U.S. Marines – United States Marine Corps

Joining the Marines

Cancer patient becomes U.S. Marine

BOISE-USMARINEWhen Esra D. Mullner was taken to a doctor for consistent back pain he had no idea doctors would find a tumor in his spine.
At the time, he was just 11 years old and doctors advised against the surgery because of the high risk and low success rate of the procedure.

“I remember my mom told me and at the time I didn’t understand what a tumor was,” said Mullner. “I just remember my mom was mad that the neurosurgeon was going on vacation right after he told us that. That’s how I knew it was bad.”

Recruit Mullner, Platoon 3269, Mike Company, 3rd Recruit Training Battalion, said doctors told him that if they were able to remove 80 percent of the tumor he would have a 50 percent survival rate.
(continue reading…)

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Finding a new brother in the U.S. Marines

After witnessing death and tragedy at a young age and turning down a dark path, one young man used the later losses of his two brothers to change his goals for life and join the Marine Corps to become part of a loyal family of thousands.

In 2004, Rct. Jordan McAlexander’s life overturned when the then 11-year-old was caught in the middle of his grandfather’s murder. The assailant, a former neighbor, killed three others before seeing young McAlexander and his grandfather pulling into the driveway.

His grandfather told McAlexander to stay in the vehicle. Yet once a gun was drawn and yelling began, the boy ran inside to alert his grandmother who was on the phone with his mother. Realizing what her distraught grandson was saying, she dialed 911 while McAlexander’s mother called his stepfather, a sheriff’s sergeant, who was nearby. (continue reading…)

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9/11 Inspires Baseball Player to Serve

Many say that everything is bigger in Texas, to include dreams. One Texan baseball player’s biggest dream, to become a U.S. Marine, has become a reality.
Pvt. Ben W. Reed, Platoon 2128, Company F, grew up in Graham, Texas, a considerably large town that was known for its baseball.

No one in Reed’s family played baseball, but he shined at the sport among his peers in school, he said. He discovered his abilities like most kids, by just trying them out.

“My friends and I would always play baseball,” Reed said. “It just seemed like a natural habit.”

Reed had an early start with his baseball career, beginning with Tee Ball when he was 6 years old.

When he attended Kilgore High School, Reed played for the district champions, the Kilgore Bulldogs. He was awarded 1st Team All District, and was nominated to play on the North Texas High School Baseball Coaches’ Association All Star Team. (continue reading…)

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Bulgarian Immigrant becomes Marine

The U.S. Marine Corps is made up of people that come from all over the world, from every clime and place. Recruit Cvetomir V. Cvetkov, Platoon 1074, Company D., 1st Recruit Training Battalion is a native of Bulgaria, who joined the Marine Corps because he said he wanted to be one of the best.While getting his degree in accounting at the National and Worth Economy School in Bulgaria, Cvetkov began to work on coming to America on a student visa during the summer of 2003.

Cvetkov traveled to America to earn extra money by working a summer job at Six Flags Great America, in Chicago with some of his fellow classmates from his school. On their advice that he took the opportunity to earn extra money during the summer, improve his English, and explore new things.

“I decided I wanted to stay in America because there is still a lot of corruption in Bulgaria, and my younger brother is also here in the United States,” he said.

In 2006, after he obtained his degree, Cvetkov decided to immigrate to America. Since his degree was not recognized in the U.S., and the Corps wouldn’t recognize a student visa in order to enlist, he took up a job as a bartender and a limo driver, with intensions to eventually start college in the states. (continue reading…)

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New Father in Marines

The brutal physical conditioning, constant mental stress and desolation of emotional distance is enough to make the experience of Mar


ine Corps recruit training hard. Pvt. Jonathan Dean, however, had two more reasons to stress during his time aboard Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego.Dean arrived at MCRD on Dec. 13, 2010. Just two weeks later, after spending Christmas apart from his family and his wife of nearly two years, Dean learned that his wife had given birth to twins.

“I received a Red Cross message the night of December 27,” said Dean. “Obviously, I knew they were going to be born while I was here (aboard MCRD), but it still came as quite a shock.”

After Dean received the news, he had a hard time concentrating on his training, according to Gunnery Sgt. Michael Blua, senior drill instructor, platoon 2171, Company H. (continue reading…)

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Drilling Discipline in Recruits

Discipline is defined at Parris Island as the instant, willing obedience to orders.

Recruits demonstrate their understanding of this trait during the ninth week of recruit training, when platoons face off in a competition called Final Drill.

“Drill is the foundation of discipline,” said Staff Sgt. Jorge Guerrero, the senior drill instructor for Platoon 1012, Bravo Company, 1st Recruit Training Battalion. “It shows the recruits’ abilities to follow orders no matter the circumstance.”

From the moment recruits arrive on Parris Island, they are taught the basic fundamentals of drill.

Guerrero said there is an overwhelming difference between recruits competing in Initial Drill, their first test of proficiency and Final Drill.

“Their precision and attention to detail has improved a great deal by that time,” said Guerrero, of Harlingen, Texas. “During week nine, the transformation from civilian to Marine is almost complete. You don’t see that during the week of Initial Drill.” (continue reading…)

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Football player trades pads in for flak

After four years of playing offensive tackle on his high school’s football team, he was awarded a full scholarship to attend the University of Kansas in Lawrence, Kan., to  play football. Almost two years later, Recruit Bernard D. Lueken, Platoon 3246, Company L, couldn’t continue playing the role of a football player in the spotlight. He had to listen to the voice inside him that urged him to fulfill his desire to become a United States Marine.
When Lueken was a freshman at Chaminade College Preparatory School, Creve Coeur, Miss., he demonstrated a talent for football. Chaminade is a private high school designed for serious students intent on attending college, Lueken said.
“I tried out for the football team as a freshman and was advised by the coach to pursue an athletic career in football,” said Lueken, a St. Louis, Miss., native.
For four years, Lueken held the position of offensive tackle for the Chaminade
Red Devils.
Lueken’s dedication and loyalty can be attributed to his mother, who lost the battle to breast cancer when he was 14 years old. She had strong character and was one of the first women Marines to graduate from bootcamp after it was designed to replicate men’s training, he said. She served six years in the Corps. (continue reading…)
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Fighting to belong

America has traditionally been known around the world as the land of opportunity because of the many immigrants who come to the United States aspiring to a better life.

Some of them join the Armed Forces, which can also accelerate the process of gaining their citizenship and earning  the right to stay.

Erbol Bekmuratov, a recruit with Platoon 2012, Fox Company, 2nd Recruit Training Battalion, and an immigrant from Almaty, Kazakhstan, said he joined the Marine Corps for several reasons.

“I chose the Marines because when I moved here, I heard they were the best this country had, and I wanted to belong to it,” Bekmuratov said.

“I joined because I wanted to earn my citizenship quickly and get money for school once I get out,” Bekmuratov added.

Bekmuratov moved from his country to Philadelphia when he was 16, after his father received a job in the city. Once Bekmuratov was old enough to join the Corps, he spoke with a recruiter.

While citizenship can be a motivating factor to the decision to join the military, other reasons exist as well. (continue reading…)

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Recruits Prepare for Combat

The Table 2 Basic Combat Marksmanship Course is the first step in transitioning a Marine from fundamental marksmanship to becoming a proficient combat marksman.

During Field Week, the second three-week phase of recruit training, Company F recruits completed the Table 2 Basic Combat  Marksmanship Course at Edson Range, Camp Pendleton, Calif., Dec. 3.

“Table 2 prepares the recruits for combat by teaching them the fundamentals of marksmanship with a combat load and aiming at close distances,” said Sgt. Juan J. Solando, line staff non-commissioned officer, Alpha Range, Weapons and Field Training Battalion. (continue reading…)

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U.S. Marine Corps Physical Fitness Test Requirements


The United States Marine Corps requires that all Marines perform a Physical Fitness Test (PFT) and a Combat Fitness Test (CFT) once per fiscal year. Each test must have an interval of 6 months (same standards apply for reservists). The PFT ensures that Marines are keeping physically fit and in a state of physical readiness. It consists of pull-ups, crunches and a 3-mile run for males. For females it consists of flexed arm hang, crunches and a 3-mile run.
1 October 2008, the Marine Corps introduced the additional pass/fail Combat Fitness Test (CFT) to the fitness requirements. The CFT is designed to measure abilities demanded of Marines in a war zone

The United States Marine Corps requires that all Marines perform a Physical Fitness Test (PFT) and a Combat Fitness Test (CFT) once per fiscal year. Each test must have an interval of 6 months (same standards apply for reservists). The PFT ensures that Marines are keeping physically fit and in a state of physical readiness. It consists of pull-ups, crunches and a 3-mile run for males. For females it consists of flexed arm hang, crunches and a 3-mile run.1 October 2008, the Marine Corps introduced the additional pass/fail Combat Fitness Test (CFT) to the fitness requirements. The CFT is designed to measure abilities demanded of Marines in a war zone (continue reading…)

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Poolees Get Marksmanship Training

Blue skies, birds chirping and a cool breeze may be an ideal morning for most people, but add in the smell of gun powder and the crack of a hammer hitting a primer and sending rounds down range is what perks up most Marines.

On recruiting duty, Marines are exempt from attending the rifle range, but for Recruiting Station Milwaukee that does not mean poolees are not offered the opportunity to learn basic Marine Corps marksmanship and gain some familiarity firing the civilian version of the M-16A2 service rifle, the AR-15.

Nine of the 13 recruiting substations with RS Milwaukee each received half a day of marksmanship training, live fire, cover and concealment classes, M240B Medium machine gun familiarization, a partial Initial Strength Test and a Meal Ready to Eat lunch at Stone Bank Sportman’s Club between August 4-7. (continue reading…)

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Family values encourage new Marine to improve quality of life

When thinking about a question he has just been asked about his life Pfc. Duy Trinh takes a moment to reflect on the answer and also about how it may sound.

“I was born in Saigon, Vietnam,” said Trinh through broken English.  Something in the way he pauses shows in his as eyes, as if the 20 year old goes back to his birthplace and through all his memories that brought him to this exact moment in his life. “My grandparents fled after the Vietnam (conflict), and all my relatives split up after that, some came to the states.”

Born as the only child to a construction worker and a housewife, Trinh dreamed of growing up to be an engineer, but when his parents decided to move to Garden Grove, Calif. in 2004 the young man focused on lear

ning to speak English and finishing school.

“I started (American) high school with only three months left of my freshman year,” said the Bolsa Grande High School alumni “Mr. Bridges was a (English as a Second Language) teacher, he helped me a lot.  I liked him because he was an instructor first but was very careful in the way he actually listened to me.”

Trinh learned that his teacher was a former active duty Marine and heeded his advice when it came to learning and has carried the guidance with him ever since.

“He always told me ‘Your books are your weapon, like a rifle to a Marine.  Every time you come to school your books are (continue reading…)

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Teacher becomes Marine

Former teacher, Pfc. Patrick Collman, Platoon 2109, Company E, had the option to go to Officer Candidate School because he had a bachelor’s degree, but chose to enlist instead, for the challenge. He wanted to start from the bottom and work his way up, as he has demonstrated in virtually every aspect of his life leading to boot camp.

“That way, if you do get into a higher position you know

what the lower positions are going through,” Collman said.

Having grown up in the mountains of Colorado, Collman loved the outdoors, and as a result, became a Boy Scout, then attained the rank of Eagle Scout during his senior year of high school.

But before Collman could lead scouts, he had to start somewhere. Just as Marines start as recruits, Boy Scouts must go through the ranks and start as Cub Scouts. (continue reading…)

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What are the legal requirements to joining the Marines?

I am not a citizen of the United States, but I would still like to be in the Marines. Is this possible?
You can join the Marines when you reach 17 years of age, and also upon entering your senior year in high school, as long as you have your parents’ consent.
In most cases you must be a United States citizen or resident alien to join the Marines. Upon establishing permanent legal residence in the U.S., you should address specific questions regarding your enlistment to your local Marine Corps recruiter.
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Is Recruit Training hard?

Yes. Recruit Training will be one of the most physically and mentally challenging experiences of your life. But it is not impossible. The sense of accomplishment upon completing training is very rewarding and worthwhile.

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Is abuse tolerated in the Marines?

Will I be physically abused during Recruit Training?
No. Physical abuse is absolutely not tolerated. A full-time medic (Navy Corpsman) is assigned to every platoon in Recruit Training and is always on hand to ensure that all precautions are taken to maintain the safety and health of recruits in training.
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How Do I Contact a Recruit

During the first two weeks of recruit training, recruits will send home a letter stating they?ve made it to MCRD San Diego or Parris Island and will provide an address for which to receive mail.

Here is an example of an address for recruit mail from MCRD San Diego:

Recruit John E. Doe
1st BN, Alpha Co. PLT _ _ _ _
36001 Midway Ave
San Diego, CA 92140 – (plus platoon #)


If a message is required to notify a recruit of an emergency situation at any time during recruit training, please contact your local American Red Cross or please visit the American Red Cross Emergency Communication Services web page, to have an official message sent to either MCRD San Diego or Parris Island. In order to process the message quickly, please provide the recruit’s name, social security number, company and platoon.

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What bootcamp will be like with a twin?

Pvts.  Cody L. (left) and Kyle D. Wombles stand in 2nd Recruit Training  Battalion's commander's inspection Tuesday. With their mother's consent,  the twins enlisted into the Marine Corps at 17.

Pvts. Cody L. (left) and Kyle D. Wombles stand in 2nd Recruit Training Battalion’s commander’s inspection Tuesday. With their mother’s consent, the twins enlisted into the Marine Corps at 17.

“Recruit Wombles times two!” yelled the drill instructor as two heads popped up simultaneously. Acknowledging the call, they both rose to their feet and ran to the front of the barracks.

Cody L. and Kyle D. Wombles grew up in the small town of Pleasant Hill, Ill. Living in a town with less than 1,000 people, the two Company F recruits welcomed the idea of being identical twins in a new, ethnically diverse environment with new experiences.

Said Cody: “The only way our drill instructors can tell us apart is by the … ”

” … mole on my face,” said Kyle, finishing his twin’s thought.

They take turns finishing each other’s sentences, and they do it frequently.

“Other recruits in the platoon always tells us how lucky we are and how they wish that their brothers could be here training with them,” said Kyle.

Taking on the challenge of joining the military was an ambition the twins shared as young boys.

“We decided on the Marines because it looked like it was the hardest,” said Kyle as Cody nodded his head in agreement. “Our mother didn’t want us to go, but we told her when we turned 18 we were going to join.”

“They probably put it mildly,” said their mom Cheryl Wombles about their choice.

After the several discussions and heated words that the family shared, she ultimately found herself supporting their decision to join.

“Kyle didn’t voice his opinion to want to leave Illinois as much as Cody, but they both want to see different things,” said Cheryl.

A year of persuasion helped the twins, who were born on Dec. 17, 1986, to get their mother to sign the parental consent form to allow them to join at 17.

“She signed our papers and we asked our recruiter to get us to go as soon as possible,” said Cody.

“But he didn’t have any open spots until after the summer,” said Kyle.

Putting themselves on the waiting list for open spots, the two did encounter an opening, but for only one of them.

“At first I was ready to take it,” said Cody. “Then I realized it wasn’t enough time to say goodbye to everyone, so I passed it up.”

In early August, the twins finally made it into boot camp as infantrymen.

Having each other to rely on during training has helped them to excel and make it through. In a letter that Cheryl received from Kyle, she believed that he was becoming homesick and needed reassurance

“I told him that he needed to buck up and take it like a man,” said Cheryl. “I also told his brother to look out for him, which makes me look hard, but I knew they would be fine.”

The twins followed their mother’s guidance and did well throughout training.

“They are basically joined at the hip,” said Sgt. Jefferson A. Rivas, Platoon 2126, Co. F drill instructor. “Whenever one reports for something, instead of picking them apart they both come up.”

Showing their drill instructors that they have no problems getting through training, both recruits averaged about the same score on almost every competitive event.

“Every time we went through the obstacle course, the drill instructors would make us race one another,” said Kyle.

“Most of the time we were pretty even, but occasionally I beat my brother,” finished Cody.

The twins’ kindred mind set made boot camp easier to bear.

“When the drill instructors would count down to get us to do things quickly, other recruits were digging through their stuff to look for what was asked,” said Kyle. “My brother and I would be much further ahead of everyone else because without a word my brother would have what I needed or I would have what he needed.”

Doing everything alike in a place where conformity is comfortable only helped the twins excel with no problems except for small heckling.

“During chow, the drill instructors would ask the second one of us why we were in line trying to get seconds,” said Kyle.

Having completed the first part of their journey in the military, the Wombles twins look forward to the School of Infantry and a chance to see more of the world.

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San Diego Recruiter

Staff Sgt. Julian Lopez, Permanent Contact Station Escondido,  Calif., Recruiting Station San Diego stands at attention in the back of  the room as Navy and Marine Corps enlistees swear in at the Military  Entrance Processing Station in San Diego.

Staff Sgt. Julian Lopez, Permanent Contact Station Escondido, Calif., Recruiting Station San Diego stands at attention in the back of the room as Navy and Marine Corps enlistees swear in at the Military Entrance Processing Station in San Diego.

He is an early riser, out of bed by 3 a.m. and on the road to work by 4. His mission: to find highly-qualified men and women to fill the ranks of the Marine Corps.

He reports to his post with razor-sharp creases and a red blood stripe running down the outside of his trousers. Upon his head rests a white cover displaying a golden eagle, globe and anchor. The determination can be seen in his eyes.

Staff Sgt. Julian Lopez, a recruiter assigned to Recruiting Station San Diego has done well early in his recruiting career. Although being a recruiter was not his first choice�he wanted to be a drill instructor�Lopez made the most of it enthusiastically.

�Staff Sgt. Lopez is one of my most consistent and successful recruiters,� said Maj. Kate Germano, commanding officer, RS San Diego. �He is ranked in the top two percent of all my recruiters for consistently meeting the quality and quantity standards when it comes to recruiting.�

Lopez lives by the saying: �Attitude is everything.� By doing so he has earned several awards, including Rookie Recruiter of the Year for Recruiting Station San Diego and several Recruiter of the Month and Quarter awards.

Lopez, a native of Cali, Colombia, came to the U.S. in 1995 at age 16. He joined the Marine Corps� Delayed Entry Program in August 1996.

Coming from Colombia at his father�s request, Lopez admits not knowing much about the United States except that many people from Colombia think the United States is the best country in the world.

Lopez joined his father in Miami and eventually went to Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, S.C., for recruit training in January 1997 under an aviation logistics supply contract.

As if recruit training was not challenging enough, when Lopez left for boot camp, he did not speak English.


Lopez looked to fellow recruits for help with this language barrier and became more proficient with English after the completion of boot camp and attending school.

After eight years in the Fleet Marine Force, Lopez received orders to recruiting duty.

He volunteered to go to Iraq for a second tour, but Lopez was needed at Recruiters School aboard the depot here. Lopez accepted the mission ahead of him and vowed to do his best.
Upon completion of Recruiters School, he was assigned to Recruiting Substation El Cajon, Calif.

To some, being a Marine is tough enough, let alone being tasked each day with facing constant challenges regarding possible candidates.

But Lopez remembers what it was like coming to America knowing nothing about the military, only that he wanted to be a part of the best. He expected the Marine Corps to be tough, so facing the extreme obstacles in recruiting did not come as a surprise.

�After I did my research, knowing nothing about the military, I saw the Marine Corps was the best,� said Lopez with a thick Colombian accent. �The Marines are the smallest branch, they fill the need for that pride of belonging, and the challenges we face day-to-day are what attracted me.�

Throughout his time in the Marine Corps, Lopez has had many influences who assisted him throughout his successful career, but he attributes his recruiting success to the leadership of Gunnery Sgt. Shawn Hudachko, Lopez�s staff noncommissioned officer-in-charge at RSS El Cajon.

Lopez said he learned everything he knows about recruiting from Hudachko who taught him that success comes from consistency. And following this rule, Lopez brings in two to three future Marines each month. Although Lopez has good and bad recruiting months, he has never contracted fewer than two people into the Corps in any month.

Lopez said he is not a pushy recruiter. He understands that it is the prospective Marine�s life and it is his future at stake.

�I don�t like �what if� when I talk with someone about his future,� said Lopez. �I keep my word, so I put all my cards on the table and let him make the decision.�

Lopez�s honest technique worked with Marine enlistee, Stephen C. Martinez. Martinez, 22, said he had considered going into the military since high school and finally decided to take a trip to his local recruiting office. When he opened the door, the Marines were the first recruiters he saw.

�My intentions were to talk to every military branch in the office, but after talking to the Marines, I knew that was what I wanted to do,� said Martinez. �Staff Sgt. Lopez told me everything and was completely honest.�

Martinez was so sure about which direction he wanted his life to go that he enlisted just six days after his initial visit to Permanent Contact Station Escondido, Calif. where Lopez now recruits.

Although Martinez did not become a reconnaissance Marine, he was in the infantry. He said he chose infantry in order to experience more travel and adventure.

�Martinez is going to be motivated,� said Lopez. �Some recruits you can never tell, but I know he is going to do well.�

In the recruiting field, long hours often accompany late nights and less time with family. Sometimes having to work more than 80 hours a week focusing on their mission, some recruiters find it hard to distinguish between work and home life, said Lopez.

While some recruiters say finding highly-qualified individuals to join the Corps is the hardest part of their job, Lopez feels that maintaining the other roles in life is more challenging.

Keeping clear the roles of being a recruiter, husband, mentor and father in check is difficult, according to Lopez.

Managing the time to keep in close contact with the future Marines while raising a family is a major challenge many recruiters face, he said.

Although the hours are long, life as a recruiter is anything but ordinary. Recruiters face challenges each day while attempting to spread the word about the Marine Corps in high schools and teenage hangouts.

Once a recruiter goes to a high school, it is his goal to find an interested senior to help him reach more seniors. Students are more prone to listen to their peers than to a recruiter. Lopez said networking is the key to recruiting.

�My goal is to meet and talk with at least two seniors every time I go to a high school,� said Lopez. Building strong relationships with school officials is a big factor in a recruiter�s success.

By setting up events like pull-up challenges and inflatable obstacle courses, recruiters challenge students to see � not if the Corps is good enough for them, but if they are good enough for the Corps.

Lopez says the greatest reward of being a recruiter is laying out successful career paths for individuals to get their lives straight.

He said when a Marine returns from boot camp and thanks him, he knows his hard work has paid off and it all feels worthwhile.

Lopez reenlisted Dec. 14, adding another four years of dedicated service to his 11 year career.
�No matter what you do in life, you have to make the best of it,� said Lopez. �It�s all about attitude; if you are negative you don�t get results. If you stay motivated, you will get what you want. You have to be positive.�

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Recruits Going the Road Less Traveled

Lance Cpl. Christopher K. Morgan-Riess, tactical data network  specialist, 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit, Camp Pendleton, and Lance  Cpl. Ryan J. Heist, operations clerk, 11th MEU, take a rare break and  come out for some sun to watch CH-46 Sea Knight helicopters conduct  training aboard the the weather aboard the U.S.S. Peleliu off the coast  of Camp Pendleton.

Lance Cpl. Christopher K. Morgan-Riess, tactical data network specialist, 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit, Camp Pendleton, and Lance Cpl. Ryan J. Heist, operations clerk, 11th MEU, take a rare break and come out for some sun to watch CH-46 Sea Knight helicopters conduct training aboard the the weather aboard the U.S.S. Peleliu off the coast of Camp Pendleton.

One Marine sought the road less traveled while the other sought the path to self discovery. Both found that their road was one in the same, and it began at the yellow footprints.

Lance Cpl. Ryan J. Heist, operations clerk, 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit, Camp Pendleton, never set out to be a Marine. Heist grew up in affluence, a self-described privileged kid who had everything handed to him right up until he joined the Marine Corps.

Lance Cpl. Christopher K. Morgan-Riess, tactical data network specialist, 11th MEU, came from an upper-middle class background. Morgan-Riess, who was the only child of a college professor and book publisher, graduated from the University of Cincinnati with a bachelors degree in philosophy. Growing up, Morgan-Riess said he lived in the sheltered world of academia with his face buried in books.

Both young men had everything going for them. They had money, nice homes, nice clothes and a pedigree that destined them to academic success and monetary wealth.

Heist would later realize that money wasn’t everything and Morgan-Riess soon learned that the lessons of life he was searching for could not all be found in books.

So they both joined the Marines.

Now, both Marines find themselves sailing off the coast of Camp Pendleton, aboard an amphibious assault ship and part of one of the most elite fighting forces the world has ever seen. As Heist puts it, he is on a personal journey of discovery, while Morgan-Riess describes his quest as one for knowledge. Aboard the U.S.S. Peleliu, they are conducting dangerous and important training that they may one day have to use in Iraq or in some other war-torn place. Both are just a couple thousand miles from home, but almost a million miles from the life they used to live.

Before enlisting in the Marines, Heist spent his days going to college and working for a popular Jazz restaurant in Dallas. He played basketball and football, went fishing, and spent his time listening to music and going to the movies with friends and family. If he needed money, all he needed to do was to make one call. Until then, “everything was just handed to me, and I never had to earn it,” said Heist.

Although extremely intelligent, Heist was uninspired in school and after a couple of years he had had enough.

So one night after work, Heist stopped and took a hard and honest look at his life. “I had no direction,” said Heist. “I didn’t have the discipline to go to class and do all my work at the time. I needed a place where I could get some structure and stability, and I couldn’t think of a better place than the Marine Corps,” said Heist.

Although their friends and family respected their decision, both Marines said most of their loved ones were not too happy at first.

“My father was pretty shocked. It took a couple of weeks of long dinners explaining to him what my reasons were for enlisting,” said Morgan-Riess. “He was expecting for me to go on to pursue higher degrees right away,” he said.
Heist’s family had a similar reaction.

“But I think after boot camp, they really saw the change in me,” said Heist. “saw me standing taller, being able to look someone in the eye and being able to express my opinions in a confident manner,” said Heist.

It was this newfound confidence and an inherent intelligence that Heist brought with him to the 11th MEU more than one year ago. These were all traits that he would need, if he were to function aboard a ship loaded with aircraft and equipment that housed more than 2300 Marines and sailors packed like sardines.

“Life aboard a ship is a culture shock like no other,” said Heist. It’s like a small floating city inside a pressure cooker streaming toward the horizon, where the heat begins to rise and the pressure starts to build as soon as the warning order is dropped and a mission is assigned, he said.

Most Marines and sailors would say that the MEU is not a place for the meek, soft-spoken, thin-skinned or those accustomed to a full night’s sleep. The sounds of Harriers taking off and landing is deafening and the rattle of chains being dragged across a hard-coated steel deck can be heard way down into the bowels of the ship. It’s a place for those who are driven, undeterred and maybe just a little bit crazy.

It is a place where tensions can sometimes run high, where time off and a good nights sleep are virtually non-exist because everyone is focused on only one thing, accomplishing the mission, said Heist. It is also an environment in which Heist and Morgan-Riess have flourished.

“Morgan-Riess is the type of Marine I would want on my team,” said Sgt. Mauricio A. Febres, computer technician. “He is one of the most capable troubleshooters in the MEU. He is extremely intelligent, very mature, and needs no supervision,” said Febres.

According to Morgan-Riess, the work is endless and there is little time to sleep. Despite this, he said there is no other job he would rather be doing and he is confident that joining the Corps was the best decision he ever made. Morgan-Riess said he remembers the exact moment that he knew he took the right road. It was in basic training, while marching in silence to the chow hall on a cold dark and miserable morning. “I happened to look up at the stars and at the faces of the Marines around me, whom I had been sweating and bleeding with for the past two months,” he said.

“I remember having this feeling of complete camaraderie and a certainty that if I ever needed them, they would help me, and that I would help them,” he said. “I had never felt anything like that before.”

“When you’ve worked 36 hours straight and you’re sitting around talking about how tough that was with Marines from all walks of life, there is a certain amount of bonding that I don’t think can be experienced anywhere else,” said Morgan-Riess.

“I see friends of mine who have gone on to pursue Ph.D.s and they still have only those five friends they’ve always had going through school,” said Morgan-Riess.

Although it’s nice to form close relationships, life in academia has a tendency to insulate you from the rest of the world, he said. “At that point in my life, I wanted to see the world and experience how the military works from a first person perspective rather than reading it in a book,” he said.

According to both Marines, since enlisting in the Corps, both have learned lessons in leadership, teamwork, mission planning and accomplishment in a setting like no other. And they have learned lessons that they could never have learned anywhere else.

Heist, an Operation Iraqi Freedom veteran, has seen the devastation of war and the devastation that Hurricane Katrina inflicted on Americans here at home. Heist was with the MEU when they traveled to Gulf Coast Region to assist the victims of one of the worst natural disasters to hit the United States. Given his background, Heist said one of the most important lesson he’s learned while in the Corps is to not to take so many things for granted. That as Americans we are very privileged and we that we should appreciate everything we have.”

Both Marines plan to leave the Marine Corps after their first enlistment and to continue their education. Heist plans to continue to pursue his degree while in the Marines and then use the leadership, logistical and technical skills he has learned to open his own restaurant. Morgan-Riess plans to pursue a degree in Law with a specialization in International Human Rights after fulfilling his commitment to the Corps. His dream is to some day work to prosecute war criminals in international criminal courts.

Both Marines say they are confident they will look back on their experiences and at the lessons they learned with the MEU and consider them as the focal point in their character development. For his part, Morgan-Riess said that when the time comes to look back at the road the he has traveled, a segment of the famous Robert Frost poem “The Road Less Traveled” will probably come to mind. “?Somewhere ages and ages hence: Two roads diverged in a wood, and I?I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.”

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