My journey to Parris Island began four and half years ago with my oldest son, Micah. Micah came to my husband, Chris, and to me to divulge to us that he was considering the military for his future. Since Micah was just a thirteen-year-old, neither Chris nor I put much stock in this at the time, but we gave him our support and reminded him of our standard. That standard for our four boys has always been that if they could come to us, look us squarely in the eye and say, "Mom, Dad, I have studied God's Word, I have prayed long and hard, I have sought godly counsel and I believe that this is the will of God for my life... " we would support them 100 percent.
Over the course of the next three years, the military never left my son's mind. By 16 he had begun to research different branches of the military. He narrowed his research to the Navy and the Marines for various reasons. He went to the Navy recruiter at 16 and took the practice ASVAB (Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery) in the office. He scored nearly 60, which is a fairly good score in and of itself, but particularly good for a student with a year and a half of high school remaining.
Micah also was contacted by a recruiter from the Marine Corps that year. Marine Recruiter Staff Sergeant (SSgt.) Craig Rowland spent time with Micah. He took time getting to know Micah, explained Marine Corps opportunities, Corps values, recruit training, and the physical and mental demands of serving in this elite service. SSgt. Rowland told us about his experience of joining the Marines at 17 himself, and having a great career of ten years that has included training to be a jet mechanic and going on to be an instructor at the base in Pensacola before becoming a recruiter. He also spent all the time we, as parents, wanted to spend with our questions and concerns.
After much time and prayer, more study, and more wise counsel from godly men who had served and were serving in the military, Micah took the ASVAB on Tuesday, January 30, 2007, the day after his 17th birthday. He scored well, nearly 80 - a great improvement over his practice test a year earlier. SSgt. Rowland explained to us that with that score, even more doors of opportunity would be opened to Micah within the Corps.
Micah expressed a desire to be in logistics. We asked him about the possibility of being placed outside of his desired field. Micah's response? "God is big enough to place me wherever He wants me to be. I trust Him."
Within the next week, we dropped off our son to the recruiters' office and 36 hours later, we picked up our new "poolee." This term is used to describe men and women who have taken the oath and become a part of the Delayed Entry Program of the USMC, also known as DEP. Micah will be an official recruit only once he has arrived at Parris Island.
During this time with SSgt. Rowland, we also had several opportunities to sit down with Marine Corps Master Sergeant (MSgt.) Terry Hall, Detachment Commander of recruiting in the Baton Rouge area. He is also a fine Christian man truly interested in working with young men and women of potential. He also shared his personal story with us. He, too, joined the Corps at 17 and went on to do great things. He worked in logistics, and was able to explain that field more fully to Micah to help determine if that was what he truly wanted to do.
MSgt. Hall works with all of his poolees, as do the recruiters, one Saturday a month in what is called a Pool Function. This is the time when the poolees have an opportunity to work on their physical training. While the poolees are encouraged to work out regularly, this is the time when their progress in monitored.
I have been very impressed with the overall accountability on both the physical and mental levels. The poolees are required by the recruiting office to keep their grades up, stay out of trouble, and maintain respect and discipline within the home.
You would not believe the number of hours each week the recruiters spend in contacting parents, school teachers and counselors, and with the poolees themselves. Each recruiter must monitor his poolees and track their progress. All of this is overseen by MSgt. Hall, who is interested in the poolees and knows them all.
Marine drill instructor
In getting to know our family, MSgt. Hall quickly discovered that we are homeschoolers. He was very interested in homeschooling and asked many common questions, which I answered in detail for him. "There is an annual Educators' Conference coming up at Parris Island in March," he said, "and I would love for you to attend it, Mrs. Michelli." Chris talked it over fully with him, and gave me his permission to go.
I met up with a diverse group of educators from Louisiana and southwest Mississippi. Individuals enlisting into the Marine Corps from these areas go through Recruit Station New Orleans. I met nearly 40 men and women who serve in schools all over the area as administrators, secretaries, teachers, and counselors. None of us was prepared for Parris Island!
After leaving the Savannah Airport and boarding a big white school bus, we were taken to the Country Inn and Suites in Beaufort, SC, near Parris Island. When the bus pulled up to the hotel, two Marines in uniform boarded the bus. They immediately began to yell at us. One said, "I am Staff Sergeant Charlston! You will address me as sir! When I tell you to, you will get off of my bus, do you understand me? The answer is 'Aye, sir!' Do you understand me?" This went on for 2 - 3 minutes. Some educators were excited, and some were offended, some were just in shock and did not know how to respond. I knew that these Drill Instructors (DI's) were with us to give us a small taste of recruit training and I didn't take any of it personally. In fact, our DI, SSgt. Morgan, one of the fine female DI's, quickly picked out a guide and four squad leaders. I was chosen to be the guide. This was a great responsibility and privilege for me. I found out quickly what it is like to be yelled at for the purpose of teaching the group! At any rate, my training was only to be four days, and surely I could handle a small taste for only four days!
We arrived on a Tuesday afternoon. After our initial introduction to the DI's that would be with us for the week, and getting some gear issued to us, we had some time to settle in and get ready for dinner. We had a lovely dinner that night at one of the clubs on Parris Island. Members of the Marine Corps band played soft music while we ate. Later we were briefed on recruit training and had an opportunity to introduce ourselves to the group and get to know each other.
That night we learned a lot about recruit training. Parris Island is one of only two Marine Corps training depots in the US. They train 49 percent of male recruits and 100 percent of female recruits. Marine training is the only training in all the branches that still separates males and females for training. Men are trained only by male Drill Instructors and females trained only by female Drill Instructors. The demands for each are equal and the training for the women is just as hard and tough as it is for the men.
We learned that during those long weeks of training - the longest training time of any branch - that the recruits first go through receiving. There they take another oath, get their hair cuts and their one scripted phone call home. They go through IST (Initial Strength Training), and then are assigned to training platoons. In these, recruits are assigned four Drill Instructors: three green belt DI's and one black belt DI who oversees them. These will be with them until graduation.
Once in a platoon, the real training begins. Recruits spend a great deal of time in physical training: everything from running and drilling, to martial arts training, the obstacle course and even swimming. They are taught to shoot and shoot well. After all, every Marine is a rifleman. They learn to live out the Marine Corps motto: Honor, Courage, Commitment. In a classroom setting they learn Marine Corps history. In addition to all the physical requirements which must be passed in order to graduate, recruits must also pass their academic testing with an 80 percent to graduate.
We educators had an opportunity to experience a great deal while at Parris Island. We went into platoon quarters and ate with recruits twice. We shot M-16's and had brief training at MCMAP (Marine Corps Martial Arts Program). We got to go through the obstacle course - my favorite was the pugil sticks! We met various levels of Corps personnel, toured Drill Instructor School and even met Hummer, the British bulldog who is the Marine Corps mascot.
One of the most challenging times for us that week was the Crucible. In our brief time in one of the stations, we were required to carry out missions as a team. These were very challenging and had to be done within a time constraint. The Crucible is the crowning achievement of recruit training. In this time recruits will march and run for miles. They will have to work as a team to solve problems in timed missions. They will go with only four hours of sleep for two nights while handling all of these intense physical and mental demands. In 54 hours, they will only receive three small meals. At the end of the Crucible, the platoons march nine miles back, exhausted and barely able to go on. This is no ordinary hike - it's a "hump," a hard hike in full gear. But none will quit. Why? Because a reward waits for them at the end of that hump - the one thing they've toiled so long to achieve - the title of United States Marine. The transition has now been made from recruit to Marine.
The Eagle, Globe, and Anchor ceremony is next for them. I had the privilege to observe one in my week. The platoons march proudly onto the parade ground and at the end of this beautiful ceremony they receive their Eagle, Globe, and Anchor to place on their "cover" (what we civilians call a hat). There was not a dry eye anywhere on the parade grounds or in the stands. The Marine Corps band played the "Marine Corps Hymn," and I had never heard such passion and such beauty as I heard that day. New Marines, male and female, sang out of key with what was left of their voices, but with an intense pride and sense of accomplishment that carried throughout the parade ground.
The next day we were able to observe the colors being raised in a special Color ceremony. All senior officers were present. This flag raising was particularly moving because a Gunnery Sergeant was retiring. The band was again present. The morning was crisp, the sky was azure and every heart pumped red, white and blue. It was truly moving to hear of the accomplishments of this fine man and to see the honor given him as he retired.
Later that day, just before leaving Parris Island, the graduation ceremony took place. Thousands of family members and friends took their seats in the stands to watch their Marine march out. Eyes were strained and fingers pointed as each one tried to make out their loved one. The Commanding Officer spoke to the new Marines. They were told how much they had accomplished, how much pride was taken in them by their country, and how much was ahead of them to achieve. When the ceremony was over, mothers ran to the parade deck to find their babies. Dads were right behind them! Until the Eagle, Globe, and Anchor ceremony the day before, the families had not seen the face of their child or heard his voice in three months. Letters had been exchanged, but no voice, no sight, no touch for all those long weeks. Some mothers walked right past their children, not recognizing them after all the physical changes due to their training. It was a beautiful sight to behold families being reunited.
For me, every Marine's face was Micah's. Every recruit I met, whether at Parris Island for a few days or a few weeks, was my Micah. I could see him at all of the different stages of training. Each officer I saw revealed the potential Micah could achieve with hard work and a college education. All 300 graduates were my Micah, and I wept for them in pride.
Once back home in beautiful Central, the Baton Rouge area poolees had their annual Family Night. All the family and friends of poolees were invited to meet two DI's flown in from Parris Island. The poolees, including Micah and three other recruits from our home church, had their first real taste of what it will be like to train.
It was an exciting night. MSgt. Hall asked me to address the parents as I had actually been to Parris Island and could tell them of my observations. I noticed that some parents were proud, many were apprehensive, and some were still in shock. That night I encouraged them to be proud. I exhorted them to write daily to their child, as all recruits I interviewed said that receiving letters was what the key to keeping up morale. Then, I challenged them to trust - trust their child, trust the DI's, trust the process - but, most of all, to trust God.
While at Parris Island, Colonel Valentin, Chief of Staff of Parris Island Recruit Depot, addressed us near the beginning of our week and his words have yet to leave me. He told us that all Americans want freedoms protected. All Americans want rights and property protected. But most of us only want them as long as someone else's child is doing the protecting.
For me, there is a great peace in Micah's decision. I know that Micah is in the center of God's Will for his life. I know that he is also in God's hands. Micah is no safer here in Central than he will be in the Marine Corps. Micah's time is his time, and I am proud that he is willing to give his time in serving others. I am proud of his courage and determination to follow where he is bidden. I am proud to have him serve our God and our country. He has been mine and his daddy's for 17 years. Here he is, Central. Here he is, America. Here he is, world. I give you my son, Micah Michelli. And I give him to you proudly.
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