My informant was in the United States marine core from 2002 to 2006. He was deployed to Fallujah Iraq for a total of 14 months (two 7-month tours). He also spent time in Bagdad, Ireland, Germany, Kuwait, and various other Iraqi cities, but the majority of his time was spent in Fallujah.
My informant told me that in the marines, there are numerous initiations that jr. marines go through to be enculturated. Essentially, to be brought into the fold.
“Traditionally we just fuck with them… a lot. As much as we can. But it’s important. Regardless of how we actually do this or how we get it done, you want to make sure that the people you’re working with are capable of acting in such a way that it’s not entirely selfish, because in the marine core, especially when you’re in a combat environment, you want to make sure that individuals are going to act in such a way that is going to benefit the group and your fellow marines. It goes beyond bonding on an individual basis but also on an institutional basis because if you’re talking about, ya know, I’m going to do what’s best to make sure my fellow marine stays alive, you’re also going to what’s best for your fellow solider, fellow sailor, fellow airman, and we did a lot of collaborating with other branches. Whatever is best for your fellow service member.
Usually when you have a new individual you want to make sure they understand the hierarchy that’s in place. So, one thing that we did that I can remember specifically is, we had ID10-tags which are—if there’s a piece of equipment that you’re responsible for repairing, you’d put a tag on it and it’s a yellow tag and it has information about whatever the name and description is of that piece of equipment whatever the malfunction is, the date that you noticed this, the serial number, and things of that nature. And that was a yellow tag, but we called it an ID10-tag but, semantically, it’s an idiot tag, because if you break it down it’s ID, 10 is I-O, and tag if you use the T, just the acronym, it’s i-d-i-o-t. So you’re an idiot if you believe what I’m saying is what this ID10-tag phenomenon is all about. So you would say something like, “can you get me an ID10-tag for this rifle” and you would have this new marine go to another marine and say, ya know, “Sargent Lynch told me that I need an ID10-tag for this M-16, it’s misfiring and it has a problem and I need an ID10-tag to put on it”, and they would play along. So someone tells you that you need an ID10-tag and you go and find it and ask the people that you consider to be the authority on this subject and they just play right on along. You don’t find it until someone is nice enough to tell you that you’re being fucked with, or they don’t tell you and later on you find out that you were being fucked with, but eventually you find out you were being fucked with. One way or another you find out.”
My informant went on to explain that this ritual goes far beyond just messing with one’s fellow marines. It is also a way of testing a jr. marine’s character. This wild goose chase for the ID10-tag is a way to see if a jr. marine will go through the proper channels to solve an issue. It is also a way to see how dedicated they are to solving a problem, even one that may seem (or is quite literally) impossible.
“If that means you go and speak to so and so and that person doesn’t know the answer, then you speak to so and so.”
I asked my informant what happened when this was done to him and unfortunately for those pranking him, he saw it coming a mile away.
“I was used to being pranked, and I was used to being tricked. So when I was told that there was an ID10-tag, I immediately saw the connection, and I saw from an acronym connection that it said idiot. So when they said I need an ID10-tag, I went outside, busted open a pack of Marlboro somethings, spent about 10 minutes sitting around and went back in and said, “I can’t find these tags”. Knowing that I was being fucked with, I figured I’d just take a cigarette break and then just come back in and report my failure—inability to locate this magical ID10-tag. I didn’t realize they were trying to test my character. I thought they were just trying to fuck with me because I was the new guy.”