The Crucible
"The Marine Corps will never give up on you even when you have given up on yourselves."
Me to a group of recruits in Physical Conditioning Platoon.

The last thing you face as a Marine Recruit is The Crucible. General Krulak created it to give recruits a test of their endurance, leadership and ability to work as a team.
The Crucible is tough. It begins on a Thursday morning at about 0230-0300. You get only a few hours of sleep each night and your waking hours are a blur of motion and activity. You are given only 2.5 meals to last you until Saturday morning where you face your final challenge. That's right; only 2.5 meals. You do get a little hungry.
You face several obstacles on the Crucible. They are named after Marines that have won the Medal of Honor for their actions. As you go through the course, you learn about them and learn something new about the Marine Corps History. The lessons are important, perhaps more important than the obstacles themselves. They serve as a reminder of why you put yourself through training and that someday you might be told to make a sacrifice like they did.
I have to admit that I have forgotten most of the obstacles that I went through. I have very clear memories of long forced marches, my feet being covered in blisters, and going through days with little sleep. But there are two parts that I can remember well.
The first thing was on that Friday night. We were sitting down as a Company and told that we were going to wait at this one spot for a nighttime assault. With those hours, we managed to finish what was left in our MREs (The packaged meals that we had) and talk with each other as well as other platoons. This was the first time in training when we were allowed to just relax. It felt better than words could explain. I spent most of that time with my combat boots off and trying to get some sensation in my feet other than pain.
The assault began right after the sun had gone down. We started off in an Armored Personnel Carrier and waited for a signal. We were carrying boxes filled with sand to simulate ammo and were tired beyond belief. When the signal came, we were sprinting like hell across an obstacle course that had barbed wire, walls, and fireworks that were going off at random intervals.
At one point a flare was set off, which was our cue to hit the deck. When I hit the ground, my earplugs came loose and I found myself a few short yards from where they were setting off the fireworks. Now I wasn't allowed to move so I had to just lie there and listen to the explosions. Not pleasant to say the least.
The second most memorable part for me was on the last morning. We had maybe three hours of sleep at the most when we were dragged out of our tents and made to throw our packs on. This was it; we were finally on the last test that we had to face on the Crucible. We had to march several miles to a hill known affectionately as The Reaper.
One thing is rather interesting about hiking early in the morning when you are sleep deprived. You start seeing things that aren't really there. I had the pleasure of seeing swirling colors in my field of vision. We were all rather relieved when the sun came up.
The Reaper was an event in itself. The hill is steep and it taunts recruits. You make it to the top sweating and sore to find that it drops down and goes back up again. This continues about four or five times. But that last drop is where you see the flags of the States in their positions. At this point, you forget about your fatigue and run like hell because that's the goal.
We stood there in formation, most of us weeping in disbelief. The flag was raised and then the song "Proud to be an American" was played for us. At that point our Drill Instructors went up to each and every one of us. Sgt. Daniel stood in front of me with a smile.
"We were worried about you for a while, but you hung in there. You kept at it even when things got bad and that is what this is all about." He placed my Eagle Globe and Anchor into one hand and shook the other. "Congratulations, Marine."

I think that no matter how many years pass, I am going to remember that moment very clearly.