The Home of the Brave and the Free
By: Kim Saltmarsh – January, 2012
It’s dawn. You’re hungry and cold, dirty and tired. The faint light of a rising sun only reflects the exhaustion and determination on your face. All you have is the hope that boot camp taught you well because you are an American Marine.
I always honored our American troops, but never did I fully appreciate them until I went to recruit training on Parris Island, SC. As a journalist, I took part in my own personal mission – a workshop designed to show what recruits go through before they become Marines.
Just like a recruit, I had no idea what was in store for me as my boot camp bus pulled up to the yellow footprints. “Get off the bus,” screamed the drill instructor. All of my fellow “recruits” lined the famous footprints and the Marine-conditioning began. It’s at this point that a potential Marine will never be the same – being broken down to be built back up again anew.
Marines not only learn physical skills, but they learn values and character during recruit training. But, it’s not until recruits take on “The Crucible” that the real test begins.
“The Crucible” is the final mission. It’s a two-day series of real-world events that test courage, conviction and skill. If a recruit makes it through “The Crucible,” they become a Marine. I had the opportunity to observe some recruits take it on. Dragging their bodies through dirt and pulling weights through sand while climbing through barbed wire, I felt the anguish on their faces and I saw the courage in their eyes.
Glancing around as the recruits pushed onward in their final test, I was awestruck by something – their age. They looked so young like children playing war on a playground, but it’s no game. While these people may be young, they’re mature and balance the weight of responsibility with the weight of their equipment on their shoulders.
Following “The Crucible,” is a moving graduation ceremony. It’s the first time these new Marines have seen their families in 12 weeks. It’s a sense of relief, pride and piles of mixed emotions as these men and women are presented as new.
When I say “Marine,” I’m saying “American hero.” These men and women are the first into a war zone and the last out. These men and women are volunteers fighting for freedom, so that you and I can have a phone conversation, travel freely, speak our minds or even write and read this article. Freedom. These men and women are true American heroes.