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 your “skivvies”, hat or “lid”, socks and personal belongings. By this time you have formed 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 barrack 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.

While we stenciled our 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, you’re 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 out run, 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 once a week, usually on Thursday and there was usually someone going from our unit every week. The ones that went never came back the same. They didn’t chat much about it, only saying it was 2 hours of hell and involved 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. He informed me that from his best estimation somehow over night perhaps, a big rock had came in contact with my head and made me a dumbass. 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. He looked me 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 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 was 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 a 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 off 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. We were all in 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 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 covered in sweat and dripping, making a puddle of mud beneath me. They tested ever muscle in my body and I was in outstanding 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 you face screaming obscenities and just try to get you to break. I finally decided that these SEAL’s 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. 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 and the tears started flowing. They showed no mercy and crying 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 2 night watchmen. We were covered in dirt and told by the night watchmen in the barracks to get a quick show and hit the rack for the night. One of the night watchmen asked us how it was and neither myself or 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 get complacent on the flight deck is the moment you jeopardize your life and the lives of everyone around you”.

10 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!

  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.

  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

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