Last summer, more than a thousand South Carolinahigh school graduates went straight from school, to train for war.
Recruits go through weeks of intense training, teaching them skills to use in combat and to keep them alive.
For the United States Marine Corps, that training happens on Parris Island. Every year, dozens of teachers, coaches and principals, many from the Upstate, are brought in to see that training.
They have to be able to tell high schoolers what it really takes to make a marine. Last month we went along with them.
Recruits arrive on Parris Island packed in a bus, all unified by fear. The first voice they hear is their drill instructor, screaming at them to stand on the yellow footprints. It's the same command given to every recruit that passes throughParris Island's gates.
âWe don't tolerate anything but their best effort. They have to give 100 percent of themselves at all time,â said Colonel Wayne Jones, the Recruit Training Regiment Commander.
They learn to do what they're told because not doing so could mean the difference between life and death.
âWhat really impresses me about them is that they even enlisted in a time of war,â said Col. Jones.
Tracy Todd is witnessing all of the training as an Upstate teacher. She's one of nearly 100 here, as part of a Marine Corps Educators Workshop. She's also the mother of a recruit.
âIt is always a fear,â said Todd. âAnd he's my only child so, so it's scary but, he's ready.â
The vigorous training covers everything, including learning how to survive in the water, repeatedly marching in formation while practicing specific movements and firing M-16s and other rifles as if in combat. They even have to make sure their bed sheets are tucked in perfectly.
The slightest error could result in whatâs known as incentive training, where their drill instructor pulls them from the group and commands repeated push-ups, knee lifts, running in place and other physical demands. All while the drill instructor yells at them. The idea is for these recruits to learn from their mistakes.
The recruits, many of them still in their teens, do all of this with the expectation that they will deploy to war as marines.
âYoung men and woman who do sign the dotted line, raise their right hand, do so knowing that they are going to be in harms way,â said Captain Barry Morris of the 6th Marine Regiment.
Chris Buttrey, a retired lance corporal, says what he practiced as a recruit became a reality in combat on day one. He says almost no training can prepare you until you're fighting for your life.
âIt's hair-raising. It's when you know you're in the thick of it. You're not back home inSouth Carolina anymore,â said Buttrey. âYou're out there, and you're fighting and there's a chance you could die.â
With all the stress of war, 7 On Your Side wanted to know if training was enough to prepare these young men and woman to put their lives on the line, fighting for out country? We took that question to Capt. Morris.
âI would say yes. The marines have done a great job,â said Capt. Morris. âThat's why we just train, train, train, as much as we can to ensure that our marines are ready to fight. Fit to fight and then fit to come back home too.â
He says the Marine Corps has recently adapted training to better protect marines from enemy forces.
âThere's a lot of lessons learned since 2001. We've learned from lessons inIraqandAfghanistan, especially with improvised explosive devices,â said Capt. Morris. âSo we've tailored training specifically to identify, target and eliminate some of those hazards that marines will face while deployed.â
Training now includes a Prepare to Deploy Program where marines get a refresher course on all qualifications, priming them for combat both physically and mentally.
And who deploys with them has also changed, to reflect the psychological demands marines face.
âThe Marine Corps and the Navy partner together and quickly realized, we need to have medically trained professionals to identify when a marine is stressed, combat stress and post traumatic stress syndrome,â said Capt. Morris. âThe earlier we can detect it the better.â
So they can bring them back home safely, to their moms like Tracy. She got to see her son during the trip, in the mess hall. He and the other recruiters greeted the group of educators by shouting out their names, hometown and career choice.
"Good morning ladies, good morning gentlemen! Recruit Todd, Pickens, South Carolina, Combat engineer!" said her son, Taylor Todd.
âI couldn't touch him,â saidTracy after she saw him for the first time in nine weeks.
âAnd I was not to be overly emotional, so I was really worried about both of those because I want to hug him. It's been a long time.â
It was the first of many happy reunions she's hoping for.
âIt actually makes me feel better because I can see first hand, he's really being prepared for it,â saidTracy. âSo when it happens, he'll come home. Hopefully he's going to come home."
But first, Recruit Todd along with the hundreds of other recruits still pounding the pavement have to earn their spot on graduation day, where they can finally call themselves marines.
After recruit training, marines go through two more phases of training before they're deployed.