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My Marine instructor insulted me by using the r-word. This is how I responded.

My boot camp experience was tough. But the toughest part was the insults.

My Marine instructor insulted me by using the r-word. This is how I responded.

This story was originally published on The Mighty.

I’m not here to criticize the United States Marine Corps on how they train new recruits.

They’ve been doing it for more than 200 years, so they must know what they’re doing.


Photo via iStock.

My intention instead is to give an account of how standing up for people with intellectual disabilities is possible, even to arguably the scariest individuals you can imagine.

Here’s what happened:

During a period of instruction on Marine Corps values, I answered a question that, while technically correct, wasn’t the answer my heavy (a Marine term for the drill instructor tasked with making life extremely difficult) was looking for.

"You must be a [r-word], Mitchell."

The look on my face must have revealed the disgust and disapproval I had for his choice of words. In boot camp, this is a big no-no. The drill instructor told me to stand back up and explain my inappropriate reaction. I yelled in my best recruit sound-off voice, "Sir, this recruit is offended by that word, sir."

There was about three seconds of stunned collective silence in our squad bay.

It felt more like five minutes, though. My drill instructor kicked over a footlocker, ran right up to my face wearing his signature Smokey the Bear hat, and began to use everything in the book to get at me.

When you’re in boot camp, the only thing you have is the fellow recruits in your platoon and your family who writes to you.

My brother, Chess, has Down syndrome. And throughout my life, I avoided taking a stand against people who made fun of those with intellectual disabilities.

But on this particular day, I couldn’t take it. I had to say something. I got chewed out as a result. A couple of days later, the senior drill instructor asked me about the incident, but no recourse was really taken.

I do remember during my last days of training introducing my drill instructor to my brother at family day.

Me and my brother. Photo via Jay Mitchell, used with permission.

Again, it’s not my intention to vilify the Marine Corps drill instructors.

Those men and women are a vital part of our nation, and it’s their job to prepare our next generation of Marines. Drill instructors are consummate professionals at all times. They’re trained not to discriminate against any recruits based on religion, ethnicity, country of origin, or race.

In my explanation to my senior drill instructor, I explained that no drill instructor would call a recruit the n-word, which is just as offensive to me.

Even though standing up against someone who uses the r-word can be frightening, you’ll have the satisfaction of knowing that the moment will be etched into that person’s memory.

I don’t know if my instructor ever used that word again. He probably has. My platoon saw me stand up for my brother. And they might laugh thinking about it, but the story sticks and they’re reminded that the r-word is offensive and wrong when they remember it.

So when you’re hurt or offended by someone using the r-word, don’t be afraid to let them know. If they defend their use of it, there’s not a lot you can do to help them.

But maybe if enough people keep letting them know why it’s wrong, they might change over time.

Photo courtesy of Justin Sather
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While most 10-year-olds are playing Minecraft, riding bikes, or watching YouTube videos, Justin Sather is intent on saving the planet. And it all started with a frog blanket when he was a baby.

"He carried it everywhere," Justin's mom tells us. "He had frog everything, even a frog-themed birthday party."

In kindergarten, Justin learned that frogs are an indicator species – animals, plants, or microorganisms used to monitor drastic changes in our environment. With nearly one-third of frog species on the verge of extinction due to pollution, pesticides, contaminated water, and habitat destruction, Justin realized that his little amphibian friends had something important to say.

"The frogs are telling us the planet needs our help," says Justin.

While it was his love of frogs that led him to understand how important the species are to our ecosystem, it wasn't until he read the children's book What Do You Do With An Idea by Kobi Yamada that Justin-the-activist was born.

Inspired by the book and with his mother's help, he set out on a mission to raise funds for frog habitats by selling toy frogs in his Los Angeles neighborhood. But it was his frog art which incorporated scientific facts that caught people's attention. Justin's message spread from neighbor to neighbor and through social media; so much so that he was able to raise $2,000 for the non-profit Save The Frogs.

And while many kids might have their 8th birthday party at a laser tag center or a waterslide park, Justin invited his friends to the Ballona wetlands ecological preserve to pick invasive weeds and discuss the harms of plastic pollution.

Justin's determination to save the frogs and help the planet got a massive boost when he met legendary conservationist Dr. Jane Goodall.

Photo courtesy of Justin Sather

At one of her Roots and Shoots youth initiative events, Dr. Goodall was so impressed with Justin's enthusiasm for helping frogs, she challenged the young activist to take it one step further and focus on plastic pollution as well. Justin accepted her challenge and soon after was featured in an issue of Bravery Magazine dedicated to Jane Goodall.

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