WDRB News goes to Parris Island to find out what it takes to become a United States Marine
Nearly 20,000 recruits come through Parris Island every year for what could be considered the most excruciating 13 weeks of their lives as they are physically and mentally tested.
PARRIS ISLAND, S.C. (WDRB) – When your job is defending the country from enemies intent on destroying it, you have to be ready for anything.
That’s why every year the United States Marine Corps trains nearly 20,000 recruits on Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island in South Carolina to be the nation’s force in readiness.
WDRB News followed the progress of three local recruits on the day they left for Parris Island and then met up with them again a few weeks into being challenged mentally and physically at boot camp.
“I wanted to join the Marines for a challenge,” 24-year-old Ronald Williams of Frankfort said hours before being bussed to Parris Island.
It was a similar tune for 22-year-old Matt Mills of Corydon.
“Whenever I actually look back, nothing was ever a challenge, and I'm looking to get that challenge from the Marine Corps,” Mills said.
But for 18-year-old Brevin Stubbins of Clarksville, the horror stories of boot camp didn’t faze him.
“It doesn't look horrible, so I think I'm ready to go,” he said.
What awaited these young men and the thousands who become Marines every year was something completely unexpected.
“You can't prepare to come down here," drill instructor Staff Sgt. Daniel Tabor said. "There's nothing you can do to prepare yourself mentally."
Recruits often arrive on the island before the sun comes up. The bus is silent as it drives into the unknown.
“That's when there's no more excuses and your palms start getting sweaty," recruit instructor Master Gunnery Sgt. Jared Cobb said. Your heart's racing, and the anxiety really starts to build up. The one thought going through your head is what did I do? Why did I do this to myself?”
Then a drill instructor steps onto the bus and meets them for the very first time … yelling at them to stand on the iconic yellow footprints.
“You have just taken the first step to becoming a member of the world's finest fighting force: The United States Marine Corps,” a drill instructor will tell them.
From this point forward and during their 13 weeks on Parris Island, their individuality is stripped from them. When referring to themselves, they do not use the word “I.” Instead, they say “this recruit.”
It’s all part becoming one unit and working together as a team. The same goes for the constant screaming and orders from drill instructors. The recruits are torn down, just to be rebuilt. Everything is done for a purpose.
“Combat, it's very loud,” Staff Sgt. Tabor said. “So we yell at them, one, intimidation factor, but also to show them that you know it's not going to be quiet sometimes when you have to be able to yell at your buddy that's two feet in front of you, and they still won’t be able to hear you sometimes.”
A few weeks into training, the local recruits had experienced this firsthand. Their heads had been shaved, and they’d gone through countless hours of testing.
“Just constantly yelling, yelling, yelling," Williams said. "Even if you do something right, you still get yelled at."
“If one of us messes up, we all mess up," Stubbins added. "So if somebody's gear isn't right, we all pay the price for it."
Boot camp becomes a different experience for every recruit. Some face bigger challenges than others at different points in their training.
“Finding the drive to keep going, that's where you really have to dig deep,” Mills said.
It wasn’t just future Marines who were put to the test on Parris Island. Principals, teachers and coaches from the Louisville area took on a much shorter version of recruit training as part of an educators' workshop.
“Scream aye, sir! Scream back at me! Scream aye, sir! Get in a high plank! Get off your knees, you!” Staff Sgt. Tabor yelled at the educators as he put them through physical training.
“You got to see firsthand how the Marines operate from day one," Elizabethtown High School math teacher Jon Parsons said. "Stuff that you can take back to the classroom and actually be able to help young men and women when they graduate. If they don't go to college, they have the opportunity to come someplace like this."
All the that training recruits receive comes down to one final test, called the Crucible. It's 54 hours long with very few hours of sleep and little food.
“We train like we fight,” water survival instructor Staff Sgt. Andrew Slater said.
“It's mentally tough, it's physically demanding, and it is everything they've got left in them,” Master Gunnery Sgt. Cobb said.
Parts of the Crucible are meant to imitate combat situations, such as carrying ammo cans while crawling under barbed wire through the dirt with the sound gunfire in the background to simulate a resupply mission.
“It's designed to create as much confusion and chaos as we can," weapons and field training operation officer Capt. Evan Brashier said. "There's a lot of uncertainty for them. They came out this morning not knowing what to expect, and it's designed to be that way to see how they react and help them take charge."
Once the Crucible is completed, they earn the title of Marine. Then a few days later, their family arrives for graduation day ceremonies.
WDRB News was able to experience graduation as hundreds of young men and women, who once trained separately, were together on the same stage. Once they took their final orders from their drill instructors, they were released and family members came flooding to meet them.
“After passing all these tests they put us through, today’s a big relief, a big pressure off the shoulders to finally get out of here,” new Marine Paul Rocha said.
“I'm just very overwhelmed with pride," said Paul's mother, Anabela Rocha. "Just to see him, to see how he holds himself, to know that he is the confident man that I always saw that he could be."
And it’s that goal of graduation day that kept pushing the Kentuckiana recruits, day in and day out.
“Honestly, thinking about the reward and graduation day … that's something that really drives me,” Mills said.
“Each and every day gets harder and harder, but each and every day you get closer to graduating,” Williams said.
While the training can be excruciating, the Marine Corps has a 90 percent graduation rate.
“I don't really feel the weight of if they're going to fail, because they're not going to fail," Staff Sgt. Tabor said. "We can’t allow them to fail, because we are training the next generation. That can't happen."
After being instilled with the core values – honor, courage, commitment – it’s the training on Parris Island that allows them to join the elite group of the few and the proud.
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