothing you could do to stay warm. My fingers felt like they were being sliced off with a cheese grater, or being blended in a bucket of glass. I’ve never been in the cold so long that it hurt. Frostbite was bound to hit.
Once we arrived at Paige Field (an old abandoned air field), we split into our smaller squads. The squads consisted of 13 people, and would be the small group that you would intimately endure the Crucible with. Our first event was pugil sticks and boxing. I guess this was our warm-up event. From there we headed to a series of team-building combat-related obstacles that were designed to test our intelligence, speed, teamwork and ability to lead. We had to move casualties through tunnels, over bridges and over walls. This all had to be done without the casualty touching the ground. The casualty was life-size and life-weight. If the casualty was dropped, you failed. No starting over here, just the punishment of failure and mile-long buddy carries to the next event.
Next came the combat endurance course; the hardest thing we had done up to this point in all of our training. It’s a 2.5 mile course of low crawling, sprinting, pushing, pulling, moving and climbing. This event included “casualties” that had to be evacuated via fireman’s carry and body dragging. It makes for a long 2.5 miles, especially when you have to start the course over three times due to fat people who can’t keep up with the squad. A night run through the woods was our first night event. I was thinking “o, yeah… this is smart. Let’s get 200 tired, hungry recruits, stick them in the pitch dark… in the woods… and make them run for 5 miles.” Yeah, right.
My worst fear happened.
About 100 yards into the woods my ankle cracked in three places and I rolled into a patch of bushes. It was so dark that nobody even noticed that I tumbled my way off course into a ditch. I thought for sure my ankle was broken. I can’t explain the sickness that set in thinking that I might get dropped for a medical reason. Regardless I jumped up and fought through to catch up with my platoon and finish the hike. After the hike, I revealed my softball size, solid black ankle to the drill instructor. My ankle was black from the toes all the way up to my shin bone. It was the worst foot injury I have ever had. I showed a drill instructor and when he saw it his exact words were “son, your foot is broken. I’m taking you to medical right now.” I don’t think so. It was the first and only time that I looked a drill instructor in the face and said “no.” It was said in no disrespect, but there was no way that I was quitting now. Not this close to the finish line. If I had to low crawl the next 50 miles… I was finishing the Crucible. My mind was made up and after a few movement exercises, the Drill Instructors let me pass on going to medical at my own risk.
The next day of the Crucible was another full day of combat situations, hiking, pain, sand, ammo cans, and cold. That pretty much sums it up. I knew that after the second day I only had one final obstacle in my way of becoming a Marine… the 10-mile hike back to main side. The hike would have been easy without the 80 pound pack and a sprained ankle. I guess easy is boring. I prayed and thought about my pregnant wife the entire hike. I kept her in my mind each step I took. She was at the finish line in my mind. Nothing was going to stop me. It helped block the pain out. In reality, I didn’t want my family to have to reschedule their hotel and travel plans for me being dropped.
I finished the hike.
When we returned from the hike, we formed up around the Iwo Jima monument for our Eagle, Globe, and Anchor ceremony. This is typically an emotional event in a new Marine’s life, but honestly, it was too cold for most of us to care. When you’re standing at parade rest in 10 degree weather, all you can think about is your frozen hands. After we got our EGAs, we couldn’t even feel them in our hands.
My grandfather, that was also a Marine, passed away the same day that I became a Marine. He graduated the same exact day as me, 50 years prior. January 15th, 1960.
USMC Official Photos By: Lance Cpl. Sarah A. Fiocco & Lance Cpl. Isaac Lamberth