Becoming a Marine
Becoming a Marine

He's not where he is supposed to be. He should be practicing sprints in the desert sun with all the other aspiring Marines, but instead he is here, retreating into the quiet shade of the chaplain's office, the one person who won’t yell at him.

Since he was seven years old, he wanted to be a Marine, someone who heard the call to protect and serve. He came here with a mission—to become a man of great integrity, strength and faith—but today he can't think one thought at a time or follow the commands as quickly as they come. In his first two weeks of training, he has been worn down. The panic-inducing yelling haunts him. His day starts with a piercing wake-up call. The yelling demands his maximum effort at every meal, every mountainous hike, every three-mile sprint, every angle of his feet and direction of his gaze. His penance for delayed obedience is doing push-ups in a cloud of dust and scream. All made worse by the complete absence of anything familiar: no loving faces, no calls, no texts, no letters.

I know the backstory to this whole scene. I have watched thousands of young men walk through these fires unconsumed. We are here in the safety of sunny San Diego, doing our professional best to simulate the stress of war for the sake of training. More importantly, I know and love the hearts of the Marines behind the relentless yelling; they work hard to be that scary and miss their kids.

His childhood idea of what it means to be a Marine and the reality of what it takes to actually become a Marine have met here at recruit training, and it is not a joyful union. So he sits before me and tearfully presents all the grinding evidence for why he can't do it: because it is too big and he is too small, because he should be home with his family, in his town, his room, because he is not ready, maybe next year.

I listen to it all until we sit in still silence. We both heard it happen: how he just tried to convince us both of something untrue. We wait together. Then I break the news we both already know. "You can do this."


About the Author

  • Susan Maginn is a UU minister serving the Navy Chaplain Corps.

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