The USMC Combat Helicopter Association: The Bucket Issue

Carl | April 19, 2013 

The Bucket Issue (A Bootcamp Story)

Back in the depths of time, when the air was clean and sex was dirty, back when I was young and dumb (no comments please) I thought it would be a good idea to join the United States Marine Corps. Early January 1954, found me at that bastion of southern hospitality and gracious living, Parris Island, South Carolina. While it was being impressed on my young and tender mind and body what a completely useless piece of (possibly) human offal I was, I was allowed to participate in many secret and mysterious rituals of the USMC. Among the many adventures this young boot had was ‘The Bucket Issue’.

The first few days at Parris Island were just a blur of running, getting yelled at and very little sleep. I think it was about the third day they gave us our utility uniforms. What a sorry lot we were. Boot uniforms come in two sizes, too big and too small. Mostly too big. Collectively we looked like a bunch of refugees from a Salvation Army rummage sale. On day four the Chief Yeller (Senior Drill Instructor) appeared among us. Our Chief Yeller was a six foot four inch, rail thin, rawhide tough, buck sergeant, from North Carolina named Hart. A misnomer if there ever was one – the man didn’t have one. He also had two Assistant Yellers. Not that he needed them; one of him was more than enough to handle the seventy- five of us. Anyway, when one of the yellers appears among you, you stand at attention in front of you rack. (For some strange reason the Marines called beds racks. Because there were so many of us, our racks were double bunked and conveniently spaced about six and a half inches apart). The Chief Yeller told us we were going to get our bucket issue. Ooo-kaay! I heard the words but the meaning escaped me. Then he spoke the word we had come to know so well.

“Outside”

We were billeted on the second floor (the Marine Corps calls floors ‘decks’) of a barracks block shaped like an H. At the command ‘outside’ 75 bodies poured down the stairs. Stairs are known as ‘ladders’ in the Corps. I know what a ladder looks like and these were definitely stairs. We hit the road with every intention of ‘Falling In’ or getting into formation. Watching us ‘fall in’ would be, too say the least, interesting. I don’t think we had ever done it the same way twice. But after much scrambling around and some very colorful language from the assembled yellers, we were finally in some semblance of order. However, nothing satisfied the yellers and we were ordered back up to the squad bay. (We were a platoon; platoons live in squad bays, another mystery of the Corps). Of course once we were in the squad bay we were ordered outside and this process was repeated several times. You have to get these formations just right so the big guys are in front and the little guys are in back so they have to run to keep up. Finally the assembled yellers let us stay in formation. This was done out of the kindness of their hearts (highly unlikely), or they were satisfied with our performance (not likely), or the time had come for us to leave (more likely). Anyway we eventually marched off.

At this stage of our training to say we were “Marching” would probably be using the term a little too loosely. “Herding” would be more accurate. At least we were all heading in the same direction. We eventually arrived at a large warehouse with double doors big enough to march the entire platoon through. Were these doors open? Of course not. We were sent single file through a regular door. One of the holy grails of the Marine Corps is that you always wear a cover, (Marines call ‘hats’ ‘covers’), when you are outside. As soon as you cross the threshold to ‘inside’ the hat comes off. Got it? As we entered the right hand went up, the hat came off and a fully loaded metal bucket was planted firmly in your midsection. We were then allowed to run the rest of the way into the warehouse. The interior was mostly open space with the floor marked out in six-foot squares. So there we were, one recruit, clutching his bucket, on each square.

A very large supply sergeant, (all supply sergeants are very large), got up on the counter in front of us and said, “We will now inventory our buckets. Ground your buckets on the deck by your right boondocker.” Translation: Put the bucket down by your right foot.

“In your bucket you will find one poncho”. Now I know what a poncho is: big, with a hole in the middle to put your head in, covers your whole body. These ponchos were conviently located at the bottom of the bucket, and were folded up about the size of a postage stamp. I never did figure out how they did that.

“Take the poncho out of your bucket.”

“Hold your poncho up in your right hand. Your other right, idiot.”

“Shake out your poncho.”

“Inspect your poncho.” Sure enough one of our brighter lights piped up with, “ Sir, mine has a big round hole right in the middle.” Now this kid is either a wise guy or just plain dumb. Forty yellers descended on him like a pack of wolves around a wounded caribou.

“Ground your poncho.”

“In your bucket you will find one shelter half.” OK. This must be it.

“Hold up your shelter half.” This sucker is big. How did they get it in the bucket?

“Inspect your shelter half.” For what?

“Ground your shelter half.”

“In your bucket you will find five tent pegs.” Naturally they all had to be held up and inspected one at a time.

“In your bucket you will find twelve tie-ties.” Say what? A tie-tie, in Marine-speak, is a foot long piece of clothesline. These can be used to tie your tent down or to tie clothes to the clothesline. Clothespins were apparently beyond the range of Marine Corps technology. The Navy called tie-ties ’clothes stops’. Don’t ask me.

All kinds of strange and wonderful things came out of this bucket; a web belt, canteen, canteen cover, first aid kit, ammunition pouch, a helmet, helmet liner, even a scrub brush. When the bucket was finally empty our six-foot square was covered in stuff.

Large supply sergeant said, “ The bucket inventory is now complete, put everything back into your buckets.”

There is no way! I mean, these buckets must have been packed by demented elves at some secret Marine ritual conducted by the light of the full moon. There is no way mere mortals are going to get all that stuff back into that bucket. The yellers were in full howl. We are cramming stuff into buckets, pockets. Can I throw the poncho and shelter half over my shoulder? Maybe I can clap the helmet on my head. No, that would violate the cover rule. The yellers get terribly upset about that one. About four heartbeats after the order to pack the buckets we heard:

“Outside”

Out we went, holding our stuff any way we could. The Three Stooges would have been proud. The yellers didn’t even care how we ‘Fell In’. Off we marched accompanied by the occasional sound of various pieces of highly sensitive Marine Corps equipment falling to the pavement. Attempts to retrieve said equipment disrupted the ranks, which naturally caused more stuff to fall, which naturally infuriated the yellers. When we reached the battalion road we were given the order to double time. The sound of gear hitting the ground sounded like hail on a tin roof. Up into the squad bay we went, everyone at attention in front of his rack clutching his bucket and whatever gear he managed to hang on to.
One of the assistant yellers walked into the squad bay and held up a tent peg. He spoke: “One of you idiots dropped a piece of gear.” One piece of gear? You must be kidding. The road behind us looked like Napoleon’s retreat from Moscow.

The Chief Yeller spoke: “Private Adams, (squad leader, first squad), get your idiots outside and retrieve Second Platoon’s gear”.

“Sir. Yes Sir.”

First squad started out the door with their buckets. Well, no one told them to put the darn things down. This drove the yellers into a new frenzy. By the time first squad was herded back to their racks and had their buckets grounded they were ruled too stupid to accomplish the task and second squad was sent.

While all this was happening the rest of us were standing at attention holding buckets and gear as best we could. Occasionally something would hit the floor and the guilty party would be treated to personalized yelling session.

Second squad returned with their arms full of stuff. This was dumped in a pile in the middle of the floor. The Chief Yeller spoke:

“Private Gardner.” (Squad leader, second squad)

“Sir”.

“Did you recover all of Second Platoon’s equipment?”

Now there was a loaded question. With stuff scattered halfway across the base from here to the warehouse how could you be sure you had it all? Poor Gardner hesitated and waffled and was fired on the spot.

“Private Harmon.” (Assistant squad leader, second squad), “You are now squad leader. Get your people back outside.”

You can see how this squad leader business worked. There were four squads; with each squad changing leaders faster than Paris Hilton changes boyfriends. It was all done scientifically. Whoever was next in alphabetical order become squad leader. When you reach the end of the alphabet start over. I was in forth squad and they had already been through me twice. I think I lasted about ten minutes each time.

Second squad returned with more stuff. Then, of course, it had to be inventoried all over again. But this time any missing items had to be retrieved from the yellers, with a maximum amount of yelling – of course.

Eventually it was done. A simple issue procedure that normal, intelligent, rational human beings could have completed in half an hour had taken The Marine Corps half a day. The Bucket Issue was complete. We were pooped. The Squad bay was a mess. We stood at attention by our racks with piles of equipment at our feet. What the heck we were supposed to do with all this stuff was an adventure yet to come.

Vern Nordman, Gig Harbor, WA
14 Jun 2005

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