The Making of a Marine: The Journey

PARRIS ISLAND, S.C. (CN2 NEWS) — The Few. The Proud. The Marines. U.S. Marines are often the first feet on the ground in conflicts, and are referred to as as one of the most elite fighting forces in the world.  Parris Island in South Carolina trains an average of 18,000 to 20,000 Marine recruits each year. The Mississippi River is the dividing point for where recruits will train.  Recruits West of the Mississippi River train in San Diego. Recruits East of the Mississippi River go to Parris Island. They experience the exact same training, but experiences differ. For one, any female recruit must train at Parris Island.  And South Carolina’s hot, humid weather adds another level of endurance.

Each year, the U.S. Marines invite educators to Parris Island. The experience, designed to do more than any brochure ever could, is called the Educator’s Workshop.  Just like real recruits, educators are tested both mentally and physically for three days. The hope is that these educators will go back to their schools and help students, who are struggling with their future, find a home with the Marines.
Often, traditional broadcast news stories are limited by time constraints. This is an unabridged version of the experience with CN2’s Lucas McFadden, who was the only member of the media who joined educators on their training. He recorded his adventure using an iPhone and two GoPro action cameras.

“I didn’t know anyone, but I was there to work and to capture every second, so I didn’t have time to make friends… but I certainly did.”

I was nervous. First of all, I’m not an educator and second of all, I was by myself. My job was to capture the entire experience using just my iPhone and two GoPro Action Cameras.  I didn’t know anyone, but I was there to work and to capture every second, so I didn’t have time to make friends, but I certainly did.
All of the Charlotte Region educators rode down to Parris Island in a Charter Bus during the day, arriving at a hotel, our “barracks.” I know many people, including myself, expected to stay in actual barracks on Parris Island. But this was one difference in our experience than an actual recruit.  We couldn’t stay in the barracks for several reasons. The barracks were occupied by actual recruits, who were not allowed to interact with us, and also for health concerns. Someone from the outside could possibly pass along something to the recruits that could jeopardize their immune system and training.
After getting situated on Day 1, we received our official Marine gear and headed to dinner on Parris Island.  There, we were introduced to high ranking Marines on the base and to the Marines who would be our escorts for the next couple of days.
It was at the dinner I met the three educators from York County participating. They were Brian Schult from Fort Mill High School; Bennett King from South Point High; and Nicolas Natsis from Catawba Ridge.  We didn’t know it, but that first day was easy compared to what was ahead.
This was where reality hit. We were up at 5:30 in the morning to get on the bus taking us to Parris Island.  It was a quiet drive, but not everyone is a morning person. I want to point out that everyone was nice up until this point. We took our time getting off and on the bus, and for a minute it felt like a vacation. But let me tell you, when we when we arrived at the Receiving Company building on Parris Island, our Marine Escorts got off the bus and within seconds a new set of Marines jumped on the bus and started yelling and giving us commands.
“I was so shocked, I literally could not process what was happening.”
I was so shocked, I literally could not process what was happening. I was caught so off guard that I forgot to hit the record buttons on my cameras, hence why there is some shaky video there as we made our way to the famous yellow footprints.  Every recruit stands on the footprints as they begin transitioning from a civilian to a Marine recruit.
We had to repeat back everything our drill instructor yelled at us and, frankly, I never understood what we were saying. I just knew we had to say something back.
We got to see where the new recruits make a phone call home.  The average age of the recruit is 18 to 20 years old. For many, this is the first time they’ve lived away from home. The first time their parents hear from them can be anytime in the day or night. Recruits are being yelled at while they have to follow a specific script.
“I have arrived safely at Parris Island. Please do not send any food or bulky items to me in the mail. I will contact you in seven to nine days by letter with my new address. Thank you for your support and good bye for now.” That is all they are allowed to say.
“I have arrived safely at Parris Island. Please do not send any food or bulky items to me in the mail.”
As a parent myself, I can’t imagine how the recruits get through that script without crying, or how the parents feel on the other end. I mean they really do strip you down to build you back up again.
All of this by 7:51 in the morning on Day 2. It’s amazing at how much we had already experienced. Internally it felt as if it should be lunch time.  A little after eight in the morning, we started PT, or Physical Training, in the sand.  Typically, I run and do boot-camps at home, so I looked forward to seeing this part of the training. At this point, we’re getting yelled everywhere we go.  That got old really quick.
By 10 in the morning, we heard from many Marines on the opportunities available for students to help these educators stay informed.
After the education benefit discussion, it was time for lunch at 11 in the morning. At Parris Island, they call it “chow.”  Before lunch, you have to wash your hands. That process was really something else.  All I can say is I was my hands better since I’ve been to Parris Island.
Inside the Mess Hall, we had our first interactions with real recruits. As a journalist I was given a lot of freedom to get video of almost everything, but I could never get video or pictures of the current recruits. During lunch, I had to put the cameras away.
First of all inside the Mess Hall it was very clean. Our lunch consisted of a meat and vegetables, salad and a dessert. The drink machine only offered water or Gatorade. Normally recruits are only given a certain amount of time to eat, so do it fast. Recruits sit up straight, and use only one hand to hold the utensil. The other hand is always flat on their leg.
“I’m not sure if I’m suppose to tell you, but it’s Wednesday, February 26th.”
I asked one recruit how long he had been there, since recruits are in different stages of their 13 weeks of training.  The recruit said, “I don’t know,” and I said, “Well, I’m not sure if I’m suppose to tell you, but it’s Wednesday, February 26th.” I could tell he was grateful to hear this. Most recruits just try to make it through the day, using meals as a way to tell time.  Clocks and watches are not allowed on Parris Island for recruits. I just can’t imagine loosing all sense of the day and time.
By noon, we got to go the firing range to shoot the M16 service rifle of the Marines. We did receive some introductory training on using the rifle.  Even though I know my way around a gun, it was cold and raining, and I was overwhelmed. Training goes on rain or shine, and in the end I hit five or six targets out of ten.
At three in the afternoon, we headed to the pool for water survival demonstrations. The pool was one of the few training activities we could not participate in. One of the reasons given was that not everyone is comfortable in water, and trainers didn’t want to single people out. I learned that if you can’t fire the M16 rifle and you can’t pass the water part of training, you can’t become a Marine… no excuses or passes there.
One of the last activities of the day was to see F-18 fighter jets. It felt just like being on a movie set, and after a long day, many used opportunity to take pictures.
By 6 in the evening, after a day of not slowing down or stopping for breaks, we were all tired, hungry and sore.  But we did get a treat at the end of the day. Another dinner at the  Officer’s Club, where we sat around and reflected on the day.

 

“I jokingly told the bus driver that morning she was the only person who smiled at us.”
Same drill… alarms off at 5:30, breakfast at the hotel and back to Parris Island. I jokingly told the bus driver that morning she was the only person who smiled at us.  Expecting what was to come, we remained quiet on our drive to Parris Island.
By this point we are all used to the yelling, running off the bus, getting into formation and walking as a group. We were even getting somewhat good at it. We learned the average walking speed for recruits during boot-camp is about 4 miles per hour!
The first part of the morning was spent on more physical training, where we learned that Marine recruits are trained with the same intensity as athletes.

The Sports Medicine Injury Prevention Trainer on Parris Island said some of the common injuries occur in the knees so he took time to show us how to properly squat. We learned that it’s a simple exercise that can save the knees and the rest of the body.
At this point, our training was cut short when Marine escorts told us we had to immediately leave the track so recruits could continue their run.  We got off that track in record time!
We also got to witness recruits running the Motivational Run. It’s a celebration of the overall achievement of completing Recruit Training, and one of the last events before graduation.  The Marines who were running it were celebrating the end of the Crucible.  This 54-hour test pushes every recruit’s physical and mental state. It includes food and sleep deprivation, and over 45 miles of marching.
Talk about an emotional moment. The families were crying, and I’ll admit I was crying, too. Many of the educators are parents and they had a strong reaction to seeing this. I imagine they were putting themselves in the shoes of these parents. I hope everyone gets to witness this one day.
This is also when families get the chance to see their new Marines in uniform. After 13 weeks, this is the first chance for these families to love and hug on their new Marine.
A Marine.. a title earned never given.
These educators say the experience definitely opened their eyes to what the military has to offer and the opportunities for young people… jobs, college and a successful career.

I asked our Marine escorts if they were worried that by allowing us to experience some of the training, it would scare educators away from talking about a possible career with the military. The Marines said the purpose of the Educator’s Workshop is to be honest, both about the hardships and the rewards.