Dan Willis was an infantryman in the Marine Corps from 2010-2015 after a tumultuous and short career on Wall Street, serving with Fox Company 2/9. He is currently working on his undergraduate degree in economics at Columbus State Community College, and expects to finish at The Ohio State University. Dan humbly serves as RTB Media's Creative Director and Co-founder. Follow Dan on Twitter.
drank the Kool-aid at bootcamp. I will be the first to admit it. And I can remember the exact moment my palate encountered that sweet and intoxicating and vile ambrosia. I was dropping the hammer on a forty-five degree fold in my dingy green blanket stretched taught across my rack, praying quietly to God, confessing that smoking a joint so close to leaving for bootcamp was a mistake; that I desperately wanted what my drill instructors were selling me - the honor, the brotherhood, the prestige of the uniform; that I was all-in, completely pot committed, devil may care. I spent the remaining weeks in training giddy, anxious and impatient - eager for my impending rebirth as a proud son of the glorious institution that was the United States Marine Corps.
You will, hopefully, understand and excuse my temporary insanity. It didn't take long for the effects of the onslaught of platitudes and gung-ho speeches and "knowledge sessions" to wither away. At bootcamp they only teach you the useful parts of the Marine Corps’ history – like that Smedley Butler was only a badass killer, not also an ardent anti-war advocate and author. My unlearning started at the School of Infantry, and I realized day-one in the fleet that being "moto" was anathema unless you had actually done something. I was still excited to be there, but I decided quickly that putting more effort into not showing my elation would go a long way in making life easier. The anxious-to-please puppy is an easy and common target for the salt dogs. I wasn’t in a hurry to stand that much duty.
My senior LCpls and squad leaders began arranging and delivering impromptu "hip pocket classes" - a loosely-defined form of instruction that typically boils down into graphic deployment slide shows. They were excited to shock us, and as ridiculous know-nothing boots we were keen on being shocked, so long as a Marine with some sort of weapon was using it in any sort of way. They recreated the most kinetic scenarios from their last deployment with their pictures and videos, and supported the narratives as they spoke, often laughing at how slim the odds of their survival were or how often a particular leader would put them in a bad spot. It was almost always entertaining, and I learned a great deal, albeit not very efficiently. I don't know if they realize, even now, that what they were teaching me was a lesson that went beyond tactics and procedures and likely avenues of approach and appropriate reactions to contact of various forms. It was a lesson in brotherhood -- that although I was in the process of unlearning so much of what had turned out to be the worthless drivel of indoctrination, the bits about fraternity and camaraderie were real and tangible and more than just buzzwords.
Several months later I found myself finishing up the routine after-post duties on our COP in Afghanistan, heading back to the hooch to round out an uneventful day. I saw a particular Sergeant - we'll call him Sgt. "K" - gleefully walking toward the NCO hooch with one of his peers, both of them carrying the unmistakable utensils of hair removal – clippers, scissors, and various guards. I shot Sgt. K an inquisitive smile and asked if I wanted to know what he was so happy about.
"Today's a good day, there, Lance Corporal Willis." He emphasized my rank as a subtle reminder that I talk to him like he's my "bro" too often. I laughed a little bit, knowing he was right.
I replied, "Really, though, are you finally deciding to join the ranks of the bald?" I had long known that my own hair had no serious intentions of sticking around, so I bit the bullet and started shaving it in my mid-twenties.
"Nope! This fine Sergeant is going to shave my asshole for me," he announced, like he was proud to have a friend so willing. He added, nonchalantly pointing at another Marine, "and this poor bastard is going to help keep my cheeks spread apart." He then, with his arms held high, electric trimmer cord dangling in his face, let out an emphatic "Greater love hath no man!"
When we first set out to start building RTBmag.com, it was because we missed being surrounded by people crazy and loyal and loving enough to shave our assholes, if for no other reason besides the fact that we had asked them. We missed our friends who, no matter how reluctant we might be to say it, we genuinely love. But we have lost sight of this guiding idea since launching in September. The catharsis we had initially found in sharing some of our darker, more nuanced stories quickly devolved into a focus on only those stories. We were needlessly brash. We picked fights. It wasn’t much fun to write, which leads me to believe that it wasn’t much fun to read, either. Moreover, Emily Post would turn over in her grave if she caught wind of our lack of manners.
What defines our experience in the military the most is brotherhood - that we would lay down our life, or pick up those trimmers, out of love for our friends. That is the beautiful, inexplicable chaos that we long for so much; that we try so earnestly to recreate in civilian life. That brotherhood is the civ-mil divide.
No one in our hooch was surprised when I shared Sgt K's latest adventure. Most laughed. Some nodded approvingly, and made plans for their own assholes to be made bare. We all erupted into laughter, knowing full well that those plans would be executed posthaste. We didn't have bullets to take for our brothers on that deployment, more often than not. So we invented them. We invented ways to prove that we would lay our lives on the alter for one another, by holding a man's ass cheeks spread apart while another adult man trims away the unwanted hair, as they both sarcastically whistle the Marine Corps Hymn. As off-putting as the imagery is, no one can deny that that is some kind of love.
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