A private first class learns a lesson from his superiors on the proper levels of motivation.
A fire truck red pickup truck with chrome around the fenders and dual exhaust pipes roared to a stop at the Marine Corps Recruiting Station in Newark, Delaware. Private First Class Klyde Bakeman hopped out of the truck and yelled, “Oohrah!” He had covered the truck in decals: one read the “Rifleman’s Creed,” in red of course; another showed a bulldog with a KA-Bar between its teeth, another showed the division Bakeman hoped he be assigned to, First Marine Division; and among the dozens of “Semper Fi” stickers he also had a large Eagle Globe and Anchor decal on the hood of the truck in metallic gold. A vanity plate simply read, "Chesty."
Bakeman sighed. He strutted up the railway with a freshly starched Service Charlie uniform that November day. It had been a moderately warm day when he opened the door and let out a “Yut! Get some! Get some! Get some!”
Sergeant Cal Virgil just shook his head and wiped his hands with his face.
“Good morning, everyone!”
“Good morning, Bakeman,” Corporal Fremont Dustin said with a sigh.
“I’m interested in helping the recruiting business to the best of my ability,” Bakeman said.
“The first thing you can do is to get your happy ass some cleaning supplies and dust off and polish my axe,” Sergeant Shondra Nasan said.
“Aww c’mon ser'ant. I can clean that another day, can’t I? I want to hear about some real stories from the field. I know you’ve got a lot of them. Tell me what it’s like with rounds coming down range and all you’ve got is your trusted rifle. Tell me what that’s like.”
“Private, you don’t rate to have your way in this recruiting office. You are here on Recruiter’s Assistance (RA). Now, square away this prize of mine before Gunny Dinkins gets back.”
The sergeant then journeyed to the rear of the station. Three sergeants and a corporal remained with PFC Bakeman at the front of the office.
Sergeant Temple Trundle, an infantryman who had seen two tours in a far off land, already leaned over to Bakeman.
“You want to know about combat?” Sergeant Trundle asked.
PFC Bakeman’s eyes brightened.
“Sure, Ser'ant. I’d love to hear about the guts and glory of war!”
“You start wiping down that axe and I’ll tell you.”
Sergeant Stephanie Haven leaned in with mock enthusiasm. She had been on a tour of duty through a combat zone as an infantry Marine as well. “Yes, I can tell you stories that’ll make your knees quake.”
Bakeman’s eyes glowed with the impending excitement. He sprayed some glass cleaner into the rag and set about to restoring the battle axe.
Temple began. “We were outside of the wire for a few hours. Nothing going on... and then—”
Bakeman’s mouth turned into a right side up crescent. “And then what? And then what?”
“We started watching movies on our phones.”
“That’s it?” Bakeman asked.
“No. That was just the first day. After we had gone a bit further out, on the next day–”
Bakeman’s cleaning slowed.
“Hey, polish that axe, Marine!” Stephanie said.
“Well, we got hit with fire from an ambush. It was like hell on earth. I saw the rounds ricocheting and everything. It was a nasty sight. I clearly remember. ”
“Did you kill anyone?”
“Look into my eyes and tell me if I’ve ever killed anyone,” Sergeant Trundle said.
“Same with me,” Stephanie said. “I was in the thick of the thick. Insurgents closed in from all vantage points. It was just the four of us: the driver, the gunner, a journalist, and me. We had just come from eating afternoon chow and I felt it creeping up in my throat. But I held it down. I got into a mode that sustained me throughout my entire tour. My heart pounded but my thoughts remained clear. I could decipher what was going around me. The whole situational awareness sense. Rounds whizzing all around and explosions left and right... but that was only after I got done streaming an entire album on my phone.”
“So, let me get this straight. You all experienced combat but it was super boring and then hyper intense?”
“Yes,” Stephanie, Trundle, Virgil, and Dustin said in unison.
“Ser'ant Haven... did you shoot down anyone?”
“Does this face look like a killer?”
Bakeman looked down at the rag and the rotating motion he made with it on the axe blade. He then spoke.
“I know what I’m going to do when I get the Fleet. I’m going to be 0311 and see combat, too. Only I’m going to mow down like 60 insurgents and bring my kill ratio up to the highest point.”
Sergeants Trundle, Virgil and Haven and Corporal Dustin looked each other and shook their heads.
“PFC, if you get out in the field with rounds going down range you’re not going to have time to calculate your ‘kill ratio.’ You ought to be concerned about the Marines around you and whether you’re all safe,” Sergeant Virgil said. “Are you done with that axe? I’ve got these windows right here that need to be cleaned.”
“Yes, Ser'ant... Aye, Ser'ant,” PFC Bakeman said.
“I can tell you a story about how my A Driver caught a bad one. We were about three miles from base and we hit an IED. I still have shrapnel in my back. But I’m alright.”
PFC placed the axe plaque back on the wall and retrieved glass cleaner and replaced the wood and metal polish. He listened intently.
“No, let me tell it. You wanted to hear it, so here it goes,” Corporal Dustin said.
“The whole vehicle lifted into the air and flipped us over. We were ass over elbows and everything. The goddamn mission was for us to just deliver some supplies and it got all jacked up by some goddamn insurgents. Lance Corporal Giovanni Gase was just 22-years-old. He was the best A-driver, too, because he made sure that we had a soundtrack whenever we went outside the wire.”
“Are you getting a clearer picture now, Bakeman? Combat is boring as hell and then it really sucks. So all of your ‘ooh-rahing’ and ‘yutting’ and that god-awful scrap of metal you call a vehicle should all be toned down some. If you want to be motivated, try saving it for most civilians who’ve only read a few books and watched some movies and will never know the life of a Marine.”
Bakeman was stunned. He looked about the room full of Leathernecks who all had more stripes than he.
“But I can still have the will of a Devil Dog, right? I can take on the role of a legend in the Corps, can’t I?”
“What you need to be focused on is the fact that it’s all business. And the first order of business is for you to stop going around all motarded and ‘Semper Fi’ing’ us every chance that you get. Just remember to be aggressive, confident, and relaxed. You’ve already demonstrated that you’re aggressive in displaying your affinity for the Corps. We’ve got that. You just need to try to dial that back and find your zone of assurance and let the anxiety slip away from you like a jet lifting off into the clouds.”
Bakeman continued to clean the windows. He opened his mouth. “I just thought that all of the Marines would be able to be moto and exuberant in their positions in the finest fighting force in the world.”
“We are,” Sergeant Haven said. “We just don’t have to play the 'Marine Corps Hymn' on our electric toothbrush when we first wake up in the morning.”
“I’m still looking forward to claiming what’s mine. I shot expert on the range, I ran a two ninety five PFT, and my GT score is 110. I was the Honor Recruit. I’m hot.”
“You’re going by your Boot camp days, you Boot,” Corporal Dustin said. “Nobody gives a damn about any of that unless you can master fate in the moment where it counts. In combat, you’re not going to be thinking about all of that. You’re going to be worried about your Marines, goddamnit. As a matter of a fact, you’re a shower shoe.”
Bakeman cleaned the window until no streaks remained and a brilliance returned to the glass surface.
Bakeman stopped the cleaning process just as the sergeant who recruited him returned with the Gunny Dinkins and Captain Bennett Spiro. Gunny Dinkins yelled, “Attention on deck!” Most of the enlisted Marines rocketed to their feet. Sergeant Nasan saw from her peripheral vision that PFC Bakeman had failed to complete the command.
“Carry on,” Spiro said. The Marines returned to their seats save for Shondra and Bakeman. Shondra made a look at Bakeman to go to the rear of the recruiting station.
“What the hell is wrong with you, Bakeman? Did you do a data dump or something? Don’t you remember from recruit training that you stand to attention whenever an officer enters the room? Well?!”
The PFC stood at parade rest. “Yes, ser'ant, it’s just that I—”
“You what? Matter of a fact, drop down and give me 30 pushups.”
The PFC looked a bit bewildered and then abided. Each pushing down of the earth increased his strength but his resolve still waned. He completed the amount of physical training (PT) and stood back to his feet huffing and puffing.
“I’ve lost my motivation,” the PFC said rising to his feet and gasping for air.
“That goddamn truck out there certainly seems like you’re more than motivated. You come in here growling and damn near foaming at the mouth to help out while you’re on RA. You just need to tamp down those urges to be so over-the-top all of the time.”
“Now, are you going to go out there and give the respect that a Captain of Marines is due?”
“You turn around and greet Captain Spiro with the proper time of day.”
Bakeman went up to the captain and stood at attention like it was twelve o’clock.
“I heard some things about you. I heard you were the best in your company in Boot training.”
Gunny Dinkins, Sergeants Nasan, Haven, Virgil, and Trundle, and Corporal Dustin all looked at the Captain and Private First Class exchange words.
“I’ve seen your truck out there. Did you buy that before or after you graduated from Parris Island?”
“After, sir,” Bakeman said.
“I’m sure that you can account for such levels of motivation, there Private.”
“You just keep your head on tight, Private. Swivel and all.”
“Carry on, Bakeman,” Spiro said.
“Aye, sir, good morning, sir.” The captain turned away from the private first class. He addressed the NCOs and SNCO.
“This heartens me to say that our numbers for the past few months have been outstanding. We’re reaching even more civilians ready to make that transition into becoming Marines. It is up to all of you to ensure that the people that pass through those hatches will become qualified, bonafide, and certified Marines. We must motivate all of our ranks. Whether we are from the lowest private to the Commandant, the idea of having a Corps dedicated to the customs and courtesies and the value system is essential. I’ll leave you with this. The Marine Corps is not necessary. There are already a land force with the Army, an Air Force, and the Navy and Coast Guard have the sea. But America wants a Marine Corps. To keep it in perspective, just remind yourself of the reason that you ever wanted to become a Marine. Remind yourself of the day that you made the decision to don the uniform. Now, I know that we can get carried away.” Everyone looked at Bakeman. “But that doesn’t matter.” Captain Spiro pointed to Bakeman. “PFC Bakeman’s going to be a great Marine. Yes, he’s a bit of a handful but so was I when I was just a butter bar.”
The enlisted Marines laughed.
“So, you’ve got to realize that this is the future of the United States Marine Corps. We are the future.”