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"Listen up!" said Marine Senior Drill Instruction Jansen, striding into our squad bay, "when I call your name from this roster, I want you to answer up with your religious preference. Is that clear?"

"Sir! Yes, sir!" our platoon shouted in unison. Although we had been in boot camp for only three days, we recruits had already learned that the first and last words out of our mouth when speaking would be "sir!"

"What was that, ladies?" Our response had failed to impress him.

"Sir! Yes, sir!" we yelled, neck tendons straining and eyes popping.

Jansen turned and planted himself behind the battered wooden table at the center of the squad bay. As if on cue, the two assistant Drill Instructors, Edwards and Bass, strutted into the room in freshly starched uniforms and began to pace up and down between the twin rows of recruits standing at attention in front of their "racks." They proceeded to critically examine every aspect of our appearance, from our posture, to the alignment of our belt buckles, to the presence of stray threads jutting from our clothes.

"Abercrombie!" barked Jansen.

"Sir! Catholic, sir!"

"Alden!"

"Sir! Protestant, sir!"

And so it went, without a hitch, until the H's.

"Hawthorne!"

"Sir! Baptist, sir!"

"That means you're a Protestant, Hawthorne," said Jansen, after a beat. He spoke in a tone one uses to explain difficult concepts to small children.

"Sir! No, sir! I'm a Baptist, sir!"

Religion was momentarily forgotten as the assistant Dis pivoted toward their new prey like a pair of coyotes about to take down a newborn lamb. Hawthorne had crossed the line.

"I?" bellowed Edwards, in Hawthorne's left ear.

"I?" echoed Bass, in Hawthorne's right ear.

"Do you know what an 'I' is, maggot?" asked Edwards, loud enough to be heard at the other end of the building.

"Do you, huh, you steaming pile of puke? Do you?" spluttered Bass. His body jerked like a mad puppeteer's marionette.

"An 'I' is something you look out of," said Edwards, answering his own question. He suddenly turned to make sure the recruits behind him—myself included—were still at attention, with eyes locked to the front. Meanwhile, Bass dropped his voice and said, to Hawthorne, "Jumping jacks!… Ready!… Begin!" Hawthorne, having been rudely jerked back to the here-and-now of recruit training, obeyed the order, hopping while moving his arms and legs, in a fair imitation of someone trying to play hopscotch and dance the Highland fling at the same time.

It was just as well that Hawthorne had not uttered the other word forbidden to us—"you"—because that sin brought forth (in addition to the inevitable punishment exercise) a verbal tirade in which "you" turned into "ewe," with said female sheep transitioning abruptly to one particular degenerate thing one might do with a female sheep, to the subject of sex in general, and eventually, to a desire to engage in homosexual sex with a drill instructor. Despite the speciousness of this etymological "chain of reasoning," it was, under the circumstances, irrefutable.

Having thus established Hawthorne to be a "Protestant," Sergeant Jansen continued down the roster. I was prepared to answer "no preference" when my name was called because frankly, I was not particularly religious, and because, in some small way, I wanted to assert my individuality. My notion was scotched when Jansen got to the K's.

"Kirk!"

"Sir! No preference, sir!"

"What do you mean, Kirk?" asked Jansen.

"Sir! The private has no preference, sir! The private's an atheist, sir!"

The squad bay was silent for several beats, for although Marines are reputed to be the meanest cusses to walk the earth, they're also supposed to be a God-fearing crew. It says so, right in the Handbook.

"No preference, huh, Kirk?"

"Sir! Yes, sir!"

I heard a rhythmic tapping noise from Jansen's direction. It sounded like a pencil eraser bouncing off a clipboard, but I dared not look, lest I risk the wrath of the ever-vigilant assistant Dis. The tapping paused for a second, then resumed. Then stopped again.

"Kirk, since you've got no preference, you're a Protestant," said Jansen.

"Sir?"

"We've got fifteen Catholics and eleven Protestants," explained Jansen, "so, you're a Protestant. Is that clear?"

"Sir!... Yes, sir!"

My plan had been scuttled. As I prepared to accept my Protestant fate, Jansen called the name of the recruit directly above me in the roster, who stood about a yard to my right.

"Lambros!"

"Sir! Greek Orthodox, sir!" said Lambros, in a voice I felt was a bit louder and more emphatic than it had to be.

Out of the corner of my eye, I could see Jansen's head jerk in our direction. "Christ!" he said, loud enough to be heard on the street, "There's one in every crowd!" Then his arm moved in an arc and I heard something - a pencil – skitter across the floor.

Within seconds, Edwards and Bass had assumed stations in front and on either side of Lambros, like guard dogs waiting for a signal to attack. I felt a smile start to claw its way up past my solar plexus, and stifled it. It was one thing to vicariously enjoy Lambros' moment of being different, quite another to show my enjoyment. I felt Bass looking at me. My eyes stayed locked to the front.

"Private Lambros," said Jansen, "the Marine Corps will do what it can to accommodate your religious beliefs, but in the event an Orthodox chaplain can't be found, which services would you prefer to attend, Catholic or Protestant?"

Mentally, I willed Lambros to stand firm, to cite the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, or even the Mayflower Compact, if need be, but to hold fast, make the most of this modest moment in the sun, and to stand out from the rest of us sorry wretches, as we stood stiffly in our ill-fitting uniforms, with stubble where our hair used to be.

"Sir!" said Lambros, after a moment, "the private would like to think it over, sir!"

Jansen got up and walked over to and stopped in front of Lambros, while Edwards and Bass continued to hover behind him. "Recruit," said Jansen, in a quiet conversational tone, "you think about your answer and tell me what you decide. In the meantime, as our count is still lopsided, I'm going to put you down as a Protestant. Do you find that acceptable?"

"Sir! Yes, sir!" said Lambros, in the same quiet tone. Jansen gave a little nod and returned to his table and the roster. As things turned out, everyone in the platoon besides Lambros fit - or was made to - into the slots of "Catholic" and "Protestant."

I never did find out how the problem was resolved, or if it was at all. I saw Lambros at the Protestant service a few times, perhaps, but really didn't keep tabs, as I typically spent as much time as possible during the Sunday service in a prayerful posture, kneeling, with hands together, head bowed, and eyes closed.

Catching up on sleep, of course.


Date: 2010-04-12 07:07 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] baxaphobia.livejournal.com
Smile. How dare you not fit into the assigned category! hahaha. Great entry as always!

Date: 2010-04-13 02:17 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] alexpgp.livejournal.com
Thank you!

Cheers...

Date: 2010-04-12 07:08 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] crimsonplum.livejournal.com
I really enjoy your behind-the-scenes glimpses. And hey, even those who have a Preference have used prayerful postures to catch a few winks. ;)

Date: 2010-04-13 02:17 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] alexpgp.livejournal.com
Amen to that!

Thanks for stopping by!

Cheers...

Date: 2010-04-12 09:08 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] bdunbar.livejournal.com
I attended Mass with the Catholics. It was closer to the Episcopalean ritual I grew up with than whatever the heck the Protestants were up to. It sure didn't seem like chruch.

Also Catholics went to service after the Protestants - we got to hang out longer in the morning after chow.

Date: 2010-04-13 02:19 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] alexpgp.livejournal.com
I found out that nobody really cared what service you attended, as long as you attended one. I started attending the Catholic service more often toward the end of boot camp, as I liked the format better.

Cheers...

Date: 2010-04-12 11:56 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] furzicle.livejournal.com
At Philmont scout ranch we were required to attend services. One of the boys suddenly claimed to be Jewish, though he wasn't, and we all decided that sounded like an excellent time to make an exploratory field trip. Ten of us made a sudden conversion. Two boring adults decided they had to stay true to their own faith. How boring. Strangely, I don't remember the service. But I do remember feeling very adventurous!

Date: 2010-04-13 02:25 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] alexpgp.livejournal.com
Well, I did end up attending the Catholic service during boot camp, and ended up preferring it to the Protestant service, but mostly I concentrated on boot camp!

Cheers...

Date: 2010-04-13 01:35 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] similiesslip.livejournal.com
The last part was the funniest:) I am sure you WERE tired if you were in the Marines though!

Date: 2010-04-13 02:25 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] alexpgp.livejournal.com
Well, I never had any trouble falling asleep, that's for sure! <grin>

Thanks for stopping by!

Cheers...

Date: 2010-04-13 01:50 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] adoptedwriter.livejournal.com
This was so much fun to read. AW

Date: 2010-04-13 02:26 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] alexpgp.livejournal.com
I'm glad you liked it. Thanks for stopping by!

Cheers...

Date: 2010-04-13 08:34 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] mstrobel.livejournal.com
Religion was momentarily forgotten as the assistant DIs pivoted toward their new prey like a pair of coyotes about to take down a newborn lamb.

You write so vividly and I love it XD Especially enjoyed reading this entry, that was heaps of fun! I could almost see and hear it all happening as well. I had to laugh when Lambros first answered!

Date: 2010-04-14 03:09 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] alexpgp.livejournal.com
Thanks for the kind words.

Cheers...

Date: 2010-04-14 09:59 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] imafarmgirl.livejournal.com
For real? This is hilarious but also really sad.

Date: 2010-04-14 03:10 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] alexpgp.livejournal.com
I've heard the whole of boot camp described that way. <grin>

Thanks for reading!

Cheers...

Date: 2010-04-15 01:27 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] teaberryblue.livejournal.com
Aw, man! No Jews? No Muslims?

Date: 2010-04-15 05:04 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] alexpgp.livejournal.com
Actually, the scene I describe occurred shortly after our platoon was briefed by a member of the chaplain corps, during which briefing it was determined our platoon was a homogeneous group.

Cheers...

Date: 2010-04-15 01:54 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] onda-bianca.livejournal.com
"Christ!" he said, loud enough to be heard on the street, "There's one in every crowd!"

It was at this point I literally made an audible laughing noise out loud.

There weren't any Jewish marines?

Date: 2010-04-15 05:08 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] alexpgp.livejournal.com
The question came up during a a meeting with the chaplains, and that turned out to be the case for our group.

Thanks for the reaction!

Cheers...

Date: 2010-04-15 04:05 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] fourzoas.livejournal.com
This was wonderfully told; I felt as though I was there!

Date: 2010-04-15 05:09 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] alexpgp.livejournal.com
Thanks for the kind words!

Cheers...

Date: 2010-04-15 08:11 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] rattsu.livejournal.com
I am reminded of the old Ford thing... 'You can get it in any color, as long as it is in black'. Great story.

Date: 2010-04-15 09:41 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] impoetry.livejournal.com
A fun read, and very well written.

Date: 2010-04-16 12:29 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] alexpgp.livejournal.com
Thank you!

Cheers...

Date: 2010-04-15 10:20 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] superhappytime.livejournal.com
highly amusing

Date: 2010-04-16 12:29 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] alexpgp.livejournal.com
Thank you!

Cheers...

Date: 2010-04-15 11:17 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] agirlnamedluna.livejournal.com
What did they do in case you came with a religion that was not Christian? These are always very interesting behind the scenes you post :)

Date: 2010-04-16 12:28 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] alexpgp.livejournal.com
Well, our platoon had already participated in a briefing with the chaplains where a general picture was formed regarding non-Christian religious preferences, and our group was homogeneously Christian.

While it is feasible to think that the purpose of that briefing was to figure out the mix of chaplains that might be needed to take care of our spiritual needs, I'm not so sure. Chaplains are "cross-trained," so to speak, to minister to other faiths (at least that's how I remember it).

Thanks for the kind words.

Cheers...

Date: 2010-04-16 01:42 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] kittenboo.livejournal.com
lol, i love the end!

Date: 2010-04-16 05:17 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] alexpgp.livejournal.com
Glad you liked it!

Cheers...

Date: 2010-04-16 03:29 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] beeker121.livejournal.com
Mass was always the place I caught up on sleep when I was a kid. Did the drill sergeant tell you that the two options were protestant and catholic before this started, or did everyone get to discover that together?

Date: 2010-04-16 05:25 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] alexpgp.livejournal.com
Well, a platoon briefing before the events I describe pretty much established that we recruits subscribed to one form of Christianity or another (or were atheists, which was not a viable option for "religious preference").

But to answer your question, no, those were not the options presented, and I doubt anyone in the platoon would have given the issue much thought at all, either at the time or later.

Cheers...

Date: 2010-04-16 04:51 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] beautyofgrey.livejournal.com
Oooh, well told, and I like the take on the topic.

Date: 2010-04-16 05:22 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] talon.livejournal.com
Excellent story...sir ;)

Date: 2010-04-17 03:50 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] intrepia.livejournal.com
This was a wonderful piece of writing. It really drew me into the scene.

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