My son walked in from college, where he was studying to be a music major, and announced he had decided to join the Marines. I know many parents have had a similar experience where the announcement seemingly came out of nowhere. But I should offer a little context so you can understand why a feather could have knocked me over.
My son had never before mentioned an interest in any form of military service; he already had a full tuition scholarship, and he didn’t like PHYSICAL activity or the outdoors. He was passionate about music and had never considered doing anything besides chasing the dream of one day being a composer.
He was also not one to throw ideas out lightly. For him to say he’d decided to join meant he had already given it serious thought and made up his mind. I knew then it wasn’t something he would change his mind about when the newness of talking to a recruiter wore off. True to form, he went to MEPs and soon became a “poolee” in the delayed entry program (DEP). Less than a year later, and a few weeks before Christmas, we were saying our goodbyes at the recruiter’s office before he left for 13 weeks of recruit training.
I watched the videos and joined the social media groups. I thought I knew what to expect. I even made it through the infamous middle-of-the-night phone call where they have seconds to scream out a scripted message that they’ve arrived safely and will be in touch by mail. Every parent of a Marine is familiar with this call, and bless those who don’t know what to expect beforehand.
Because we live west of the Mississippi River, my recruit boarded a plane for San Diego. Those east of the mighty river head to Parris Island, SC. There is a long-standing and mostly good-natured argument over which recruits have the toughest recruit training. Parris Island is known for its brutal heat, humidity, and cold temperatures in the winter month. Perhaps worst of all — sand fleas.
While San Diego may sound like a walk in the park weather-wise, it has something Parris Island lacks. Hills. Big ones, with lots of hiking up and down them. With fifty-plus pounds on your back, that starts to matter quickly. My son also happened to go on one of the…