By Kelly Alexander
Levi Bivens grew up in Leasburg and went to school in Bourbon. When he was little, like other young boys, he played “guns” and “war” but had no conscious desire to join the military until the day he actually did it. He woke up to get ready for school on the morning the recruiter was visiting his high school and decided to sign up with the Marines. “I didn’t tell anybody, I just woke up and that was it,” he said and two weeks after graduation, he was at boot camp in San Diego. While his mom didn’t exactly relish his decision, his dad wasn’t surprised.
Bivens describes basic training as the most fun you’ll ever have, but you never want to do it again. “From the time you get off the bus at boot camp you earn everything including the right to be called a marine,” he says. Until that point, one is merely a “recruit.”
To earn the title of Marine, recruits must use all of the skills they have been taught to endure the final 54-hour test named “The Crucible.” The test emphasizes the importance of teamwork in overcoming adversity. It is a rigorous field training exercise that includes a total of 48 miles of marching and simulates typical combat situations with strenuous testing, hardship, and the deprivation of food and sleep. Recruits are broken into squad-sized teams. Two recruits are given three MREs, each usually taking one, then splitting the third up. The recruits are only allowed six hours of sleep through the entire event and are faced with physical and mental challenges that must be accomplished before advancing further. Some of the challenges encountered during the Crucible are team and individual obstacle courses, day and night assault courses, land navigation courses, individual rushes up steep hills, large-scale martial arts challenges, and countless patrols to and from each of these. Often, these challenges are made even more difficult by the additions of limitations or handicaps, such as the requirement to carry several ammunition drums, not touching portions of an obstacle painted red to indicate simulated booby traps, and evacuating team members with simulated wounds. Teamwork is stressed, as the majority of tasks are impossible without it; each group must succeed or fail as a whole. The others will fail unless every recruit passes through together, requiring the team to aid their fellow recruits who struggle in the accomplishment of the given mission. Also stressed are the Corps’ core values of Honor, Courage, and Commitment. On the final day of the Crucible, recruits that train on the West Coast are awoken to march up a 700 ft., steeply inclined hill dubbed “The Reaper.”
Bivens says the thing that inspired him through this event was to find someone who was struggling more than he himself was and helping them out. “I’m’ not focused on me, I’m focused on them. I think it sucks but they think it sucks worse,” he said. However, when Bivens got to the top of the hill, he says the experience was awesome. With a breath-taking view and the sun just coming up, a recruit becomes a Marine.
Immediately after the grueling exercise, Marines hike back down The Reaper and are then celebrated and given the Eagle, Globe and Anchor that they have just earned and offered the “Warrior’s Breakfast,” where they are permitted time to eat as much as they like. Bivens says, “The drill instructors will actually sit down with you and talk to you like you’re a human being. They’ll sit with you and start joking and laughing and it’s creepy because you’re still kind of scared of this guy.”
He then went on to the School of Infantry, where Marines are trained in combat. Bivens was nearly through with the school when he was injured. He was diagnosed with Spondylolisthesis, which is a debilitating back condition. He admits it was very frustrating to be so close to finishing and then getting hurt. After his injury he was sent to SAC Company, which he says is where they send the “Broken Marines.” He recalls SAC being a lot like being in prison. Not only was he surrounded by people who had lost their morale, but he also could not leave any personal belongings laying around without someone stealing them including his pillow and blanket. “Everybody hated everybody in that place. They wanted to either get better or go home, but they just didn’t want to be there.” He says being there is what broke his spirit too, as he really wanted nothing more than to go back and finish what he started which was training in infantry and fighting for his country. So, when his choice was being stuck in administration or coming home, Bivens came home. He was in the mind set that he most likely would not return from deployment and for a little while it was difficult for him to accept the fact that his life was spared for whatever reasons there might be. Being young, he may still experience times when he feels robbed of his fate or cheated out of something he felt so strong about due to unforeseen circumstances, but hopefully he always remembers that he conquered “The Crucible” and earned the right to be called a Marine. And we’ve all heard it said, “Once a Marine, ALWAYS a Marine.”