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    Neatness - Corps Values

    Excerpted from
    Corps Values: Everything You Need to Know I Learned In the Marines
    By Zell Miller

    Neat is a much-used word in the lexicon of contemporary youth, but its meaning and varying nuances have little relation to the not-so-subtle definition branded upon every aspect of the lives, conscious thoughts, and unconscious motivations of every recruit by the Marine Corps.

    To many youth of today, being "neat" and doing "neat" things means either doing whatever everyone else is doing or doing whatever any individual wants to do regardless of the consequences to self or society. It is the total antithesis of what is "neat" as taught by the Marines, which is that the "only way to do everything is the right way, and the right way-without exception - is the Marine way."

    I am old enough to remember the times in school when the teacher would make assignments or give examinations for which the instructions ended "and neatness will count." And the first lesson I learned as a Marine on my first days in hoot camp at Farris Island was that neatness in everything not only is the norm in the Corps but also is the absolute minimum that will be tolerated. It is the standard by which every aspect of Marine life and performance is judged as satisfactory and acceptable.

    My mother had always tried to instill in me that "cleanliness is next to godliness," but I quickly learned that the Marines insisted upon taking that concept one step higher by making it painfully clear that "neatness is godliness."

    The Marine Corps believes that sloppiness is a sign of laziness while neatness is a sign of order and discipline, and, reduced to the individual level, a sloppy person is a dirty person while a neat person is a clean person. The Drill Instructors have a word for dirty recruits, "cruds," and "cruds" are not tolerated. When a recruit hears that dreaded word applied to him, any part of his gear, or any particular aspect of his performance, he knows he is about to get the "shape-up-or-ship-out" ultimatum.

    The "neat" life for the Marine recruit begins with the "neat" Marine haircut and shower or scrubbing. The former takes less than 20 seconds and bloody woe to the recruit who fails to heed the admonition to put a finger on any mole or scalp blemish, because otherwise the barbers' clippers remove them with the hair which quickly piles up ankle deep at the base of each chair.

    Next came shots for every disease under the sun, and then we were herded through showers like sheep on their way to slaughter. Our first issue of clothing was thrown at us and two pairs of brogans, or "boondockers," were draped around our necks. With caps yanked tightly down over our eyes and overloaded, new "sea bags" over our shoulders, we stumbled into ragged formation. That marked the beginning of twelve weeks of shouting, slapping, shoving, and kicking from the DIs (Drill Instructors) who vowed to teach us the meaning of neatness or, to use their term, being "squared away." That phrase had both physical and mental meanings: "neat and sharp" in the first instance and "having it together" in the second.

    We learned quickly that the Corps does not tolerate trousers without creases, shoes that are not shined, ties that are too long or with a knot that isn't neat, belts that are too long, brass that is not shined, hair that is not closely clipped, sideburns, or body odor. Tattoos were all right if they were about the Corps, the nation, or our mothers, and mustaches were okay after boot camp if they were neat. Caps have to be blocked just right, and a garrison cap may be only the width of two fingers above the eyes.

    To this day it makes my Marine "blood" boil to see young people wearing caps and hats backward or, even worse, sideways. To my mind this is a symbol of lack of respect, and I suspect that most former Marines share my opinion.

    My point is that good habits of personal grooming and dress learned in the Marine Corps will prevail for a lifetime.

    Learning how to shave correctly was my First lesson in "neatness" on my second day as a recruit. Seventy-four of us were awakened at 0300 by a 01 beating on a trash can, then we were herded into the "head" in our "skivvies," as our underwear shorts were called, to watch a DI shave the recruit he had chosen as the guinea pig of the day. Bleary eyes opened wide as we listened spellbound to a loud lecture which went like this:

    "Now that, you idiots, is how you shave the Marine Corps way. You will shave the Marine Corps way every day. Do you understand?"

    I have had that scene replayed before my morning mirror every day for more than four decades as I shave myself the Marine Corps way.

    The shaving lesson quickly escalated into learning how to keep our "skivvies" clean. That instruction came with the announcement that we were going to be taught the correct "Marine Corps way to wipe your ass."

    I can still repeat this little lecture verbatim, too.

    "Some of you cruds are going to wipe just half-assed, so I do not want to see any -and I mean any - dingleberries in your skivvies. You're going to have to drop your drawers from time to time, and I better not see one dingleberry in the ass of 'em".

    One could almost hear 74 sphincters snapping to attention as we sang out "Yes, sir" while dire visions of "dingleberries" in our underwear danced in our heads.

    That was a prelude to learning how to do laundry the Marine Corps way.

    We were marched to a warehouse for what is known as "a bucket issue." Each of us received a galvanized gallon bucket, a large bar of lye soap, a scrub brush, and a bunch of one dozen (no more and no less) "tie-ties." These eight-inch lengths of heavy string, we were quickly to learn, were to be both our clothespins for hanging out laundry and the Corps' diabolical system for teaching us to keep track of and take care of all the equipment, clothing, and other items issued to us. A recruit could be called upon to account for his twelve "tie-ties" at any time, and heaven help anyone who could not come up with all of them under any and all circumstances; and the punishment for stealing another Marine's "tie-tie" was to be forced to run through a belt line - a row of fellow Marines authorized to whip your rear end.

    Then the DI showed us the Marine Corps way to do our laundry, which is where the soap and brush came in. We used waist-high, concrete wash racks where we first lay all our clothes flat and stretched out. Then we wet and soaped them thoroughly. Next they were scrubbed completely on both sides with the brush and then thoroughly rinsed. Then they were hung on the clothes line using tie-ties in square knots. No one was allowed to deviate - even slightly - from this method.

    Next followed equally meticulous instruction in making up one's "rack," as the bed is called. The DI and his assistants would force recruits to make their "racks" over and over until there was a perfect hospital fold at the bottom and the top was turned back with exactly twelve inches of sheet showing with a precise fold of six inches. We quickly learned to use our six-inch scrub brushes and our twelve-inch bayonets as rulers.

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