The Soul Collector- A Female Marine Boot Camp Story

Imagine that you are hit repeatedly in vulnerable places on your body to conduct “body hardening”, which damages your nerve receptors to prevent flinching from the pain when you are struck. Imagine being thrown, flipped, punched, verbally degraded, choked and thrown up against the wall, slapped, spat on, stepped on, sleep-deprived, and starved.

Then imagine being taught how to defend yourself. Imagine being taught how to kill with your bare hands in less than eight seconds. You know how to go with less food, you know how to keep hiking for over ten miles on less than three hours of sleep. You know how to ignore the pain of the broken bones in your body as you keep going. You are trained to do more with less. You are taught how to kill. And your body wants it. Your body is heightened by your own physical pain that you are ignoring and you want to kill.

The Marine Corps taps into a person’s primal desire to survive. It tears a person down to their barest minimum to break them before training them to be killers. The MC takes people from around the world (yes, the world), from all different backgrounds, and breaks their spirits together over the course of twelve weeks. Some people break faster than others. Some people need to be taken to the tree line and given a little more attention to get to the Marine Corps’ desired state of broken.

For me, I took extra attention. What was used to break the softer recruits didn’t work on me. I grew up with a dad who screamed and yelled, who verbally and emotionally abused me and my sister and my mom, and who shot firearms INSIDE of the house while we were cowering upstairs. I was used to being yelled at and hit. So the Marine Corps drill instructors’ psycho actions were just a regular Tuesday for me. It worked in my favor for a long time. I didn’t flinch, I didn’t care about being forced to do push-ups until my arms gave out, and I just ran faster to get away from the weaker crowd and the drill instructors intent on making the weak strong.

The drill instructors saw me though. It is hard to hide in a platoon of 35 women and five drill instructors, especially when you are the guide, or the leader of the recruits. As the guide, it was my responsibility to lead the rest of the recruits and to be the prime example of order, discipline, and perfection. I was seventeen, and couldn’t lead a cat out of a wet paper bag. The drill instructors punished me with every single other recruit who was punished to teach me leadership. If Sanchez was a little slow, I had to run sprints with her. If Bullock lost her canteen cup, I was taken to the pit with her. Everyone else’s mistakes were my own, which is the epitome of leadership. If your subordinates mess up, it is your fault. The Marines taught that lesson through physical pain. But it still didn’t break my spirit. Physical pain can be borne indefinitely, or so I thought.

During range week, when we hiked through the swamps of South Carolina to reach the range and “learn how to shoot”, I broke my ankle. It was during an early morning hike of probably six miles. We had our rifles and our packs, and we were walking through dark and wooded paths in the swamp. As guide, I also had to carry the guidon, or the troop identification flag. It had to be carried a specific way when marching, with your right hand holding the flag pole closer to the bottom, positioned with your thumb pad directly on the thumbtack, while your left hand clasped closer to the flag. You held that thing perfectly while you marched, next to the company commander, and you didn’t look down.

The company commander was speed walking. She didn’t have a pack or a rifle or a guidon. She was going for a stroll and wanted the recruits to move quickly. So we moved. And we sang cadence. And we didn’t look down. Blindly marching, I led the company with Speedy Gonzalez, and stepped straight into a hole. The snap was audible, and my yelp wasn’t muffled enough to not gain the attention of one of my five drill instructors. Still marching, my voice quivered to the cadence and tears welled in my eyes. The DI offered to fire me, in less than tactful terms. I picked up my pace and kept going.

Range week was horrible. My combat boot kept my right ankle together as much as possible. I would tie it tighter each day, imagining it was a removable cast. I had to get my bunkmate to pull my boot off at the end of the day because my ankle had tripled in size. The known distance (KD) range is broken into three different yard lines to shoot and qualify from. The 200 yard line required shooting standing up, kneeling down, and sitting. 300 was kneeling and sitting rapid fire, and 500 was the prone position, belly down and legs splayed. Standing was fine, sitting was fine, and prone was fine. The kneeling was the most excruciating pain I had felt up to that point in my life, including the body hardening exercises where we beat the living shit out of each other. I was forced to fire dozens of rounds in the kneeling, with my weight on my broken ankle as I knelt upon it. I couldn’t move to any other position because it just wasn’t allowed. After a time, I crouched to where I wasn’t putting any weight on my ankle. It was less steady and my aim suffered immensely, but my ankle wasn’t screaming at me.

On the fifth day, qualification day, I was doing fine…until the kneeling position. The same DI who heard me on the hike from Monday stood behind me, and when she noticed that I was protecting my ankle by hovering, she shoved me down onto it by slamming my shoulders down in full force. As my eyes watered in pure pain from broken bones moving around damaged tissue, she smiled at me. I began to anticipate each shot as I pulled the trigger, aware that the kickbacks would cause further pain on my ankle.

Anticipation is probably the number one reason people miss when they fire a weapon.

I failed the range by two points. I unq’ed (pronounced “unk”). I was unqualified. When “every Marine is a rifleman”, this was unacceptable. I knew they were coming for me. I was publicly fired as guide before the hike back to the squad bay. Public humiliation was really no big deal since I was eight and had accidentally farted on the cute boy behind me while performing a fish dance rendition of some classical piece. So I still wasn’t mentally broken, although I was scared shitless that I would be dropped from the platoon.

That night, I was awoken to covers being snatched from my body and a disembodied voice that told me to get the fuck into the head (bathroom, for you civilian types). Scrambling, I sprinted while the DI who had shoved me onto my broken bones on the range hissed threats into my ear. She pushed me against the wall and kicked my ankle a few times, asking if it hurt. Refusing to give in, I kept saying “no, ma’am.” If I was smarter, I would have acted like my spirit had been broken by my disqualification on the range. Instead, I kept up my spirit, which gave her the desire to break me for good. She had all night. I couldn’t scream for help, that would have shown weakness and surrender. I was already supposed to be broken. This was Week Eight of training. Most girls broke by Week Three.

We stayed in that bathroom for what felt like an hour. I ran the length of the bathroom, bones crunching away. I did pushups. I did jumping jacks (practically one-legged). I whisper-screamed my responses to her. Everything out of her mouth was said to mess with my head. I tuned it out until she found the one thing that hurt. “You failed today. No one is surprised. That’s all you are and that’s all you’ll ever be: a failure.” She didn’t notice at first that she had found the chink in my armor. She didn’t notice until she started saying other stuff like I was a piece of shit, which just reminded me of everything my dad had called me growing up. All it takes is one comment to chisel away at the crack in someone’s facade. She had called me a piece of shit before, but this time it was well-placed after identifying my biggest fear, and showing me that I was, indeed, a failure. I had nothing to prove her wrong. I was unqualified on the range and I was fired as the best recruit after holding the title for over a month. I lost the meritorious promotion that would have gone with graduating as the guide as well. I was a failure, and I got into my own head.

Supposedly verbally and emotionally abused children have a tape that plays in their head on repeat with the shitty stuff they have been told. My psychologist taught me that when I was 16. He worked hard with me for one year to try and break the tape that was on repeat of the things my family and classmates and church mates had said to me. First he made me tell him everything that I had been told or called or blamed for. Then he made me promise that I would catch myself with every self-deprecating internal comment and try to logic out why it wasn’t true and to remind myself and repeat back that I wasn’t everything I had been called:

Lazy, selfish, crazy, tissue in the wind that blows away when there’s work to be done, Lolita, fickle, unwanted child, the reason my parents fought, cheater, weirdo, waste of space, Femme fatale, vivacious, narcissist, slut, too young, five-head, cunt, liar, bitch, impossible to please, draining, rude…a failure.

So the DI had tapped into my self-deprecating tape and turned up the mental volume without knowing it. My face must have changed because she stopped short and laughed before taking her right hand and grasping me by the throat. She shoved me into the wall and then slid me up it, by my throat, with one hand. My feet dangled an inch off the floor and I began to struggle to breathe. As one tear leaked from my right eye, she reached up and wiped it away with a finger on her left hand.

“I have your soul.”

She placed my soul into her pocket.

In retrospect, as a demented veteran, this is hilarious. Props to her for breaking me. I understand it’s necessary to provide mentally and physically hardened Marines for the fleet and drill instructors are amazing for this aspect of training. They are ruthless because our lives depend on it, in combat and in life. They break us down, make us tap into our primal desire to survive, and then teach us how to kill. With them, and further training, Marines become the best war fighters on the planet.

When she gathered my soul and delicately put it into her pocket, that drill instructor made me primed and ready to learn how to kill.

Thanks, Soul Collector. You fucking suck.

Side note- it took two years for my ankle to “heal”. Yes, I receive disability for that ankle because I’ll be damned if it doesn’t just give out on me once a week and cause me to fall face first without warning.

Side side note: I qualified on the range as expert the very next week (although Parris Island only allows you to be named a lowly marksman until you qualify in the fleet when you unq in boot camp) and for the rest of my career. Shout out to my husband for teaching me how to shoot when I got to the fleet, even on my shitty ankle. Third award expert. Yes, this is matters to me.

13 thoughts on “The Soul Collector- A Female Marine Boot Camp Story

  1. In one of his Rama books Arthur C. Clark described a group of intelligent spiders whose policy was to euthanize all of their soldiers who fought after the war was over.

    After reading this story I can understand their reasoning and fully agree with their policy.

    Military personal are simply amorally controlled sociopaths without empathy for others or themselves who have been conditioned to obey orders blindly – without thinking or considering the consequences of their acts.

    This is the reason they will fire upon the very civilians they are sworn to protect when ordered to do so.

    In effect the democracy Americans are so proud of is in a reality a sham that can be taken and will be taken away from the people when it suites the 1% who control the politicians.

    Ex military personal are just one of the many ticking time bombs carefully planted within our society just waiting for the order to explode.

    1. Whoa whoa whoa there, my dear reader. This wasn’t a fictional story. This was me, in February of 2008. You paint with a broad brush on many topics that could be argued with more granularity. I wrote a post about how the military teaches their people to kill, and it is much more in depth than just “amoral sociopaths without empathy.” I can argue both sides of the coin because I was put through the training and experienced the effects when faced with killing. Please read “The Cost of Killing” post on this blog, and read a few other of my posts which are military related. My entire book that is working to be published is about my time in Afghanistan. Please don’t paint things with such a broad brush.

      1. I always call a spade a spade and this is indeed a spade.

        The reality is military personal like the Soul Collector uou describe aren’t just broken; but their minds are twisted out of shape and recast into the mould of a sociopathic predator, on a leash held by its handlers, who then go on to do the same to others.

        This is a reality our warrior obsessed society ignores at its own peril.

        It’s just a form of legalized abuse that a parent who did this to a child would be arrested and condemned.

  2. Re: This wasn’t a fictional story.
    I got that. It’s what makes it/ you so scary. Even you don’t fully understand the implications of what was done to you.

    But then again of course you weren’t programmed to either.

    1. Dabir, please reconsider your perspective as it is far too broad.

      These generalizations are what fuel stereotypes, bigotry, and eventually hate based on falsely defined demographics. It is obtuse at best to determine service members of all branches (lol US Air Force) as brainwashed weapons of the state waiting for the “signal” to kill. If you think Service Members are trained to kill(only) and not bad ass Network Engineers or Financial Advisers whom go on to do those things, you have much to understand about the dynamic of that environment.

      “In one of his Rama books Arthur C. Clark described a group of intelligent spiders whose policy was to euthanize all of their soldiers who fought after the war was over.

      After reading this story I can understand their reasoning and fully agree with their policy.”

      “This is the reason they will fire upon the very civilians they are sworn to protect when ordered to do so.”

      These two statements completely contradict each other. Maybe you, who are trying to justify killing civilians (yes, veterans are still civilians) can not talk out of both sides of your mouth.

  3. Dear service member,

    That was simply evil what that female Drill Instructor did to you.

    I am grieved that there wasn’t real leadership there with you on that early morning hike to the range. Medics should have been immediately called to your aid, and you should have been immediately transported to the nearest base hospital for emergency care.

    And I am very sorry — but that female D.I. should have been reported and prosecuted to the FULLEST extent of U.C.M.J.; with rank fully taken away, and ample time locked up in the brig.

    The Marine Crops utterly failed you in this situation…and you deserved far, far better.

    1. Thank you for your concern. I guess it was just part of the mentality that was encouraged by the Marine Corps. However, if we look at it deeper, I didn’t want to be helped because getting help meant getting dropped and spending more time in that hellhole. I was desperate to get out.

      1. You know, I have even read stories online from recruits in MRP who ended up spending well over a year at the Depot, due to their medical/separation paperwork being held up in D.C. (kinda sounds like our government, right?). They would spend most days either redundantly cleaning their barracks or just sitting down on their footlockers…while still being treated like a recruit.

        Anyhow ma’am, thank you for sharing your story here for others to read and learn from. The actions of that disgraceful D.I. did not take your soul (I am a Christian and I rebuke that lie). Your soul is loved and valued.

        Your story also showed that you have tremendous grit and fortitude — despite what this world has dished out to you. Evil did not win here, and I believe that you have an intended destiny that can help and guide many.

        I hope that you and your spouse have a safe and blessed weekend.

  4. Can’t believe you made it through your contract on a bum ankle that was repeatedly messed up. I broke my ankle once in the fleet, but had a good Plt Sgt who kept me off it. Medical actually refused to send me for an x-ray, saying that “the E6 doesn’t like to spend money,” whatever the hell that meant.

    Everything you say is believable. As I said in this story, DIs are not leaders:

    They certainly can be, but most are not, nor are they required to be.

    Congratulations on making it through, and good on you for finding a partner worthy of the title.

    1. Hey, thank you! DIs are a special breed indeed. I have a few friends who have become DIs over the years and I think it changes a person temporarily, and not always in a good way. I poked around that blog for a bit. Seems like the Marine Corps was pretty rough on a lot of people. But that’s why we aren’t the Navy!

      Leadership needs to be emulated to be taught. Luckily I have had a few good leaders, but even I have caused suffering amongst my Marines because I was a bad leader. It wasn’t until later that I saw a good leader and started changing my approach.

  5. This is the second time I’ve found the “soul collector” gesture with regard to boot camp. The other was a male DI. So, this must be one of the bag of tricks DIs use in their jobs.

    You say it is the DI’s job to break you. Is that why you don’t have an issue with them allowing you to hike around on a broken ankle, so it changed from an injury to a chronic condition?

    1. I was too young and inexperienced to know it was their job when I was there. When I broke my ankle, all I could think about was how badly I wanted to get off the island…which meant to keep going on that ankle. If I had been dropped, my time getting treated like crap would’ve been extended…so I shut up. If I went through now, knowing what I know about my body, I would’ve requested medical help…but I would’ve also not joined the military.

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