The Marching Party


It would take me a lifetime to write about my Navy career but here’s a little peek at a small moment in my career that helped shape me into what I am today.  

        Before you can understand the story, I need to get you up to speed on what San Diego Navy boot camp was like in 1982. When I joined the Navy, I had rarely been out of the Midwest except for a few family vacations as a kid so flying into San Diego, Ca. at 10:30 in the evening to report to boot camp was a big deal. I don’t care who you are, you’re going to be a little freaked out for the first 48 hours or so. You go through a series of fun events within the first few days but one of the first things that happens after a good haircut is you go through uniform issue. This is a time when you are issued all of your Navy uniforms and undergarments and you stencil your name just above the pocket on all of your “dungaree” shirts and trousers or working uniform as well as stenciling your “skivvies”, hats or “lid”, socks and personal belongings. By this time, you have been formed into a “Company” which is a group of about 50-75 guys that you’ll be spending the next few months with, living in cramped quarters in a barracks without heat or air conditioning. Each person is referred to as a “recruit” for the duration of boot camp and we marched in formation everywhere we went. During my time in bootcamp there were at least 5-6 companies on the same time schedule as our company.

While we stenciled our new clothing our prospective “Company Commanders” were walking around watching us work on stenciling our gear. Company Commanders were the equivalent of a Drill Instructor in other branches of the service, more senior members in the Navy and could be recognized by a chest full of medals and ribbons, a lot of stripes on their uniform and these red ropes dangling in a loop from their shoulders. We referred to them as “red ropes” behind their back and “Sir” to their face. There would usually be 2 Company Commanders assigned to a Company and they were the boss, your mom, you dad, your best friend, your worst enemy and just like Sgt Hulka, they were our big toe. While stenciling my uniforms I could tell the Company Commanders were watching us to see who was paying attention to detail and doing a thorough job in a timely manner, so I made sure I did everything to perfection when they walked behind me and looked over my shoulder. It paid off to perfection and a week later I was dubbed our new “Company Yeoman”. Our Company Commander, First Class Petty Officer Marlor took a liking to me and trusted me the responsibilities of a Yeoman which was taking care of the daily logistics of head counts and mail call. I was the liaison between the company and our Company Commander. I liked my job, but our Company Commander was mean, I mean real mean. He was covered in tattoos from neck to toes and could outrun, do more push-ups, set-ups or any number of exercises we did on a daily basis. This guy was covered in tattoos before that sort of thing was cool. He was intimidating to say the least but in the back of my mind a little part of me knew this was all part of the act. The act of shaping us all into young sailors before setting us out to start our real Navy careers.

I don’t think words can properly describe the feelings I went through in Boot Camp. Besides the obvious things like missing home, a girlfriend, mom and dad and all of those creature comforts, you learn very quickly to do without. There were challenges on an hourly basis and there was so much to learn in a short period of time. There were great things that got accomplished in boot camp and there were failures and consequences to be paid. A few weeks after the start of Boot Camp we were all settling into a routine and starting to feel a little cocky. Feeling a little cocky was something that was not advised during boot camp. Us recruits feeling a little cocky made the Company Commander feel a little cocky too. Their idea of feeling a little cocky was singling out any one person who thought he was better than the rest or maybe someone who made a mistake? This person would become the target of Company Commanders enjoyment. Sometimes the Company Commander would take matters into his own hands and sometimes he would send a hard case to a “Marching Party”. A marching party was something that took place after dark, every other week on Thursday and there was usually someone going from our unit every time they had it. The ones that went never came back the same. It wasn’t like they got a lobotomy or anything, but they didn’t chat much about it, only saying it was 2 hours of hell and involved some crazy, out of control Navy SEALs. At the time about all I knew about the SEALs was that they were elite and mean. I only knew what I had read in our “Bluejacket” manual which is the sailors bible and has everything about everything in the Navy. In the manual they gave a brief job description of a Navy SEAL, and I knew they had to be tough.

After about a 4-week period of being our company Yeoman I had things down to a science. I knew my job inside and out and I got complacent. One of my jobs was to do a head count of every recruit in our company prior to sitting down for a meal. For every meal I would report the number of recruits to our Company Commander, and we would file into the chow hall for our meal. Sometimes a recruit would be sent to sick call or some other demand so the number of recruits going to a meal may vary from meal to meal. After 4 weeks on the job as the head counter before meals I just started winging it and throwing out a number thinking no one was checking my numbers. We went days with me reporting a headcount that went unchecked, so I thought it was just a formality. Yea, I was dead wrong. One day our Company Commander call me into his office out of the blue. Up until this point I had been his “Go To” guy in the company and could do no wrong. On prior meetings with him in his office it was generally a pleasant experience but, on this occasion, it was all business. I saw a side of him I had never experienced before, and he was pissed to say the least. He informed me that from his best estimation, in the overnight hours a week ago perhaps, something or someone came in and had made me a dumbass. He explained that he had been watching me operate at the chow hall head counts and had been checking my numbers for the last week. Needless to say, I was busted and for punishment I would be fired from my position and sent to the marching party on Thursday evening. This is the part I’ll never forget. He looked me straight in the eyes and in a stern voice he said: “You know Farmer, in the Navy complacency can get you killed, or even worse, you’ll get the people around you killed. I want you to remember that“. It was like the voice of experience had just spoke and my whole world just tanked. I was fired from my position and banished to the marching party. I wasn’t going alone as I soon found out that another recruit from our company had done something wrong and would be accompanying me to the party. His name was Powell, and we were both trying to find out all we could about what went on at a marching party but the guys from our company who had went didn’t want to talk about it much, siting a sworn secrecy.

Thursday night finally came after a long day of marching and classroom events. Everyone else was finishing their duties for the evening as Powell and I were donning our gear to go to the marching party at 10pm. Our gear included our working uniform with a watch cap or black stocking cap. We were told to march to an empty parking lot or “grinder” directly in front of the little store where we got our supplies. We would be greeted by our hosts for the night, and they would give us our instructions for 2 hours of hell. Powell and I really didn’t know what we were in for, so the mood was light as we marched to the grinder. When we got there the party was in full swing and we were immediately told to join ranks for a little chat before we got started. There were at least 2 dozen of us, and we were all in a formation, standing at attention while these big face painted gorillas walked through our ranks explaining to us how we had fucked up really bad and we were about to pay for it. They asked if anyone wanted to go home to momma before we got started but no one had the balls to go that route so without further ado we started doing different physical exercises while being yelled at by about 6-8 psychotic and somewhat humorous, Navy SEALs. They got in your face, they got in your ear and tried in every way to make us break and cry. I won’t go into detail but some of the exercises were very extreme with names like “Hello Dollies” and “Eight count body builders” and one of my personal favorites, “The Superman”. We would do push-ups but you would have to stay in the down position with your nose and body 2 inches from the deck. It didn’t take long till the sweat started mixing with the dirt on the ground and everyone’s faces were black and dripping mud. My working uniform was drenched in sweat and dripping, making a puddle of mud beneath me. They tested ever muscle in my body, and I was in great shape at the time. After the first hour my body trembled from exertion and my muscles were fading fast. If you were caught screwing up an exercise the SEAL’s were on you like a pack of wild dogs with 2 or 3 of these gorillas in your face screaming obscenities and just trying to get you to break. I finally decided that these SEALs were probably betting big money and taking a head count on how many of us they could break before it was over, so I made up my mind that wasn’t going to happen to me. They could break my body, but they couldn’t break my spirit. Names were a form of enjoyment for these guys, and they would make light of our names. When they saw my name was Farmer, they had a little fun with me, and my name designed to see if mocking my family name would break me or make me snap. They never put a hand on us, but it was degrading to say the least. Just before we were done, Powell, who was directly to my left finally broke down and the tears started flowing. He was physically spent and could give no more. They showed no mercy and giving up only gathered a crowd of these antagonizers.  That was the point in the evolution that I realized the reason that no one who had been there before me talked about it much. They didn’t break me and when it was over Powell and I marched back to the barracks with muscles either locked, cramping or in some kind of spasm.

When we got back to the barracks, everyone was asleep except for the two night watchmen. We were covered in dirt and told by the night watchmen in the barracks to get a quick shower and hit the rack for the night. One of the night watchmen asked us how it was and neither me nor Powell wanted to discuss it much. I promised Powell on the way back that I wouldn’t say anything about what went down. I showered and hit the rack for the night. It seemed like I had just closed my eyes when the lights came on and it was morning. I had slept a total of 4 hours, but it seemed like I hadn’t slept at all. When I tried to get out of my rack, my muscles were completely locked up. I have never felt like I felt that morning at any time in my life. I have competed in military and civilian marathons at a lightning pace and pushed my body to the brink of destruction, but I have never ever felt like that since. Powell and I went on to graduate from boot camp and start our Navy careers but that little 2-hour snippet in time will never be forgotten by me and I’m sure, by Powell also.

Although that was just a small fragment of my life there was a lesson to be learned and our old Company Commander was right, during my career in the Navy I’ve witnessed more than one incident or accident where complacency was the culprit, and the outcome wasn’t good. On the flight deck of an aircraft carrier there is an old saying “The moment you are complacent is the moment you jeopardize your life and the lives of everyone around you”.

22 thoughts on “The Marching Party

  1. Enjoyed your description of a marching party. I had to go to one in boot camp in San Diego (1973) too for putting my sheets on upside down on my rack. The only time I got into trouble in boot camp. I think the CC was just looking for something.

    • Yup. I was the guy who hid and did everything correctly. Til that day… … My T-shirt was folded “wrong”. It wasn’t. I was always perfect. Touch of the OCD I guess.

      Cruising along fine in boot did give you a sense of aloofness but that bubblehead CC got me good. Marching Party! It wasn’t 2 hours. It was four. San Diego. I can guarantee you those SEALs did NOT want to be there and they HAMMERED me (us).

      I have blacked-out that memory somehow. What I remember is staring at the laundry facility. That’s it. Sometimes I remember being basically in a pretzel shape going in and out of consciousness.

      Least favorite memory!

      • I went to Marching Party at least 3 times in the summer of 1984 as a 17 year smart ass. I did it all right, but that doesn’t mean my CC liked me. 2 hours of flutter kicks, hello dollies, and 8 count body builders. You slept well after that evening of being yelled at by guys in those horrible UDT shorts, but it was nothing compared to going to short tour. Short tour was a 4 hour “Positive Motivation” workout with a rifle. Instructors walked around with a clip board. If you received too many check marks, you had to return the next week. You didn’t know pass or fail until it was over. At least 25% failed. My CC made me sleep in those funky dungarees that night. That was just as bad as the workout.

  2. Never even heard about this institution when I was in San Diego (August-November 1962). I remember being disciplined with the “captain’s chair” once, not even clear on what I did to deserve it.It was not until many years after boot camp that I realize it wasn’t about teaching us anything, it was all about changing us.

  3. CO 930 1987 RTC San Diego. Got sent to marching party myself about 3/4th the way through Boot camp. I was part of a detail that was tasked to go get our civilian clothes being stored at NTC San Diego. We marched the correct way all the way there, but on the way back our detail LPO decided to take a short cut through the parade grounds. I remember to this day voicing my protest under muffled voice “we shouldn’t be going this way”. Sure enough, we got caught by a Senior Chief CC “red rope” who promptly took our chits out of our pockets. Later that night, we were brought in front of the entire 90 person company and told these are the 6 people who cost you the division. We came in second as the best division as a result of our actions.

    Later that night, we were awoken at 2100 and told we had to got to Marching Party at 2200. Which for a recruit in RTC San Diego, is the worst fate you could get in boot camp, short of getting recycled back a few weeks. So, we are told to wear our black knit wool cap and PT gear. Pitch Black, a couple of voices are telling us where to stand and all of the sudden, the lights come on and these men with black masks and PT gear or wearing Camo shorts, are screaming at us to get down and do squat thrusts. It was surreal. I actually only remember that I was getting called all sorts of names and so was my mama. Finished about midnight and our reward was 4 or 5 hours of sleep.

    I too got back to the barracks, in tact, unbroken. But still sore at age 18, which must be difficult to do.

  4. Never had to go to any of those punishment regimens, marching party or the dreaded Short Tour and POSMO. I didnt even know where it actually was but I did know marching in place with a helmet on my head and a rifle doing calisthenics in the afternoon heat was not the way to go. I pretty much kept my head down and avoided as much trouble as I could but I always wondered what that was like. Thanks for sharing shipmates.

  5. I attended NTC San Diego in August 1990 and it’s funny that I found this blog because over the years I would try to explain to family and friends the joy of Marching Party! I will never forget that night and I think we went 3-4 hours… I think the worst besides the flutter kicks and mountain climbers and body builders was the simple on your backs ! then Pop
    Tall! over and over again until backs were bloody coming thru the shirts because of the small rocks on the grinder digging into our backs. Towards the end they held us in push-up position for what seemed like an eternity. At this point the Seals were walking around to see who was holding a good position and then you would be cut loose.. I do remember at least one person barfing and crying lol while holding this position.. My son who years later would join the Navy went to Great Lakes (because this is now the only NTC) and through his stories and attending graduation all I could think of was how times have changed…
    P.S. Does anyone remember Shore Tour? We had one hard case that was sent there and we never saw him again…

    • Shore tour does sound familiar. I think it was the next level past marching party. ‘
      I have no idea why the Seals were so involved in training boots at RTC San Diego during that time frame. Another fond memory was during swim qualifications. So when it was my turn to jump off platform, I specifically remember trying to move away to the left of platform after I hit the water. Then the next guy jumped way too soon and landed right on top of me, I was dazed and when I came up I was offered a rescue pole, but when I tried to grab it the Seal slammed the end into my head a few times laughing the whole time. Eventually I made it out but was disqualified and had to go to remedial swim, which I did and passed on the first attempt. It probably is much more structured now.

      • The SEAL we had told us that if we needed to be pulled out he would pull us out, but if we pulled the pole he would push us back in because he didn’t feel like getting wet today. I failed the entire PT test because I couldn’t touch my toes. Had to spend service week PTing with the SEALS.

    • Don’t know why, but for some reason I did a google search trying to find out if there was anything out there on “Shore Tour!” @John F – I was in San Diego in august 1990 also. I had a taste of a couple Marching Parties, then off to Shore Tour. Shore Tour was definitely a sort of abyss. Three days of all day PT in full gear. After each day you were graded and failed, no matter how much effort you put into it. After three failures you get sent to the company behind yours, and around this time recruitment was a little slow so there was no guarantee that they next company was only two weeks behind you. I remember being on the phone in a huge fight with my girlfriend while the CCs were away and our trusty Yeoman was pleasant enough to inform the CC when he arrived.
      I believe my saving grace was a Senior Chief at shore tour who asked me how I landed there and where I was from. Turns out we were from the same neighborhood. I will never know for sure, but I believe he put in a word for me and I was allowed to return to my company after the third day. When I returned my CC asked WTF was I doing there. I told him I passed Shore Tour and he said he was going to Fk me up for lying because nobody passes Fukn “Shore Tour!”

      • This all sounds about right lol. Wild times for sure. These new booters have no idea what they are missing out on.

  6. I was just telling my gf about how I caught a Marching Party on my birthday (for what I’m certain was an invented infraction)…

    I think they just wanted to screw with me.

  7. ntc san diego 614 65 the whole company went on a middnight marching party 4 hr of hell al due to the incompentence of rcpo who replaced me

  8. The day I arrived was 23:00 PST in 1979 but coming from the East it was 02:00 EST within my body clock. Receive a hair cut @ 01:30 PST (04:30 EST) and reveille was 04:00. I maybe got two hrs sleep… fast forward a couple days to Thursday after lunch we we given a short break but we’re told we couldn’t go to sleep nor lay on our racks. I decided to sit on the floor beside my rack and write a quick letter but was so exhausted I not only feel quickly asleep but my head was propped up against my rack… I awaken by an invitation to go to a part that night which in my slumbering state I accepted. All afternoon the entire company was told how I would be spending my entire naval career at San Diego in marching party… luckily it was still my first week but oh how they tried to break myself and another boy who were Left last with well over 4 hrs of PT Hell. They never did break either one of us because we had both been told we it was a perpetual event except for the winner… Only when boot camp was over at graduation did that CC inform me otherwise, but told me he was proud that I had completed his assignment…

  9. I went to San Diego in 1986, and this description of marching party brings back baaaaaad memories! 😉 I actually had to go a whopping 3 times, 2 of which I never really knew why I was being sent. My company commander said something like “general purposes” the third time. They’d said previously that after 3 times at marching party you were sent to PosMo, and you did NOT want that. Fortunately my company commander must have taken pity on me and never gave me any more trouble.

  10. CO 052-82 CC Kendal & set back to 055-82 CO CC Paige after attending a “marching party” AND attending a “short tour” as well as a Division Mast. Ended up with a second trip through the gas chamber as I recall.

    All because PO1 Kendal told me the navy way to solve a problem with the guy behind me stepping on my heels was to give him a wake up call. He never told me to do it in a closet so I spun on a dime in the middle of the grinder and broke the guys jaw.

    Sounds like your marching party was easy, we had to carry full duffle bags just in case we decided to ring out and quit. Like you I have many memories of the grinder but the short tour back by the R&O grinder was a real doozy!

    Instead of three hours like the marching party it was an all night party, literally trying everything they could to break our spirit. I didn’t break, like you we observed “the code of silence” regarding what took place. We were warned that if we said anything at all then it would mean another “short tour” out by the marine barracks fence line. The thought of another round was enough to keep me silent.

    After I was set back three weeks and put in 055 CC Paige was a real hard a$$, but it was for our own good. I must admit I rather enjoyed his direct and to the point attitude. I think most if our group did and that’s why we earned the Captains Trophy. Oddly enough the company I was removed from earned the “Quebec” Flag and had to take last chance at everything.

    After the Navy I went on into civil service and eventually into Merchant Marines as Captain in 2009, then my navy days started to catch up and my health started failing.

    We had a guy named Farmer in our group, after reading this story one has to wonder? Could it be?

    Either way, great story mate but you broke the code, you’re entitled to a short tour now! Aren’t you glad they closed it down LOL!

    Peace brother!

  11. Pingback: A Lesson in Complacency – Cast Away's Blog

  12. 1988, 18 y.o., San Diego. Escaping from Cincinnati, Ohio. I had enlisted after seeing a documentary on SEALS, and thought that would be an amazing experience. Completely ignorant of reality. Some strange parallels. One of our CCs was named Farmer. In the first two days Company 003 was filling out paperwork in lock step, item by item, following commands to move forward, an unfamiliar concept so I just decided to fill it out and finish so I could relax for a few minutes. He caught me, singled me out for push-ups, then made me company yeoman (a far worse punishment). I was never fired despite two Marching Parties because I was a decent artist and both company commanders wanted me to paint flags for their upcoming retirement. During Service Week I was locked down in the barracks to paint battleships and caricatures daily. A great gift in the RTC phase. A few memories about the Marching Parties. The first did break me at the very end, after all the squat thrusts and flutter kicks when we were made to run around the grinder over and over. It was beyond anything physical I’d done in my life to that point, and as my body seemed on the verge of failure I began uncontrollably, shamefully sobbing. While nearly sprinting. It hadn’t occurred to me that was even possible. Fortunately an angel running behind me punched me hard in the back and said “quit crying you f***ing p***y and run. So I did. And finished. The second time there was no breaking, and during linked arms situps I had the joy of paying that encouragement forward to boost the flagging spirits of my shipmates. At that moment though I realized the SEALs were probably not a good fit for me and that I could probably serve our country best at a desk. Horrible experiences but much needed realizations.

  13. I was in CO146 in 1982. That’s me, John Atkinson Second row back, second in from the left. Went on to become a submarine fire control tech. My Anchor is in another state so I couldn’t look you up. It’s hard to remember folks after 41 years

    • First time I’ve connected with someone from my company since A-school. That’s pretty amazing that you ran across my blog and found our company picture. Thanks for replying John!

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