Vital Signs

Confessions of an Ex-Marine

Creative, Close-Order Drill

"Left! — — Left! — — Left! Right! Left!" The drill instructor inside of me had successfully surfaced and was now exulting in command. We were approaching the corner of the parade field, and I was getting ready for "To the left! ! March!" when it suddenly occurred to me that it might be amusing to preface that with one "To the rear! — — March!" followed almost immediately by another—a sort of platoon pirouette, a bit of Marine Corps skip step, so precisely executed that surprise would be transformed into wonder. It was the perfect opportunity to impress Lieutenant Bingham and the rest of the brass. The question was not would my troops respond—they were Marines!—but would Dennis Riley, in charge of the platoon to my rear, understand and, more importantly, react in time to avoid terminal collision. His pirouette would force the platoon behind him to do the same. The domino principle would apply, and the total effect would be a maneuver that would go down in the history books.

Two columns had already hit the barracks wall, some thirty yards off the edge of the field. "To the rear! — — March!" I shouted, but by then the platoon was sprawled up against the concrete like so many spray-dazed ants. They made no response, seemed oblivious to me, if not to what I had done. I commanded them a second time, with no better luck. All I could...

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