The decision to join the United States Marine Corps is not one a young person comes upon lightly. Over and over, they are told of sacrifices they would have to make to serve their country, about the work they need to do to prove their mettle, and the high standards of decorum expected of them as representatives of arguably the nation’s most disciplined and hardest-fighting military branch.
On a thankfully sunny Saturday morning — the USMC doesn’t really observe “weather delays” — the Marines held monthly “high intensity tactical training” exercises for recruits at Summit High School’s football field.
The 52 future marines, colloquially called “poolees” — a term given to those who have already contractually enlisted in the Marine Corps and passed initial physicals on their way to boot camp — gathered at the field at 9 a.m. sharp before getting to work.
The future Marines ran the track, did pushups, pullups, fireman carries and other high-intensity exercises working with partners, all while being observed by current Marines looking for bad or unsafe technique with the occasional correction meted on recruits in need of one.
Sgt. Kenneth Bremer, the Marine Corps recruiter for the mountain region, explained that these drills and meetups serve several purposes for the recruits before they head off to bootcamp.
“Mentally, they have to go through that culture shock,” Bremer said. “They’ve grown up accustomed to a certain way of life. Boot camp is only 13 weeks out of four years of service, but it’s still a huge culture shock; they’re getting yelled at, it involves intense physical training, and they can only write letters home. So we set them up for success by preparing for all those things.”
Bremer said that the exercises are also a good chance for all the future Marines to meet their peers, which gives both comradery and motivation to look forward to boot camp and share a common experience few people their age understand.
The training takes place once a month in different locations in the mountains and Front Range, aside from the recommended twice a week physical training. With the training taking place in Summit this month, five local recruits were on hand to share their reasons for signing up for one of the hardest jobs a young person can get themselves into.
Cade Goff, an 18-year-old from Breckenridge, aspires to be part of an aviation crew in the Marines, a role he was led to from the scores he got in the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery exam, which scores recruits on a scale that shows a range of jobs for which the future Marine can qualify.
“I want to serve my country, be part of a brotherhood and do something significant with my life,” Goff said.
Leadville’s Bernardo Perez, 23, said after a life working mostly in construction, he was looking for something bigger to do, and he found it in the Marines. His Military Occupational Specialty — MOS, or basically his job — will be as a legal assistant for USMC lawyers.
“Before this I was going nowhere, working construction, going job from job, not doing much,” Perez said. “I contacted the recruiter, he told me how everything was. I’m happy with my experience so far, and I’m looking forward to what’s coming next.”
Silverthorne’s Caitlin Miles, 18, was one of only two women in the group. Miles — who will be part of the infantry, with potential combat in her future — is clear-eyed about how tough it is being a woman in the Marines. But she looks at it as more of a challenge than anything to be daunted by.
“I wanted to be part of something greater than something, and to prove that I can do whatever men can do,” Miles said. “The marines are pretty tough for a woman. But it’s just a challenge I’m looking forward to, to prove I can be the best.”
Kremmling’s Tristan Horn, 18, said serving the country runs in the family.
“I want to be in the Marines because my great-grandfather fought in WW2, and the brother and sisterhood of the Marines inspired me when I was very young,” Horn said.
Horn will be working with motor transport in the Marines, driving 7-ton trucks and Humvees to get personnel and supplies where they need to go. Horn doesn’t mind the monthly training, as it will all help when he gets shipped off to boot camp.
“Every day is a challenge with the physical aspect of working out,” Horn said. “But every time we’re working out, we know we’re getting better to prepare ourselves for boot camp. Even though boot camp is 10 times harder, we’re always working to make ourselves better.”
Dillon’s Angel Arredondo, 18, will be working in legal administration when he gets through boot camp. He said that learning how to be respectful and properly addressing superiors and others in his cohort was an important part of his training.
“You gotta know who you’re talking to; they might be your friends but they’re different from your buddies,” Arredondo said. “It’s about respect, but you can still have fun and be who you are.”
Even though the poolees are all on their way to boot camp, not all of them might make it through. Bremer said that the training was an important way to assess the character, discipline and fortitude of the potential future Marines before they plunge into a new world that will become their life.
“It’s all about what’s in your chest, and what heart and drive you have to be successful,” Bremer said. “That overall experience, serving with their brothers and sisters, that’s what will drive them to personal greatness.”