Mama, Mama, can't you see'
"What the Marine Corps has done for me'"
That military cadence - along with other favorites - could be heard from across the fairway at the Huntsville Municipal Golf Course on July 11 as more than 80 Marine recruits hiked 5.5 miles with "Molle Packs" on the grounds surrounding John Hunt Park.
It was a first-time event for Marine recruiters and their recruits, who came together in a regional Marine Poolie activity that included recruiting stations in north Alabama and south Tennessee. Although the Marines are known for organizing various physical training events for poolies (slang for recruits) at their recruiting stations, this was the first time for a large-scale event at the Marine Reserve's Kilo Battery headquarters on South Memorial Parkway.
"We try to help out the recruiters as much as we can," 1st Sgt. Timothy Rudd of Kilo Battery said. "We have a strong relationship with the recruiting stations and recruiters. It was our pleasure to be a part of this."
The poolies arrived at Kilo Battery headquarters early that Saturday morning to go through some of the physical challenges - push-ups, crunches and hiking with a heavy Molle pack (backpack) -- that recruits will face at Marine Corps boot camp at Parris Island, S.C.
"You're supposed to push your body to the limit so at boot camp when the others fall out you can laugh at them," Huntsville recruiter Gunnery Sgt. Damian Cason told the recruits following the hike in 90-degree weather.
The event did exactly what was hoped, giving the recruits the opportunity to experience a little of what the Marines is all about.
"We want to expose them to the rigors of what they will experience in recruit training," Cason said. "Now they know what to expect and it won't be such a shell shock to them. We want to prepare them for what is ahead."
Cason has no doubts the group of recruits will be successful in the Marines.
"They are all motivated about being a Marine," he said. "They did excellent. They performed really well."
Although the recruits were well-hydrated during the hike, many looked exhausted and flushed when they returned to Kilo Battery. But a lunch of pizza, spaghetti and chicken supplied by the Blue Star Mothers of Madison and Morgan counties quickly re-energized them.
"I thought I had done really well. I've never done anything like this before," said recruit Ariel Majors.
"The part of the hike I did was really good," recruit Cassie Laberee said. "I got a blister on my foot that popped. I wanted to finish the hike, but my recruiter wouldn't let me."
Majors and Laberee were sitting on the floor in the gym of the Kilo Battery headquarters and eating lunch. Both are from Clarksville, Tenn., and both have fathers who served in the Marines.
"It's a tradition," Laberee said of joining the Marines. "My dad served in Vietnam. He was really excited to see me go."
Both have received advice from their fathers about boot camp.
"Dad said in boot camp just keep your mouth shut and don't argue," Laberee said.
"Yeah, and do what they say," Majors added.
Ryan Morring of Athens said he joined the Marine Corps after talking to all the military branches.
"It was the best branch," he said. ""They do the best training. And I wanted to be the best."
Morring said the recruit event was an example of the emphasis the Marine Corps puts on preparation and training.
"The hike was great," he said. "It was a lot of fun. It was hard. But I got a lot out of it."
Recruit Wes Wherley, who graduated from Huntsville's Columbia High School in May, attended the recruit event, even though he was making plans to leave for boot camp the next day.
"I liked doing this today," Wherley said of the hike. "It makes me feel better. It gave me more energy to push forward."
Wherley plans to follow a career in aviation maintenance with the Marines. He participated in the Army JROTC program in high school and hopes to return to his alma mater in three months to share his experience.
"I want to show them what this is all about," he said.
Recruit Melissa Martin, a graduate of Johnson High School, also participated in the event, despite also planning to leave for boot camp the next day.
"The Marine Corps JROTC program at Johnson had a big influence on me. I was in the program all four years of high school," she said. "I've loved the military and what it has to offer ever since I was in the Tiny Soldiers program at Terry Heights Elementary School. That program was with Army Soldiers, but it was what first got me interested in the military."
Among the recruits eating lunch were also their recruiters and a few Marines serving at Kilo Battery. One of those Marines was Pfc. Dustin Mirandy, a graduate of Lee High School who joined the service after college and a stint as a school tutor and camp counselor for disadvantaged youth.
"I joined at the age of 24," he said. "I was a late bloomer. But I love it.
"I joined because I wanted to make a change. I wanted a challenge. I didn't feel disciplined enough. I wanted to make my parents proud. I wanted to earn the right to be a U.S. Marine."
Mirandy was an athlete in high school, participating in the football, track, baseball and basketball programs. But, after college, his 6-foot-6 frame was out of shape and he weighed 301. He lost 56 pounds following the Marine Corps physical training regimen before he joined up and then lost another 24 in boot camp. Today, he weighs 229.
"Working out with the Marines takes willpower. You've got to want it," he said.
Mirandy was at Kilo Battery for the recruit event during a temporary recruiting assignment in the area. He is stationed at 29 West Palms in California, where he is awaiting an assignment for training in the field wireman military occupational specialty.
The recruiting event was just one step toward the making of future Marines, he said.
"I hope these recruits are starting to learn military discipline," he said. "And, of course, they are getting into better shape. The whole goal is to prepare them mentally and physically for boot camp. The more we work them out and the more heart they put into it, the better off they are going to be at basic training, where physical training is 24/7."
Mirandy said he hopes the Marines become as important to the new recruits as it has become to him.
"I earned this title," he said, pointing to his Marine uniform. "No one can take it away from me. It has given me an unbelievable sense of pride."