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COLUMN: My experience as a college student in the Marines

November 12, 2021
<p>Courtesy of Noah Edgar. </p>

Courtesy of Noah Edgar.

A lot of people get really confused when I tell them that I'm in the Marines, and I get it. How am I both a full-time college student and in the Marines?

Most people think I'm either no longer in the Marines or, worse, they think I'm in ROTC. While I understand the confusion, sometimes I get worked up when people think I'm in ROTC. People in ROTC are not in the military, they are merely training and making a commitment to becoming an officer in the military after they graduate college.

I went to boot camp, I went to infantry training battalion, I earned my titles. A person in ROTC has done none of those things.

Further, I would never be an officer. Ever since I knew I wanted to be in the military, I knew I wanted to be enlisted. I am a lance criminal, a terminal lance. Professionally, I am a Lance Corporal (E-3).

Having never really enjoyed school and not doing particularly well in school, I began to feel lost as I approached my senior year of high school. So, I did what any sensible 17-year-old does — I joined the military. Better yet, I joined the Marine Corps with an infantry machine gunner billet (job).

When you sign up to join the military, you are provided with two contracts to choose from: an active duty contract or a reserve contract. An active contract is what most people are familiar with. It's a four-year contract and the military is their job, their lifestyle.

A reserve contract is a four-to-six-year contract and after boot camp and infantry school, you get to go back home to your job, college or whatever else it is you do. In the meantime, you are also required to go to your duty station two-to-five days a month for training or administrative work, as well as one month during the summer where you train for 14 days.

I wanted to sign an active contract. However, I was 17 at the time, which meant that I needed my parents to sign off on it, which they wouldn't do unless I decided to join the reserves and promised to go to college. I obliged and signed the reserve contract.

After signing the contract and swearing in, I spent a few months in the Delayed Entry Program, or DEP, which is essentially a limbo for future recruits waiting to be shipped off to boot camp. During my time in the DEP, I grew close to my recruiters. They made me feel proud — like I was a bad-ass who was doing the right thing. I was excited to leave my comfortable, private school life and become a hardened man.

Two weeks after I graduated high school, I was shipped off to the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in Parris Island, South Carolina for what's often described as the most difficult boot camp in the nation.

This was my first time leaving home with no contact for an extended period of time, so my parents, sister and grandparents came to the hotel I stayed at the night before being shipped off to say goodbye and good luck. We got dinner and procrastinated for a few hours so I wouldn't have to sulk in my room all day.

Once it was starting to get late, I remember sitting in the hotel lobby with my family. I couldn't stop crying, and my family told me to go to the bathroom to wash my face off. I came back to the lobby and my family was gone. I sprinted outside and saw everyone walking away and, without saying a word, I started crying and headed to my room.

I was on the bus with all the other recruits. We hadn't slept in two days due to logistics, and our heads were down as we approached the island. The bus came to a stop, and we were greeted with a drill instructor belligerently screaming at us. I stepped onto the notorious yellow footprints thinking to myself, "What have I done?"

After a few hours of being shoved (literally) through paperwork and giving away all of our belongings, including phones and wallets, we were sent to phone booths where a script was taped onto the wall that basically just told us to tell our parents that we are OK. I called my mom on the payphone and read the script I was provided. My mom told me she loved me and missed me and I started whimpering. I couldn't even tell her that I loved her too, so I hung up.

Boot camp is three months long: 90 days, 13 weeks of pure hell. With no friends or family to lean on anymore, feelings of isolation began to creep in. The drill instructors would scream at us that no one cares about us and I slowly began to believe them, so I stopped writing home.

This was the most mentally grueling thing that I have ever gone through, but after 13 weeks of damnation and upon completing the culminating 72-hour haze fest that is the crucible, I graduated boot camp, earning the title of a United States Marine.

We got to go home for 10 days after graduation before being sent to North Carolina for infantry training. Which is just enough time to make you realize that you're not a robot whose vocabulary is restricted to "Aye sir!" or "This recruit requests permission to use the head, sir!"

Infantry training was next to Camp Lejeune. While there we learned how to be an infantryman: riflemen, mortarmen, missilemen and machine gunners are taught how to do their jobs here. It was here that I realized how much I dislike shooting machine guns, or maybe I just dislike being screamed at for several minutes on the firing line, just to spend hours cleaning the guns and searching for rounds in the thick grass in the middle of the night.

After three more months (our time was extended due to Hurricane Florence) of mind games and being treated like less than human, I graduated and finally got to go home for good. No more sleepless nights, no more days spent in a fighting hole I spent six hours digging. All my mental anguish would wash away now, right?

Wrong. I came home with zero people skills and, after being told how stupid and worthless I am every day for six months, I had zero self-confidence. Better yet, I hated being in the Marines. I had just spent the last six months putting my heart and soul into training, just to come back feeling more lost than ever before.

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Now, it's been three years since I came back home from training. I am a full-time student and go to Perrysburg, Ohio a few days out of the month for training. I can't say I love the military anymore than I did before, as I still don't like being a machine gunner and I don't like how I'm expected to put the military above anything else. I've missed exams, graduation parties, weddings, etc. just to drive to Ohio and more or less sit around and shoot guns for a few hours. I know that sounds like a good time for a lot of people, but it's not my cup of tea.

The least I can say about being in the military is that I wouldn't be who I am today if it weren't for the military. During my time on active orders I met people from all over the world. I befriended people who barely spoke English, people who grew up in a gang out of Harlem or the Bronx, people who were abused or had never eaten three meals in a day. I also met people who worked on Wall Street, or people like me who did have a well-groomed life.

Balancing life between school, a job and military is extremely difficult and can be too much to handle at times, but I know it's nothing compared to the horrors other veterans have seen. So, to all those who gave up a chunk of themselves for something greater than themselves, Happy Veteran's Day.


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