Everything I Need to Know, I Learned in Bootcamp
Robert A. Hall
Robert Fulghum’s inspirational essay, “Everything I Need to Know, I Learned in Kindergarten,” is one of the most read and reprinted articles of our time. Though I admire Fulghum’s insights, I must have been a late bloomer. Everything I’ve needed to know, I learned at Parris Island, from three leather-tough Marine drill instructors.
The lessons taught by Sergeants William Harris, Michael Martin and Ezekiel Owens, while training Platoon 273 in the summer of 1964, have carried me through the rough times, and led to what success I can claim in life. In college, in my earlier political career and in my current job as an association manager, my DIs were always with me, guiding me, helping me, urging me on—and kicking my tail when I need it. I may not think about them daily, but for over 35 years their training and spirit has been an inseparable part of my life. Schools, colleges and even the other services educate the brain. Marine training burns deep in the heart and the bone.
In light of the trying times facing our country, I’d like to share the lessons they gave me:
• Challenge yourself—you can always do more than you think you can.
• Make your bed every morning.
• Real friends will do the push-ups, even though you were the guy who screwed up. They know you’ll do it for them.
• It’s easier to stay organized, than to get organized later on.
• Balance physical and mental activity. You need both to succeed.
• Individual effort is important, but teamwork wins battles.
• It’s not a person’s size, looks, background, color or gender that counts. When the fight is fierce, and the situation desperate, it’s what’s inside that makes the difference.
• Study your notes.
• Courage isn’t the absence of fear—courage is being afraid and still doing what needs to be done.
• Stand up straight—your bearing reflects your confidence.
• Every situation, every day, is a learning experience.
• A light touch brings the best shine.
• Find friends you can count on, and stand by them.
• Carry the load for slower teammates—it’s vital the team get there together.
• Neatness does count.
• A vigorous attack is usually more effective—and safer—than a plodding approach.
• Repetition teaches.
• It’s what you do when you just can’t do anymore that determines the outcome.
• Keep your equipment clean—a dirty rifle is just a bad club.
• Look out for the welfare of your subordinates first.
• Learn to laugh at discomfort and trouble—it makes misfortune lighter, and annoys your enemies.
• Write home often.
• The great creations of the human race aren’t buildings or machines, but the concepts of duty, honor, loyalty, teamwork, and freedom.
• Never, never give up.
• Close counts with hand grenades, too.
• Everybody’s scared of something, everybody’s scared sometimes.
• It takes two shelter halves to make a tent—work together or get wet.
• It’s surprising what you’ll eat if you’re really hungry.
• Better to have a small group you can count on, than an army of wafflers.
• Conserve your water and your ammunition.
• You don’t have to like people to respect them.
• Change your socks every chance you get.
• Generals don’t know everything—listen to the troops at the bottom too.
• The people around you are entitled to your best. So are you.
• Properly motivated, even the weakest will make a contribution.
• Get in step.
• Sure, you have to salute officers—but they have to salute back.
• Help the people on your team whenever you can—you’re going to need their help real soon.
• Always give more than you expect to get.
• Without pride, you don’t have anything.
• If you’re going down, go down fighting. It sets a good example, and your memory will be honored.
• A clean, neat appearance improves confidence and performance—but you can get the job done while covered with mud.
• Respect has to be earned.
• Honor those who went before and set a standard for you.
• If advancing and retreating look equally risky—advance!
• Sometimes it’s better not to stand out.
• Make your mom proud.
• Shoot straight and tell the truth.
• Real discipline comes from within.
• Concealment hides you, cover protects you—cover is better.
• Aim carefully—hits count, not shots.
• Leadership requires the leader to set the example. Lead from the front.
• Getting shot at focuses your attention.
• Too much beer can lead to unsightly tattoos—or worse.
• When in doubt, do something. Inaction is almost always wrong.
• It’s better to out-smart ’em, than to out-slug ’em.
• You’re never so tired or so safe that digging-in to protect yourself isn’t necessary.
• When you let the team down, you let yourself down.
• There are wolves in the world. It’s your job to face them.
• And when you go out in the world, it’s good to have Marines at your side.
Semper Fi, Marines. Thanks for a great life. I’m proud to be one of you.
Former Staff Sergeant Robert A. Hall served as a Marine from 1964 to 1968, and was a radio relay team chief in Vietnam. He later served five terms in the Massachusetts State Senate. While a senator, he re-joined the Marine reserves, serving from 1977 to 1983. Currently he manages associations and is a part-time freelance writer. He lives with his wife, Bonnie, in Des Plaines, IL.