I guess you could say I have always been patriotic. I was brought up that way. My dad is a retired infantry officer. One important thing I’ve learned from him is that our freedom is not something we should take for granted. I’ve come to respect and honor those who have fought and those who have given their lives so we can enjoy the blessings and opportunities we have.
My mom is also as patriotic as they come. For example, when we’re watching a football game on TV and they play the national anthem, she makes everyone in the room stand up and put their hands over their hearts. Between the two of them, I’ve inherited a feeling of gratitude for the freedoms of my country.
That is why on July 24, 2001, I joined the U.S. Marine Corps reserves. Because I was still in high school, I was in the delayed-entry program and didn’t actually go to boot camp until June 2002, after I had graduated.
Quite often my mom and I sat up late at night talking about anything and everything. Right before I left for boot camp, we were having one of those late-night talks. We discussed how important it was that I keep my standards high and not give in to some of the temptations I might face. She asked me right then if I would promise her that I would not pick up swearing while at boot camp. I made her that promise, even though I knew it might be hard to keep because of the environment I would be in.
On June 12, I arrived at the San Diego, California, Marine Corps recruit depot. Right from the start, any identity we had was taken away. We all wore the same uniforms, wore the same brown horn-rimmed glasses, and had the same haircut, which was no hair! We were not allowed to refer to ourselves as “I” or “me.” We were to say “this recruit” when speaking about ourselves.
We got about five hours of sleep a night. We were on the go 19 hours a day. Part of the time we were in classes. Other times we were running or learning to march, and the rest of the time we were in the field learning things like martial arts, takedowns, and bayonet training. I had three drill instructors and one senior drill instructor, who was as big as a horse. His neck and biceps were the size of tree trunks.
One day my platoon of 83 recruits was in the field doing a drill. One recruit, who was the “enemy,” tried to take our rifles away. We had to fight to prevent him from getting it. Once we had control of our rifle, we were told to point it at the enemy and yell, “Get down, _____!” calling him a profane name.
As I stood there in line waiting for my turn and watching one recruit after another do the drill, I thought about the promise I had made to my mom. It would be easy to give in just this once and talk like a “real” marine. But I knew it would be wrong. I had made a promise, and now I was being put to the test. It was finally my turn. I fought the enemy, got control of my rifle, pointed it at him, and yelled, “Get down!”
My drill instructors stopped the drill and yelled at me to do it again the right way and say what they told me to say. I did the drill again, pointed the rifle at the other recruit, and yelled, “Get down!” Suddenly I had two drill instructors in my face, yelling and screaming at me. My senior drill instructor came over and stood half an inch from my face and yelled at me to obey the order I was given and do the drill the way I was ordered to do it.
It was now crunch time. Do I give in or stand up for what I know is right and keep the promise? I stood at attention and said, “This recruit does not swear, sir!” Everyone went silent.
There was not a sound as all eyes went back and forth between me and my four drill instructors. I didn’t know what would happen to me next. I wondered if I’d be harassed by all the recruits or commanded to do 5,000 push-ups. Finally my senior drill instructor burst out laughing. Everyone else started laughing as well. The drill instructors began joking with me and coming up with other words that I could say instead. I didn’t get in any trouble for keeping my promise. When it was all over, I felt relieved and thankful that I had done the right thing.
In 2003 I received orders from a higher-ranking commander in chief. I received a mission call to serve the Lord full time in South Africa. My experiences with the Marine Corps have taught me how important it is to keep my standards. No matter how hard some things might seem at the time, if you try to do what’s right, you’ll have the Lord on your side. And with Him on your side, nothing is impossible