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wenty-nine Palms, California. The sort of place most people want to forget. Marines request to be stationed on "The Rock" more often than they request to be stationed at this desert base. A T-shirt admonishing the city features an illustration of a sign, "29 Palms. 100 miles from water. 2 miles from Hell." My guide from boot camp in P.I. was into photography and told me how much he enjoyed Joshua Tree National Monument, which was a short jump from "The Stumps." I knew that this is where I was heading after MCT, but I had no idea what to expect.
First of all, let me point something out. For all those people who say that the heat in the desert isn't as bad because it's dry heat, let me tell you that 120 degrees is agonizing whether it's dry or wet. It's the sort of heat that seems to burn directly into your brain as it beats down on your cover. The sort of heat that, once you walk out of the barracks, you're tempted to run right back in and wait for nightfall.
After graduating with the second-highest score in my class from Basic Electronics Course, I had a month before my Telephone and Switchboard Repair Course started. For most of the month I answered phones and learned about MIMMS (Maintenance Management) at TSRC. One other Marine was with me during that time, one who would later become our class leader and my roommate, a young man from North Carolina named LCpl Brad Bentley.
After the month had gone by, LCpl Bentley and I were both looking forward to starting class. Life has a way of getting very boring when all you do is answer phones and take part in working parties. PT was always run Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. We knew this, but I was very cocky about running since I became pretty good at it. For the entire month between classes, I had run once... which, not knowing it at the time, put me at a serious disadvantage to those coming right out of their class at BEC.
Our instructor was SSgt. Hardman, and, "No. Contrary to what you might have heard, he did not change his name to suit his personality." He was notorious for his runs, but that didn't concern me, because I "knew" I could handle anything he threw at me.
Now... When you live in the desert, people rightly tend to stress water intake... especially when you're going to PT. Sunday night before PT, I drank a six pack of RC Cola... and no water. In hindsight, that was pretty stupid of me. We started our run and I was motivated at the notion of being "into it" again... So motivated, in fact, that I got out to lead the formation in cadence. I was a yeller, and my goal was to motivate. By the time I got out there, the platoon had teetered off in volume, and I wanted to get them back into it.
About five songs into it and successful at my task, after running up the mountain and down the mountain and back up the mountain, it seemed to get unbearably hot, and my energy level dropped suddenly to about 10% of what it was. I quickly called someone else to come out and call cadence, and I dropped back into the formation. I tried to repeat the cadence being called from there, but I was completely out of breath, I was running out of sweat, and my legs felt like lead.
"If I can just get up this mountain," I thought as we kept circling back for drops, "the end of this run will certainly be near, and I can get through this thing."
Sure enough, I made it to the top, and I caught my breath and was calling cadence again, but my legs were still lead. I was happy, though, because I knew that it wouldn't be long before this run was over. We proceeded over the crest and back down the mountain. I was located about the middle of the pack, but I quickly realized the exact toll this run had taken on my legs... because I had no strength in them to control my decent, and I raced past the entire formation in a full sprint down to the bottom of with dust in my wake... Just before I got there, I fell and tumbled down the rest of the way.
I got up, brushed myself off, and started jogging in place while waiting for the rest of the platoon to catch up. When they did, one of the instructors told me not to get back in formation, so I stopped running and, once the formation was past, promptly threw up. It was a lesson hard learned, but I learned it well. Since then hydration has always been an important part of my conditioning. It did leave a bad taste in my mouth for 29 Palms, though (no pun intended). Each time I go back I remember this incident, and I refrain from drinking soda during my stay.