By Donna Miles
SAN DIEGO, Aug. 22, 2006 – An opportunity to get an education, to see parts of the world they'd only heard about or serve their country attracted 16 passengers here last evening aboard American Airlines Flight 1961, and ultimately, to 13 weeks of boot camp at Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego. The 16 Marine Corps recruits, most from Texas, displayed the expected range of emotions as they boarded their flight at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, leaving behind civilian life to become Marines. Nervous laughter rippled through the group as the airline attendant called out their boarding sections, although most tried to retain a level of nonchalance as though they were taking a bus ride to the local mall.
Nineteen-year-old Devin Chambers, from Marietta, Okla., sat in seat 32B and explained that he's always wanted to be a Marine. After a year at Murray State College, an endeavor he said he didn't really enjoy, he felt ready to give his dream a shot. "It doesn't really scare me," Chambers said of the prospect of deploying to Iraq after he's finished his training as a Marine Corps engineer. "The odds (of getting hurt) are about the same as driving in a car."
For Ben McCorkle, 18, from Wichita Falls, Texas, the opportunity to serve in Iraq was actually the big drawing card that led him to enlist immediately after high school. "I want to go," he said from his seat in the last row of the plane. "That's why I chose infantry." McCorkle said he figures he'll go to college after serving in the Marines, tapping into the educational benefits he'll earn through his military service. "I'll do college later in life," he said. "For right now, I need the discipline and structure first."
Twenty-one-year-old Pacheco Perez, McCorkle's seatmate and one of the oldest members of the group, said he, too, was attracted to the Marines because he wants to go on to college to study either computers or medicine. Born in Queretaro, Mexico, and now a legal resident of the United States living in Dallas, Perez said he hopes to smooth the path toward U.S. citizenship, too. He said he chose the Marines because he's heard it's the toughest of the military services. "I want to prove to myself that I can do it," he said. "I know it will be hard, but it will help me grow."
Perez expressed more trepidation about his mastery of the English language than anything the Marines might throw at him in basic training. "I'm a little nervous about it, but I'll do okay," he said.
Like his fellow recruits, Perez said he's not overly concerned that he's likely to end up deploying to Iraq in the not-too-distant future. "I'm not really nervous because I know they're going to train me for that," he said, adding that he's also putting a lot of stock in his faith. "God will take care of me," he said. "I'm sure of that."
Still sporting the long blond hair he knows will get buzzed off minutes after arriving at the recruit depot, McCorkle acknowledged that a bit of old-fashioned patriotism also attracted him to the military. "Freedom isn't free," he said. "And if I can have it, then everyone else should, too, right?"
It's the same patriotism McCorkle said he felt when his entire high school class and their guests gave him a standing ovation at his high school graduation ceremony. "My friends are all supportive," he said. "They think it's awesome." McCorkle admitted that his mother is "extremely nervous" about his decision and his father also has some misgivings but is "proud to have a son who's a Marine."
Chambers said his family is "a little sad" that he's leaving, "but happy too, and proud of me." Perez said his mother is sad to see him shipping off to basic training but pleased at the doors the Marine Corps will open to him. "She's sad about the separation, but recognizes that it's a good thing for me," he said.
Like his fellow recruits, Chambers said he found strong support among his friends, many who already serve in the Marine Corps. They've shared stories about what he will soon encounter in basic training, but Chambers said he's not worried. "I've heard a lot," he said. "But I've been playing football since third grade, so I'm used to getting yelled at." He said he's looking forward to seeing how he performs during "the Crucible," the last, difficult rite of passage that recruits must endure before graduating from basic training.
As the group arrived in San Diego, they had directions to call a phone number and to gather together and await their bus ride to boot camp and their new lives as Marines. "All of us are pretty excited," McCorkle said. "I think we're ready."