I graduated from high school in 1967 when there was still a military draft for the Viet Nam war. The draft was set up on a lottery system based on your birthday. My birthday was 137 out of 365 possible dates. There was a good chance I would be drafted. To avoid this, I enlisted in the Coast Guard with a clear agreement I would not be sent to war. But I did have to go to boot camp.
Bootcamp was torturous, intense, difficult, and tested me physically and mentally. I love it. Truthfully, what I loved was what I learned about myself by going through these challenges. It gave me more than I imagined. It remains one of the most remarkable experiences of my life.
Boot camp is a lot like what you may have seen in movies. My head was shaved, I was given clothes to wear and a bunk to sleep in. Everything had to be neat and clean. Discipline was required every minute of every day. This included how we lifted the food from the plate to our mouth to eat. As a beginning cadet, we were required to run everywhere, even after eating. This took some getting used to after throwing up my meals for the first few days.
Bosiansmate Turner had the job to train, mold, harras, intimidated, and challenge the company I was a part of. We were about 30 men all thrown together to learn about looking after each other. It was a lot like developing group consciousness. The concept was we had to be broken down, so we could be rebuilt in the way the military wanted.
There were about 20 companies at the Coast Guard boot camp in Cape May, New Jersey, and the badest, meanest, most feared of all the company heads, was Bosiansmate Turner. Surprising, that was a blessing. Even with this reputation, he was dedicated to every man in our company, to help guide them into being better men and soldiers.
Looking back it is easy to see how much I enjoyed the challenge, but at the beginning of boot camp, I fought against the discipline and harsh way I felt treated. My attitude gained me 38 points (demerits) by the end of the second week. Anyone who got 40 points during the 9-week training would have to repeat a week. I ended 7 weeks later with 39 points. I learned I was able to focus, adjust, adapt, keep steady, and complete the tasks required of me. The expression is, ‘I did not know I had it in me’.
The training was difficult and sometimes seemed impossible. The most extreme example was when Bosiansmate Turner woke us in the middle of the night, giving us two minutes to get dressed and come standing in formation with our seabags. The seabags were the standard-looking large army green bag that held all our clothes and gear. Fully packed it weighed about 60 pounds (27 kg).
We started marching with our seabags slung over our shoulders. It started to rain, we marched on. We went to the parade ground and began doing the close-order drill with our seabags, treating this bulky and heavy bag like it was a rifle. Everyone in the company was groaning and in pain. Then we had to march in double time, halfway between marching and running, with our seabags, held high over our heads. In the rain, in the dark, with this huge weight held above our heads, we had to march with each man in step with every other man.
Every time one man slipped or fell down, or just lowered his arms, we all had to go another time around the parade ground. It was a normal reaction to be mad at the man who slipped, As the night went on, it seemed impossible we would survive the night. Slowly we learned the real challenge was not how well we performed, but how well we took care of each other. Getting mad was based on old fears. Working together was a lesson we had to learn.
I learned so many positive things about myself through this experience, I truly wish everyone could attend Bootcamp in their life. Perhaps it explains the popularity of day-long extreme obstacle courses, where men and women must crawl through mud, climb over walls, and other challenging activities to find out if they can keep going. But these events lack a group consciousness.
The yoga teachings talk about the way consciousness must evolve to experience the full potential of life. We begin with individual consciousness. Becoming aware of the self, our needs and feelings, our strengths and weaknesses, and what feels aligned with our destiny. The second step is group consciousness. Where people come together to mirror each other. To challenge each other. To live for each other. The final step is universal consciousness. When we merge with the infinite creative power. Universal consciousness is when we stop seeing limits and start knowing the power of our own mind. It is important to see how the goal of universal consciousness requires the individual to go through group consciousness. For me, Bootcamp was the beginning of understanding how to make this transition.
photo – photo of me 1968