The brown grass and seemingly lifeless trees that greeted us were a far cry from the palm trees, green grass and colorful flowers in San Diego.
Hugs were shared all away around as groups of educators peeled off to their different destinations.
North Muskegon High School physical education teacher Danielle Risley agreed that the past week’s experience at the Marine Corps Educators Workshop in San Diego brought the entire group together.
“At other conferences, I normally make just one or two friends,” she said while others snoozed on the bus ride from Detroit to the Lansing Recruit Station.
The camaraderie experienced by the teachers, counselors, coaches and administrators was similar to what boot camp recruits emphasized was one of the most important parts of their time at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot.
“It’s a brotherhood,” said Spencer Proefrock of Spring Lake, who graduated from boot camp on Friday.
Everyone is there for each other, he stressed.
Our group of 40 from West Michigan and the Kansas City area started our week with the initial shock and awe treatment at the Yellow Footprints recruit receiving area.
We continued learning to problem solve with each other at 12 Stalls on The Crucible endurance course.
The climax of the week was an emotional graduation ceremony on the Depot’s hallowed Parade Grounds.
Day three was another one packed full of adventure.
We were on the bus at 5:50 a.m., watching the sunrise as we traveled to Camp Pendleton – home of infantry and rifle training (Every Marine a rifleman) and the infamous Crucible course.
The Crucible is the 54-hour endurance test where recruits have a chance to put everything they know together. When they complete this test – at sunrise – they are no longer recruits. They are Marines.
After more conversations with officers, our drill instructors march us out to The Circles – where we actually get to hold rifles (M-16s) and participate in dry firing (shooting the rifle without bullets).
We had lunch plopped on our trays in the mess hall, saw recruits scurry across the base and finally found ourselves at the live fire range.
I wish I could remember the name of the Marine who helped me learn how to steady my gun, take a deep breath and count to three before I released the trigger.
I really wish I had that last target proving my shots were in a close cluster in the center of the body.
The Marine grinned as he shared how excited he was to be helping the educators.
“I didn’t know why we were out here,” he said. “I’m excited I get to take what I learned and actually teach somebody.”
At 12 Stalls, groups of educators worked together to complete missions determined by the commander. The exercises included disposing of live ammunition, getting supplies across a ravine and recovering a wounded Marine around enemy fire.
The exercises require a lot of strategy to get your unit and supplies safely to the other side.
Our task was to get across the ravine where only a railroad tie crossed the center. We also had to get a barrel across the opening, using a pipe found on one side, a pipe from the other side and a rope.
You couldn’t touch or fall into the ravine (tire mulch), or anything red, or you were considered dead and you had to run a short course carrying two 30-pound containers of ammunition.
“They say teachers are the worst students. I never felt so clumsy in my life,” Risley said of some of the activities.
It was Risley who took charge of, and energized our group to complete the task.
One more stop on the way home included a demonstration of an amphibious vehicle at the Expeditionary Forces headquarters.
Our last day on the Depot was all pomp and circumstance as we attended a morning Colors Ceremony, and then a recruit graduation.
The recruiters hosting the event pointed out the young men standing confident and proud – a far cry from the confused and scared teenagers bused into town on their first night.
We had fun. We worked hard and we really enjoyed the sun.
We also had our eyes opened to an experience like no other.
I now own a green Marine Corps T-shirt with yellow footprints on the back.
You could say the people in the Marine Corps made quite an impression.