“Move your butt, Cabrera!” The drill instructor shouted.
Startled, I realized the precarious position I was in.
I grabbed a thick, knotted rope hanging from the obstacle course. I held it with both hands, wrapped the end around my left foot and with all of my weight, pressed with my right foot down on top of my left to give me the tension I needed. At the same time, I pulled myself onto the rope and began climbing upward.
The goal was to reach the top and descend down again.
Successful, I slid downward, jumped off and ran to the next station.
A silver cable lay suspended between two wooden columns, hovering above a brown, muddy pit. On the other side, were two more wooden columns supporting the other end of the cable. It was the last barrier to the finish line. Those who found themselves unlucky enough to fall, were drenched in the muck with no possibility of a shower until later that day.
Exhausted, I consciously attempted to pace my breathing. I let my arms hang limp at my side for a few seconds, trying to shake away the burning sensation resonating through them.
The course was taking a toll on my entire body.
It was the second time my platoon was negotiating the course. This was considered “fun” according to the Marine Corps’ schedule. A break for the recruits from the intense boot camp training.
Training I had volunteered for – almost twelve weeks ago.
My drill instructors were watching on the sidelines, yelling and screaming at the recruits to hurry on as fast as they could. They liked yelling – alot. Only this time, the yelling was not the ear-piercing screams we were used to hearing. They were yelling the way they would if they were watching a horse or dog race and were encouraging their favorites along. However, instead of encouraging words, it sounded more like consequential implications.
I summoned every ounce of energy and strength left inside of me, then grabbed the cable with my bare hands. I held my body weight with my hands just long enough to hoist my feet onto the cable, intertwining them to make sure I wouldn’t fall. Methodically, and in spite of the chaos happening below me, I began to inch my way across. First, sliding my hands forward, then my feet.
The drill instructors’ voices and the rush of recruits, all attempting to conquer their fears and the course, could be heard below. I looked like one of those unfortunate animals caught by tribal natives, dangling from a wooden pole, and certain to become dinner once I reached my destination. Had I not been so determined to finish first, I might have snickered at the absurdity of my current plight.
My adrenaline was racing. I love being here. Love the hard training, the “never say die” attitude and “esprit de corps” I found in my unexpected new life. Everything seems alive and clear now. Never before have I had such clarity and felt part of a cause bigger than myself. This experience has made me realize that I have the personality and characteristics to uphold its honor and way of life. I have realized while here, that I am born to do this.
I am good at it too. In only a week after arriving, I was appointed as one of four squad leaders of my platoon. Two weeks later I was appointed the position of being the guide. As the guide, I am responsible and accountable for the performance and leadership of my platoon. I am first in command under the drill instructors.
“Cabrera!” A recruit waiting on the ledge for her turn to negotiate the cable, shouted.
I blinked my eyes, returning me again to the precarious nature of my present situation. Suddenly, my foot slipped off of the cable. I hung there, blood pumping in my ears.
The drill instructors and recruits alike were shouting for me, giving me their solutions on how to avoid the disgusting watery mess that was doomed to be my fate if I made the mistake of letting go.
Regaining my focus, I swung my legs up and over the cable, as I hurriedly slid myself the rest of the way to safety and dismounted.
Relieved, I doubled over to catch my breath, resting my hands on my knees.
My senior drill instructor strode over to me and commented, “Nice save, Cabrera, but if you lose focus like that in a combat situation, there may not be a second chance to save yourself or those you lead.”
I was disappointed that I allowed myself to be distracted, I shook off this mistake, vowing to correct myself for next time. I ran to the staging area, awaiting the next training evolution.
Even now as a recruit, I know that I want this to become my career. I’m not about to let anything get in the way of that.
Read more of Amber’s work at Amber Cabrera’s Blog