The brutal physical conditioning, constant mental stress and desolation of emotional distance is enough to make the experience of Marine 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.
“At first, he was really distracted,” said Blua. “He was very focused on himself and his ordeal. It made training so much harder for him.”
During recruit training, Marine Corps recruits are cut off from any form of communication except letter writing. For the 13 weeks they are aboard MCRD, they don’t have access to any cell phones, the internet or newspapers.
“It was really hard not being able to talk to my wife or family,” said Dean. “Normally they are my lifeline, especially when something big happens in my life. Not only could I not talk to them after (the birth), I still had to do my best to get through the toughest boot camp in the world.”
Because the birth happened so soon after Dean had arrived at MCRD, the mail took a little longer to reroute. As it always does though, the mail finally started rolling in. Dean received his first picture of his children, Noah and Niko, a couple weeks after they were born.
“That’s when we really started seeing a change in (Dean’s) attitude,” said Pfc. Guillermo Arguelles, Dean’s squad leader for most of recruit training. “Once he got more pictures and letters, he was much happier and much more motivated.”
His drill instructors noticed the change almost immediately as well.
“He became a big morale booster for the platoon,” said Blua. “For a large portion of first phase, Dean was struggling because he was worried about himself and doing things as an individual. Once he saw his kids in the pictures and heard about them in the letters, that really put him in the right mindset to do what he needed to do here (at recruit training).”
As second phase progressed, training started including more field work and rifle skills. Dean said that doing the more “Marine-like” activities really connected him with his platoon. He found it easier and easier to keep the right frame of mind. Once he incorporated that mindset with the values discussed during first phase, the rest of recruit training was a much better experience.
“I found it easier to motivate myself to improve physically and mentally,” said Dean. “I went from nine to 21 pull-ups for the Physical Fitness Test, and I found myself doing things to help out the platoon more and more.”
Blua, in large part, credits Dean for putting in extra effort and inspiring the platoon to overcome small battles, such as what drill instructors call “moto-point.” The moto-point is an additional point during the drill competitions that is awarded for uniform readiness and unit pride.
“Dean put in a lot of extra effort so that could happen,” said Blua. “One point isn’t going to win us (the drill competition), but it was a real point of inspiration for us. It’s those kinds of efforts that give the platoon the drive to take honor platoon like we did.”
Honor platoon is awarded to the platoon that wins the most events during a recruit training cycle.
“The Marine Corps motivates me to always be there for my family, no matter what,” said Dean. “The drill instructors pushed me further than I thought I could go. I’m going to take that guidance and make sure I’m the best father I can be, because being in boot camp really showed me how valuable time is with your family.”