When I was 19, I joined the Marine Corps and reported to Parris Island where Marine recruits in the eastern U.S. went through boot camp.
It was late June, in the dead-heat of summer, when the bus arrived at the reception center. We were “greeted” by a Marine Drill Instructor (DI), who told us in a powerful voice, “Get off the bus and put your feet on two yellow shoe silhouettes on the street….NOW!!”
As a group, we were all different shapes and sizes, from several parts of the U.S. and were of various ethnicities. We showed up with varying hairstyles and clothing. We all were different; many I noticed differed greatly from me - a boy from Waldo - and thus, me from them. However, in just a few short hours things would change drastically.
From the yellow shoe silhouettes on the street just outside the bus door, we were marched into the barbershop nearby and there, all of our hair was completely cut off. Next we were marched over to where we would be issued our Marine clothing, shirts, trousers, boots and all. There we were ordered to put them on and then package up our street clothes which were then shipped home along with any other personal property we may have brought.
Next, we were marched over to the barracks and given a PRT: a physical readiness test. We were lined up in alphabetical order and first told, one by one, to do pull ups - something I hadn’t ever been able to do in my life! Needless to say, I was concerned. The guy in front of me could not even do one and was severely chastised by the DI and then sent to a remedial physical training program.
Not wanting the same fate, I hopped up to the bar, and with the help of extreme adrenaline, I was able to do eight pull-ups. Next were push-ups. I struggled here as well, but did enough to keep me out of the remedial program.
Over the next 10 weeks of training, we did extensive physical training, learned hand-to-hand combat, attended classes to learn about the military in general and the Marine Corps in specific. We also spent considerable time at the rifle range and taking leadership tests.
And I ate it up. The physical and mental challenges were making me stronger and more confidant about who I was becoming. As I progressed physically, I could easily do 25+ pull-ups and 50+ push-ups along with long runs with ease.
The more we trained, the more I grew physically, mentally and emotionally. My confidence soared.
My confidence grew even further when I was informed that the Marine Corps wanted me to go from boot camp to Officer’s Candidate School at Quantico, VA. WOW! ME?! A poor boy from Waldo - a Marine Officer?! THAT was quite an ego and confidence boost. I could possibly do something I had never even dreamt about!
Yet, for me to go to Officer’s Candidate School would require me to sign on for a minimum of four years of active/full time duty. As it was, I had enlisted in the Reserve program which only required 9 months of active duty.
I will admit that I was so flattered that the Marines' hierarchy chose me to become an officer, that my first thought was to do it! But, after great thought, I decided against it. Going through boot camp gave me focus and clarity of thought. It helped me tame my flattered ego. And I knew that military life was not for me.
Although my service was short, it did so much for me. After 10 weeks of training, I gained 20 lbs of muscle and lost 2 inches in my waist while gaining a shirt size. Upon graduation from Parris Island, I could do 25+ pull-ups, 50+ push-ups and run like a deer!
The physical, mental and emotional growth I experienced while in the military has served me well throughout my life. Especially, when I entered the business world at 20 years old. I was often dealing with people who were 20 to 50 years older than me. Yet, I wasn’t intimidated. That confidence came from being a Marine.
I believe that as we walk around in this world, we are made of all the experiences we’ve had in life. If we don’t try things that are challenging - it’s very hard to grow. Even if these things aren’t ultimately “for you,” there is so much to learn on the path. Fred DeVito said it so well, “If it doesn’t challenge you, it doesn’t change you.”