One of the training grounds for U.S. Marine Corps recruits is on Parris Island, in the southern U.S. state of South Carolina. About 17,000 recruits each year complete the challenging training known as "boot camp." Many of them say it is the hardest thing they have ever done. VOA's Deborah Block spent time with some of them as they trained and graduated to become U.S. Marines.
Marine Corps boot camp is considered the toughest American military basic training. Men and women from the ages of 17 to 29 spend three months doing intense physical exercise, military drills, hand to hand combat, marksmanship and water survival.
They must meet high physical fitness standards -- and learn how to survive in all kinds of elements. Parris Island tears down the recruits as individuals -- rebuilds them as a group. Eighteen-year-old Daniel Smith says each person is only allowed to call himself "this recruit." "I don't think anybody could ever actually ever prepare for the mental strain that's given at boot camp and the anxiety that you get."
The recruits train constantly and they only have one hour of free time each day. Meals are short and in silence. The recruits are encouraged to attend worship services and to write letters. But they can only make one phone call during their training.
Twenty-two-year-old Geovanny Ordonez is originally from Honduras. He says his family is supportive. "They're really proud of me. They send me letters and packages. They tell me how proud they are of me for making this decision."
Here at what is known as "the pit" these recruits are ordered to hit the ground and do push-ups. For some, it is punishment for doing something wrong during training. For others, a drill instructor simply ordered them to hit the ground, and they did not ask him why.
Eighteen-year-old Sorim Sam, who is from Cambodia, has lived in the United States for seven years. At first it was hard for him to get used to the yelling. "In my country we're pretty soft on each other. We really don't have to yell that much and we talk in a pretty low volume."
The recruits must pass a grueling 54-hour combat exercise known as "The Crucible." They have to navigate obstacle courses and hike a total of 67 kilometers. They get little sleep or food.
Sergeant Kenneth Hayden says, in this exercise, it is tough crawling 150 meters with ammunition cans and carrying the wounded "A combat environment is very stressful and it takes a toll on your body. So for them to be mentally and physically prepared to go into combat into future operations, they need to have this training."
Noparet Ratanakajana was born in the United States but his parents are from Laos and Thailand. He says he wanted the challenge of boot camp. "I actually thought it was going to be a lot easier, but it wasn't which I'm kind of glad because if it was as easy as I thought, it wouldn't have been a branch [of the military] I would have joined."
Today is graduation day and Matthew Gabriel is packing to go home for a short time before he begins infantry school. He lived in this barrack with 64 other guys. He says there is only one thing he plans to do with this brush that each recruit gets to scrub floors. "Throw it as far away as possible."
During graduation ceremonies the recruits are called Marines for the first time. About 10 percent of the men do not complete the training mostly because of injuries. After fracturing both legs Caleb Dunn went through boot camp again and graduated. "This recruit, this Marine now, did have doubts but God was able to bring him through."
The new Marines know many of them will be going to Iraq or Afghanistan. Third generation Marine Joseph Riley says he is prepared to go. His mother did not want him to become a Marine and is afraid she will lose him. "I'd like to take him home with me. That's what I'd like to do."