MISSION VIEJO, Calif. -- Nearly 200 men and women clad in Army green t-shirts swarmed Del Mar Beach on Camp Pendleton Saturday.These soon-to-be warriors were not Marines, however. They were what the Army refers to as Future Soldiers--men and women who have committed to serve their country in the U.S. Army and are awaiting training.On this atypically cloudy day, the mass of young patriots participated in a litany of tasks developed to prepare them for the rigors of Army Basic Training. Teams of Future Soldiers from across Southern California competed in relay races, tire flips, drill and ceremony gauntlets and a tug-of-war, all in the name of fun, teambuilding and mental and physical preparation for journey on which they'll soon embark."You should all be extremely proud of your decisions to serve your country in the best Army in the world," said Lieutenant Col. Michael Johns, commander of the Army's Southern California Recruiting Battalion, headquartered in Mission Viejo, Calif. "We're going to have fun, we're going to compete and we're going to make sure you have all the tools you need to succeed before you begin your Army careers."As the new enlistees partook in the day's events, many of their parents and friends watched from nearby pavilions and cheered. None cheered louder than Louisa and Richard Gopez of Mira Mesa, who came to support their son, Allen.Attending the event helped alleviate some minor concerns the Gopezes had about Allen leaving for basic training. Allen has never been away from his family."It's scary at first," said Louisa. "But now, especially that we saw how everyone got along, we're really good with boot camp now."Richard echoed Louisa's sentiments."It's been really good," said Richard. "Sgt. 1st Class (Victor) Castelli has answered a lot of our questions but we're happy that we came here today because we had even more questions answered. We're a little more at ease and comfortable with what the process is going to be soon, after having come here."Beside the jitters the family initially had about Allen's decision to join the Army, Richard said he and Louisa are proud of path their son has chosen to take."We're really supportive. It's the first time that we really saw in our son that he had some motivation and goals," said Richard. "So we're really happy he made that decision and we're proud of him."Allen enlisted as an optical laboratory technician and is set to begin basic training in July. Allen's recruiter, Sgt. 1st Class Victor Castelli, from the Army's Mira Mesa Recruiting Center, believes events like this one are worthwhile in that they bring together Future Soldiers and family members from across the battalion to instill in them a sense of pride and belonging."I think these events are always good. We do our quarterly events at the company level, but these (larger) events coordinated by the battalion are great," Castelli said. "We're out on a beach site in sunny San Diego. You can't beat this. I think these are necessary events."Although many parents in his situation may have concerns or are hesitant to support their son or daughters' decision to look at the Army as a potential career, Richard offered his suggestion to help families overcome possible doubts."I think they should--one--come to an event like this because you see the camaraderie, you see the teamwork and you see how all the people act as one big family and it's a good support system," he said. "I think that puts us at ease even more knowing that he has all this support with him. I think he sees that, too.
"And--two--talk to the recruiters because they're great," Richard added. "They answer all of your questions and they take the time to make sure you understand the process. We started at square one where we didn't know much. We were both military brats but we didn't know anything about the Army. It's been a good process."