Courtesy of Private First Class Chance Smith

The 19-year-old high school senior badly wanted to become a Marine one day.

So, Chance Smith worked hard and graduated from high school a year early. He prepared for the enlistment process and boot camp by training, attending pre-military camps and learning as much as he could about the military branch responsible for conducting expeditionary and amphibious operations.

As the day to show up for boot camp neared closer, the Smiths said Chance would sometimes have second thoughts. 

His family reminded him backing out was “not an option.” 

“We know that’s not the option you want,” his dad, Brad Smith, told him.

Chance was never the biggest fan of school and his family knew this, so they continued pushing him in the right direction toward his dream. He received additional support from family-friends in his community to help with his anxiety of going to boot camp.

The United States Marine Corps, founded on November 10, 1775, in Philadelphia, is one of eight US military branches and operates independently as part of the Department of the Navy. 

Currently, 180,958 active duty Marines serve and protect the Navy ships, embassies and interest points around the globe as the only branch with the combination of sea, air and land. 

Becoming brave enough to enlist for the Marines is step one to becoming one. There is a lot for someone to consider before beginning the enlistment process to become a recruit. Not only will recruits be met with 12 weeks of physical and mental stress but also the absence of family and friends.

For the parents of Private First Class Marine, Chance Smith, going to college is nerve racking but it is not the same as your life being taken over by the Marine Corps, his mom, Kym Smith, said. 

“People need to find their own way and this is where Chance needs to be.” 

The days leading up to boot camp arrival are difficult for recruits and parents.

Kym said that even though her family is supportive of her son’s dreams of becoming a Marine, other families may not be. 

Brad’s mother did not want him joining the military, so he ended up not enlisting. Instead, he went from college to a city cop. He regretted not joining the military after the 9/11 attacks on the twin towers. After seven years, he went federal. Now, the DEA Special Agent gathers and prepares evidence to help prosecute civilians violating major US drug laws.

“I believe in service and love, action and adventure,” Brad said, adding the military provides both. 

Brad’s mother was very upset about the thought of her son being in combat, Kym said. She added how other families who struggle with these thoughts should try and focus on the good that could come from this profession. 

When the day comes for recruits to arrive at boot camp, they line-up in front of telephones and make their first call home. 

An example phone call: “I have arrived safely at *Parris Island or San Diego*. Please do not send any food or bulky items. I will contact you in three to five days via postcard with my new mailing address. Thank you for your support. Goodbye for now.” 

After this phone call, recruits go 72 hours with no form of communication. 

They would be lucky if they got two to three hours of sleep during this time, Lance Corporal from Stevinson, Calif., Landon Clements said. He added the memory of constant banging and screaming throughout the night.

“When you wake up, the Firewatch is right in your face screaming at you. Don’t take anything they say personally, that’s the thing I see get to a lot of people,” LC Clements said. 

Boot camp is meant to prepare recruits for what the Marine Corps is really about. Private First Class William Jackson, from Athens, Ga., and LC Clements said one of the hardest parts of boot camp is getting immersed into the lifestyle. 

Boot camp was more of a mental game than anything, PFC Smith said. He remembers training in the sand pit and intense yelling by drill instructors during incentive training. The crucible was the worst, PFC Smith said. The 54 hour process with four hours of sleep is the final step before becoming a Marine. 

“After you complete it, you hike back to Parris Island for your eagle, globe and anchor ceremony.” 

For recruits who want to quit during this process, LC Clements said to keep going and not allow one individual break the team. During boot camp, PFC Jackson began with 93 recruits but ended with about 40. On the other hand, LC Clements began with 76 recruits and ended with 53. 

Not only do recruits quit, some of them fail out for a variety of reasons. LC Clements encountered a situation like this with a recruit in his platoon. The recruit failed because he could not work with those who did not look like him.

“If you are racist or talk down on people because of their gender don’t enlist,” LC Clements said, adding that everything in boot camp happens for a reason.

During boot camp, recruits cannot allow an individual or situation to impact their future in the Marine Corps. LC Clements shared the story of a recruit who injured himself during boot camp and was sent to a later platoon so he could heal and get back on track. After returning from Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, LC Clements noticed the recruit tried committing suicide because the process had become too hard. LC Clements witnessed a similar situation with a different company.

Three days after beginning boot camp, LC Clements said he watched 16 of them try to kill themselves and knew he had to consistently keep himself in check and keep going to reach the end of boot camp.

PFC Jackson went through trauma as well during his boot camp experience. Going into week eight, PFC Jackson was pulled out and informed his father passed away. They gave him the option to go home but PFC Jackson decided to stay on base. His fellow recruits supported him and helped him throughout the rest of boot camp and he helped them by never giving up. 

“I knew if I left, I would probably opt to not go back. Staying was probably one of the best choices I ever made. I just kept that switch on.” 

Despite the struggles of boot camp, PFC Smith graduated, fulfilling his lifelong dream of becoming a Marine. 

“I made some lifelong friends. No matter where they were from or their background, at the end of the day, they were my brothers.”