Jack Foley, Herald News
Gunnery Sgt. Zavala motivates B.M.C. Durfee High School senior and Marine recuit Holden Irving during a session of physical training at Fall River Bicentennial Park. Seen behind them is the Iwo Jima Monument. The training rifle being used is shaped like the standard M-16, but is inert and slightly heavier than the real thing.
More Pics at the story link.
By Grant Welker
Herald News Staff Reporter
Posted Sep 20, 2008 @ 05:27 PM
Last update Sep 21, 2008 @ 12:42 AM
Fall River -
In the shadow of the Iwo Jima memorial at Bicentennial Park on the Taunton River, the next American troops are preparing for boot camp: crawling on all fours with M-16s, willing their bodies to finish as many push-ups as possible, memorizing the rank structure and general orders.
Most are still in high school. Some are recent graduates, maybe a few years removed from school and tiring of their jobs. Some are just starting to prepare their bodies for the rigors of military physical training. Others have already accomplished the goals of the delayed-entry program: running 3 to 5 miles, completing 10 pull-ups, then 44 sit-ups in less than two minutes.
All have the same goal: Make it to boot camp in Parris Island, S.C., pass the 13-week course and become Marines.
On a Saturday this month, recruiters from the Fall River Marines office pushed recruits, or poolies, as they're called in the program, to prepare them for camp. Among the poolies: B.M.C. Durfee High School senior Holden Irving, Bristol-Plymouth Regional High School senior Aaron Cordoba, and Dartmouth High School senior Jarel Pemberton.
Krystal Bettencourt, a Durfee senior, plans to head to boot camp just after graduation and enlisted a year ahead of time. The 17-year-old is following in the footsteps of her cousin, grandfather, aunts and uncles who've earned the title of American soldier. She wants to work in administration for the Marines, but doesn't yet know in what capacity.
The delayed-entry program, in which 35-40 recruits are typically enrolled at a given time, prepares them for more than will initially be demanded of them at boot camp. "We don't want them to be at the basic minimum," explained Gunnery Sgt. Jose Cansino, a recruiter at the Marines office at New Harbour Mall. "We don't want to just meet recruitment numbers."
Boot camp takes away all the comforts that recruits are used to, said Cansino, who went through the same process himself. The test begins right away. At the end of the nearly two-hour bus ride from the airport in Charles-ton, S.C., to the Marine Corps Recruit Depot at Parris Island, recruits face an officer yelling at them to get off the bus and into a line.
In the first four weeks, recruits undergo physical basic training, learn weapons handling and the history of the Marines, and traverse obstacle courses. By week five, they learn to swim while weighed down by 85 pounds of gear. In the following few weeks, they don gas masks and make their way through a gas chamber to simulate a chemical attack, and rappel down a 40-foot rope.
The final test - known as the Crucible - is the "defining moment," Cansino said. Over 54 hours, soldiers get only two on-the-run meals and a few hours of sleep. The recruits march 50 miles in full gear, climb a tower to save a wounded comrade and scale across a rope bridge while carrying ammunition.
The Crucible begins with a 3 a.m. wake-up call followed by a 6-mile road march. The next day, a 9-mile road march begins at 4 a.m. The final march, which concludes the Crucible, ends at an Iwo Jima memorial, just like the one the Fall River area recruits saw nearly 1,000 miles north at Bicentennial Park.
Bettencourt predicts boot camp will make her cry twice: tears of fright at the beginning and tears of elation at the end.
Kevin Strictland, an 18-year-old from Fall River who works at a Cumberland Farms, enlisted a month ago after he found out that student loans for him to attend Dean College fell through. He'll leave for boot camp Oct. 27 with the goal of joining the Marine infantry. "I can't wait to get out of here," he said.
Ashley Trapp, a 22-year-old from Brockton, enlisted on Tuesday. Because she passed an initial strength test - running 1.5 miles in 15 minutes, doing 44 crunches in two minutes and hanging above a pull-up bar for 12 seconds - she could begin training as soon as tomorrow. The next chance to leave for Parris Island isn't until Oct. 14, and that wouldn't give her a chance to get back home in time for Christmas.
Like many, Trapp had been considering enlisting for years. She said making the decision to go wasn't easy. "But I knew I'd end up regretting it if I didn't enlist," she said, adding that some friends and family tried talking her out of it. Trapp, a sporting goods store manager, wants to work in data systems with the Marines.
Others, like 20-year-old Jeanna DiSanti, like the challenge. The Westport resident knew she wanted to enlist after going to a military camp as a high school junior at Norwich University in Vermont. "I loved it. I could relate to everyone there," she said.
DiSanti isn't officially a recruit yet, but she's been working out with the local recruiters. She wants to work as an ammunition technician.
Both DiSanti and Strictland say enjoy the intensity of training.
"It's not your average day," DiSanti said. "It's not your average lifestyle," Strictland added.