Wednesday, December 17, 2008

A New Man

If you've read me for awhile, you know about the angst I felt when my #1 grandson enlisted in the Marines. Although he had excellent high school grades and test scores, he just couldn't seem to take the next step. Each time he moved that right foot toward a new opportunity, he soon pulled it back. His life was in a holding pattern for an entire year - and then he announced he'd enlisted and intended to be a combat soldier. Surprise, surprise!

Times have changed since I was a soldier. Now, the Marines make you wait for a few months before you report for duty. In the intervening period they expect you to attend pre-reporting training sessions with your recruiter and others. They expect you to get into shape. They give you some idea of what being "screamed at" is like. Then you jump into the real fire. Michael reported about 12 weeks ago to the Marine training base in San Diego, and his transformation began abruptly - no doubt with someone yelling unintelligible words in his face and calling for pushups at every turn.

Mike's first letter, after three weeks there, opened "I hate boot camp!" The second letter, after six weeks there, opened "I love boot camp!" He miraculously recovered from a bout with pnuemonia, earned an expert marksman badge, and finally completed the grueling three-day exercise aptly named "The Crucible". Then came graduation day, which I attended last weekend.

Mike is a new man. He stands tall rather than slouching. He looks you in the eye when he talks to you. He speaks with confidence. His skinny frame is 15 pounds heavier than it was 12 weeks ago in spite of the pneumonia and constant exercise (they put him on double rations for awhile). He's still "young", but a very different kind of young. In the picture, you can see the implacable Marine expression on his face. I like that a lot.

After two weeks of leave and two weeks of assisting a recruiter, Mike will be back to Camp Pendleton for nine weeks of infantry combat training. He'll come out of that a trained warrior, although he will have no idea of what real combat entails. That may come later, and if so, he'll find out that there's no glory in it. It's chaos, fear, suffering, and an aftermath that goes on and on. Hopefully, he'll be able to get through whatever comes.
In the meantime, Marine boot camp graduation is a major production. These Marines look sharper and drill sharper than any of the services. You can sense the individual and group pride that will help them succeed in the small unit combat role they perform. Mike and 450 others became "new men" last weekend, courtesy of the United States Marines.

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