One time at Band Camp a 70-year-old Hispanic lady put her hands down my Dress Blues pants while I was on the march… But more about that later.

Quantico Marine Band at Super Bowl XLI (Gabe Santacreu Flikr)

First, I’d like to say that SOFREP has some extremely knowledgeable staff writers and some guys who are still, or have been, Grade-A savages. Most of the stuff I did while in the Marine Corps involved marching, traveling, and tuning. But on a parade deck. I was in the Parris Island Marine Band, and here’s my story.

St. Louis, MO, 1999. Bill Clinton is still president (but he neither inhaled nor had sexual relations with that woman). The St. Louis Rams actually have a pretty good football team (13-3). Mark McGwire was still demolishing baseballs at home plate but the St. Louis Cardinals had an abysmal overall season record of 75-86 (ouch). And then there was me. I had started Junior College that fall and I absolutely hated it. I skipped more classes than I attended. I’d never liked school, but I was there at no cost to myself courtesy of a trombone scholarship. Plus, I had no one making me attend. So, I didn’t. 

You Couldn’t Make a Pimple on a Marine’s Butt

I’d show up for orchestra practice just enough to not lose my scholarship but I generally had a dozen reasons why I was unable to attend. Simply put, I was a bum. I needed structure and a purpose. So, one day, after skipping yet another day of classes, I went to my grandparents’ house. It was, and still is, a small, comfortable mid-century house. My grandpa told me he bought it for something like $4,500 and was looking for me to spend the same on a new house. Oh, the 50s.

My grandpa was a big-hearted man and one of my biggest sports and music fans. I think he attended nearly every basketball, baseball, football, soccer, volleyball and Cross Country event I participated in over the previous 14 or so years. Let’s just say he was supportive. And I loved his support.

I walked into his house one evening and he was sitting at the kitchen table talking to my uncle Kevin.

I blurted out to the two of them, “I think I’m gonna join the Marines.” My ever-supportive Korean War-era Marine veteran grandpa replied, “You couldn’t make a pimple on a Marine’s butt.” I looked at my uncle and said, “Did you hear that?” A man of few words, he just said, “He’s probably right.” 

Off to the Recruiter…

I couldn’t believe my ears! There was no respect put on my name whatsoever. I told them that I was going to show them and that I was going to enlist. They blew me off as fast as I’d been blowing off English Comp. But the fire had been lit. I had decided. I was going to be a Marine. The next day I went to the recruiter’s office without telling anyone. I told the recruiter I wanted to be an MP and then an Embassy Guard. He told me to think about it and call him in a couple of days.

Thinking back, maybe I got a decent recruiter… 

Anyways, a couple of days went by and the fire inside me still raged, so I called him and said let’s do it. He told me that since I wanted to eventually move into embassy duty I needed some kind of additional security clearance and that I could begin that process upon my enlistment. So I signed the dotted line, got my security clearance and chose to leave for boot camp as soon as I could.

Before shipping to MCRD San Diego for boot camp, I had one last concert to play for the end of the college semester. Even though I’d all but stopped going to classes now, I was selected for a Missouri All-Collegiate band that would play at Tan-Tar-A Resort in Osage Beach, Missouri. While there for the concert, I saw and spoke to a Marine recruiter whose specialty, apparently, was recruiting for the Marine Band field. I told him I’d enlisted and that I was going to be an MP.

He said, “You don’t want to be an MP, that job sucks. You’d much rather travel the world playing your instrument.” And that was that. He sold me. Shortly after that chance meeting, my MP contract was null and void and my 5546 Marine Corps Trombonist MOS now reigned supreme. 

I cruised through boot camp in San Diego, Marine Combat Training (MCT) at Camp Pendleton, and I was on my way to Little Creek, VA. You may recognize the location. The Army and Navy Schools of Music (SOM) were located on the same base. And so are all of the East Coast SEAL Teams (other than the secret-numbered one between five and seven).

Armed Forces School of Music Little Creek, VA. (U.S. Army)

Band Camp

I showed up to Little Creek a green but motivated Devil Dog who was ready to go to war. Or more accurately, to music school. Either way, I saw these disheveled-looking Navy people walking around my base and I remember thinking, “Man, these guys are some Joey-bag-of-donuts looking bums with their long hair and big mustaches.” Thinking back, I’m just glad I didn’t vocalize that sentiment. I had no idea what a Navy SEAL was, let alone that I was on THEIR base.

Either way, the Navy “bums” and I lived in harmony during my time there and I really enjoyed my seven months at that base. While in the SOM, I had my lance corporal chevrons pinned to my chest by my grandpa. You know, the same one who just 10 months earlier had made the butt pimple comment. He and I were both filled with pride and it remains one of the best moments of my entire life even still.

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Author being promoted to a Lance Corporal by his grandfather at Little Creek Naval Base. (Author’s collection)

One night, a large group of us was hanging out at the Brass Bell, a karaoke bar and restaurant on Independence Blvd. in Virginia Beach. At one point, an attractive girl started talking to me and eventually asked me to go outside to her car. Like a dumb 19-year-old, I went.

Once we were at her car, two guys came out the front door and started yelling in my direction. It may sound a bit crazy, but I was actually excited to get to use some of my new “Marine Combat Skills” and was ready to knife-hand them into oblivion. The guys kept approaching, one of them yelling about “why am I hanging out with his girlfriend?” I looked at the girl, said “thanks,” and then got ready to get going.

Like a Scene From a Movie…

The Brass Bell Steakhouse (Yelp.com)

When the two fellas were almost in range for my knife-hand, I saw the front door of the Brass Bell nearly fly off its hinges. About eight Navy and Marine friends I was there with (in full uniform no less) strutted out the front door. My buddy, Steve, yelled, “Can I help you guys with something?”

I almost feel bad thinking about it now because his girlfriend was actively trying to cheat on him. But either way, the two guys changed their minds quickly and we returned inside and continued our festivities. It was like a scene straight out of a movie. If you’re the guy whose girlfriend liked me better and you’re reading this article, I hope for your sake you didn’t marry that girl.

While at the SOM I also learned how to march and play (which I’d never done before because I was too busy playing sports to play for sports). Turns out, marching while playing was a pretty legitimate skill to learn since that’s all I did for the next 3.5 years. Seven months into the course, I graduated and was given orders to Parris Island Marine Band in Beaufort, SC. Steve got the same orders.

New Guy Jitters

Upon my arrival to MCRD Parris Island, I was quickly checked in and issued a ton of gear, including a trombone and a couple of different mouthpieces. I was also issued two sets of Dress Blues, dress belts, and a couple of pairs of white pants, which are unique to the band field. I did a couple of quick rehearsals with the band before it was my chance to go on my first official Marine Band gig. Man, I was excited! One thing you should know is that because a trombone has quite a long slide (story of my life), we are given the great opportunity to stand in the front rank of the band in order to have room to move the slide while playing.

So there I was. The first Marine Band gig of my life. It was an outgoing commanding general’s Change of Command ceremony. The gig had gone off without so much as a wrong note when it was time for the Pass and Review. This is the final big evolution the band does at the end of the ceremony. For those who don’t know, all of the units who had been commanded by the CG march past him in formation. The band leads the way playing patriotic songs.

Just as the band (and I) approached the CG to give him a proper final sendoff, call it nerves or just sweat or whatever, but I threw the slide off my trombone and it landed about 10 feet in front of me. Right where the entire band was about to step all over it. And just for spite, if they had the chance they’d crush that slide into dust as punishment for me screwing up.

Without missing a beat, I leaned down and picked up my slide on the march. But try as I may, I couldn’t get the slide onto my horn which was another disaster. Now I was frazzled and we were still marching. The drum major gave the command to halt and then face but I missed it. I was crumbling. Somehow I managed to finish the gig but it wasn’t exactly the start or the impression I’d wanted to make.

Time to Pay for my Mistakes

Back at the Band Hall, I was called into the gunnery sergeant’s office. Apparently, the outgoing commanding general had called him (not sure if this is true or if he just wanted me to feel worse) and asked him what was wrong with his band.

To me, the gunnery sergeant only said, “You need to tell me what I did wrong to make you screw that up so bad.” I’m sure you guys know the story; there is no right answer. I’m a lance corporal and he’s a gunny. I’m screwed. I said, “It wasn’t your fault, Gunny, it was mine.” He replied, “BS, I must’ve done something wrong for you to screw up that royally.” I said, “It won’t happen again.” And, thankfully it never did.

That gunnery sergeant. actually ended up being a good friend of mine and I did eventually get payback.

One day, I was coaching the base’s volleyball team because I’d recently had knee surgery and couldn’t play. Well, gunny was on the team and he played awfully that night. He shanked passes, missed serves, the whole nine.

Once I got back to my barracks room I called him at home and said, “Hey, this is Sgt. Hill.” He said, “What’s up?” I said, “I’ve just got one question for you, what did I do wrong as a coach to have you screw that game up that bad?” Silence. Golden silence. He finally mustered the strength to mumble, “Uh, uh, uh, F*ck you, Hill!” and hung up. Revenge, as they say, is a dish best served cold.

I had so many fun times in the Marine Band. We played and stayed all over the East Coast in everything from old boy scout barracks to a convent (yes, where nuns live, and we may or may not have given confessions to each other in the little booth) to the Marriott Marquis in Times Square. We flew on military planes with pilots and crew from all the different services and played gigs ranging from a small brass band at an elementary school to playing live for NASCAR races or for two million people for the biggest St. Patrick’s Day party outside of Ireland. It really was a heck of a job.

St. Patrick’s Day Parade… and ASSAULT(S)

St. Patrick’s Day Parade Savannah, GA. 2000. Fort Stewart soldiers get “thanked” in the St. Patrick’s Day way. (Savannahnow.com)

Now, for the spicy part of the story. In March 2002, we traveled to Savannah, Georgia, and were set to play in the annual St. Patrick’s Day parade. When we arrived, I realized I’d never even come close to seeing that many people in one place, let alone that many people wearing green and totally intoxicated. It must be what a battalion of special forces operators look like in a group. It was overwhelming.

I also knew it was going to be a fun gig. One thing most people don’t know is that often, when the Marine Band is marching, we have people who we call “gutter-guards” to try to keep people away from the band. People — especially drunk people — love to try to walk amongst the band while they are marching and playing.

Marine Band Marching at Mardi Gras (WWLTV)

It’s dangerous for all involved because if they bump the end of your horn and it knocks out your front teeth it’s a problem. Playing, after all, is your job. They could also trip someone, etc. It’s just not good. So, to try to prevent that we use “gutter-guards.” The gutter-guards are band members of higher rank who now do more administrative things day-to-day. On this day, we had four gutter-guards because we knew it was going to be wild. But we still underestimated the situation.

We were a couple of miles into our march when the parade finally started to back up. The drum major (from above) turned around and gave us the cue to halt. He then had us stand at parade rest because we were going to be stuck in place for a while. Then it began. Women came out of the crowd and attacked us with kisses and they whispered sweet little nothings into our ears. This wasn’t uncommon, but to this scale it was unusual.

Our guards were overwhelmed and couldn’t even begin to stop the onslaught. As the person on the front row right flank, I think I absorbed the most alcohol of anyone through the skin on my face. They kissed every inch of my face until it was almost totally covered in both red and green lipstick. It got so obnoxious that the drum major put us back on the march just to get out of that area. We marched for another 10 minutes or so before again having to halt due to parade backup. This is where it got just plain weird for me.

We were standing at parade rest and an older, heavyset Hispanic woman came and stood right in front of me (the gutter-guards were gone btw, but more on that in a sec). She stared straight up into my eyes and began touching my chest. I stood still as an oak. She then had a realization and said, “Oh, you can’t move can you?” I thought to myself “well this is about to get weird.”

Now, I’m not gonna lie. I was 21-22 years old and may have found similar advances from some of those who’d kissed my face so far more appealing. But this lady was unattractive, and at 21 years old I considered her to be as old as Moses. Anyways, once she realized I wasn’t going to move she said, “Oh, I’m going to enjoy this one” and stuck her hands down the front of my pants.

Apparently, that wasn’t good enough for her so she then stuck her other hand down the back of my pants and then just started bouncing everything up and down. I stood still. My drill instructors never imagined this scenario when they taught us not to move in formation. After shed bounced my genitals to her little heart’s content, she said, “thanks for that” (like I had a choice) and disappeared back into the crowd. Just another day in the Marine Band.

Parris Island Marine Band member “thanked” for his service in Savannah, GA (Savannahnow.com)

FIGHT!

As I mentioned above, the reason that particular lady had such easy access to the inside of my trousers was that our gutter-guards were gone. I wasn’t sure why mine wasn’t there or where he was, I just knew I hadn’t seen him in some time. Then word starts passing up from the back of the band like in the game telephone. When it got to me the message was, “The back six rows of the band peeled off a while back and started fighting some guys who yelled the N-word at the gutter-guard.” My gutter-guard was the only black one that day, so I at least found out why he wasn’t near me.

I then got the drum major’s attention and let him know that we were now marching with two-thirds of a band and almost no drums since they marched in the back. We made do. I found out later that some drunk off-duty firefighters had yelled the N-word to my gutter guard and he peeled off and lit them up for it. Then, a brawl ensued which prompted the back few rows of the band to jump in and help. Just another day in the Marine Band.

9-11-01

I have dozens of other stories just like these. The reality is, while I never went to war, many of my close friends did. And a Marine bandsman’s job is “rear-area security” in a time of war. The band members put down their horns, pick up a rifle, and fight. The Marine Band is unique from other military bands because every Marine is FIRST and FOREMOST a rifleman.

Because of that designation, many from my band were augmented as MPs after 9/11. So we split our time between MP shifts and band gigs for many months. It was a strange but amazing time to be in the military. I still keep in touch with many of the people I served with. I learned a lot about music, but more importantly a lot about being a responsible adult.

When I left active duty and went back to college (at a university this time), I cruised through to a Bachelor’s degree in six semesters, while maintaining three jobs simultaneously. The Marines had made me a man.

The experience I gained in the Marine Band is one I’ll never forget — at least in small part because of the small, Hispanic lady who sexually assaulted me in broad daylight one early afternoon in Savannah, Georgia. Just another day in the Marine Band.

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