Nearly 300 recruits earned the title of United States Marine at the Marine Corps Recruit Training Depot on Parris Island yesterday. They will be the first Marines to graduate since Operation Iraqi Freedom began. In a moving ceremony yesterday, 292 recruits were awarded the eagle, globe and anchor pin and called Marine for the first time.
It was a happy day. They were reunited with family and friends for the first time in three months; but like new Marine Joshua Christolear, they know they could soon be called to war.
"You could pretty much see it coming. That's why I wanted to join," said Christolear, from Hueytown, Alabama. "I wanted to go ahead and do it while I was still young enough to do it."
Christolear's mother, Teresa, admits she's nervous. "I'm very, very proud. A little scared, but I'm mostly proud," she said. "He's done a wonderful thing. I support all the troops."
Like many Marines, Larry Kay from Deerfield Beach, Florida, says he has a job to do. "Some people feel they have a duty to fulfill, to protect their country," he said. "Some people feel they don't deserve these rights unless they earn them, themselves."
But his father, Gerald, has mixed feelings about his decision to be a Marine, saying, "I'm not thrilled, but I support him."
Vicky Rhodes Cooper is proud of her son, Charles. "Something has to be done," she said. "It's like that song, 'proud to be an American, at least we know we're free.' That's what we're fighting for. To be free and stay free."
Charles Rhodes doesn't want to go to war, but he says he'll do what he has to. "I feel like I would be scared at first, but then again, I would be doing something that people are going to appreciate back home," he told us. "We might have war protesters, but in the end, they'll thank the Marines and all the other armed forces."
After their official graduation today, they'll have several more weeks of training in combat and their specialty fields, but only time will tell if they'll be called to Operation Iraqi Freedom.