“Mental Challenges” by Nick Tash

In September of 2010, I shipped off to Marine Corps basic training in San Diego. I was in the best physical shape of my life, as I was a cross country runner in high school. I was ready for any PT that they would throw at me. However, I was not ready for the mental challenges that came with boot camp. As it turned out, they were far more valuable than I ever could have imagined. And they came from one drill instructor: Staff Sergeant Adames. Almost immediately, I was under Adames’ spotlight. If there’s one thing I hate more than anything else, it’s getting into trouble for something out of my control.  This was the very situation in which I found myself when I was issued mismatched pieces of my camouflage utility uniform. The trousers were darker than the blouse. Of course, this was beyond my control, and Adames knew this.  But he still took me aside and chewed me out for this catastrophe. And I still lost my military bearing and yelled back at him that it wasn’t my fault. After this exchange, two other drill instructors got into my face and screamed at me. I don’t remember a word they said, but I do remember being sprayed with saliva. Adames concluded the episode by telling me, “Tash, You are a fuck up. Every breath you take is a fuck up. Your father shouldn’t have left.”

My dad is the most important man in my life, and I realized how much it would bother me if someone suggested he had left, even if it was said just to rile me.  I hated this drill instructor with everything in my being. I cried in my bed that night, wondering if I would even be able to complete boot camp. 

The weeks continued, and Adames’ verbal abuse. I was getting more and more used to it, to the point where I was able to laugh a little (only in my head, of course). His favorite nickname for me was “Trash,” which I thought was too easy, as my name is Tash. I made a joke to myself, thinking “OK, if I’m ‘Trash,’ then you’re SSGT A-Dumb-Ass.” I found myself thinking similar things throughout the duration of boot camp. I was no longer afraid of Adames and his insults.

However, that didn’t stop him from trying to make me lose my temper. He made his last attempt while I was standing in formation after evening chow on the final week of boot camp. He walked right next to me and asked about my dad. I responded with: “This Recruit’s father lives in Montana and works in public relations, Sir!” And Adames snarled, “Hopefully he dies soon, and then you’ll die, and this Tash legacy will be done forever.” I felt my blood pressure rising again in anger, just like the first time he talked smack about my dad. But I recognized that he was trying to test me. I responded with a simple “Aye, aye, Sir!” It seemed to me that his eyes narrowed in anger, because I hadn’t lost my temper.  He walked away shaking his head, and I knew I had won. 

On the night before graduation, I was in the barracks, waiting for the drill instructor’s cue to get into bed or break the racks as it was called, and when Adames approached me I was ready for him. I was now immune to his verbal assaults. But he didn’t attack. Instead, he told me, “You’ve come a long way, Tash. As long as you do what you’re told and relax, you’ll do fine in the Corps. You never quit.” It was surprising that he didn’t try one last time to push me over the edge, but I knew it meant one thing: that I had finally earned his respect.

Nick Tash served in the Marines from 2010–14. He graduated from UCSB in June 2020 with a BA in philosophy, and he is now a paralegal in the Army Reserve. He is planning to attend the University of Nevada, Las Vegas Boyd School of Law and become an attorney in the U.S. Judge Advocate General’s (JAG) Corps.