My littlest brother, Spencer, graduated from the Marines boot camp on November 21st, 2008 in Parris Island, SC. I moved to California before he enlisted, and got to spend about a month in CT during the summer at home so I could spend more time with him. I left for California about the same time he shipped out. I hadn’t seen him since August.

I feel I need to clarify. My family is pretty close. We moved around a lot as kids, making new friends everywhere we went. While there was a lot of brotherly fighting, we were consistent in each other’s lives. As we grew up, we started to grow apart. My next youngest brother is only 2 years younger than me. So while we spent a lot of time at the same school, we lived in different circles. My youngest brother is about 6.5 years younger than me. He’s a good kid, and looked up to me for a long time. I tried very hard to lead by example.

When he decided that he wanted to join the Marines, the entire family mobilized against it. With our country in the political situation we are currently in, it seemed overly dangerous for him to join. He was 18 years old, hadn’t been to college, and was overly eager to get involved with war. No one in the family supported him. His recruiters were pouring it on strong. Telling him that enlisting was the best way and that you shouldn’t listen to your family and that he should just sign the papers. They threatened that he wouldn’t be able to get infantry if he waited.

The recruiters were lying to him, and both my father and I proved it to him. We sat down with them and took them apart, from the beginning. One of the senior officers broke down from rational conversation and just insisted that he join when he couldn’t produce ANY numerical statistics to prove his outrageous claims. Continually asserting that it wasn’t the family’s choice, it was his, just go ahead and make it. Despite the consistent pressure on both sides, Spencer made time to hear everyone. He called the people I asked him to, drove all the way up to New Haven by himself to meet one of my friend who was a former Marine. He listened to everyone before he made his decision to join.

Despite the fact that I’m not behind his choice, I do appreciate that he took the time to listen to all of our thoughts before he signed up.

My mother had asked me if I wanted to attend his graduation from boot camp in South Carolina. I was eager for several reasons: 1) I missed my brother, it would be good to see him; 2) I don’t know how often I will be able to see him during the next five years of his active service; 3) I have never been to South Carolina (despite the fact that a bunch of my high school friends form Kentucky had gone to college there). I decided I would drive up from SC to CT in the weekend. I had always wanted to see the Outer Banks, so I was going to do that.

I landed about half an hour before my parents, though I started my trip much earlier (left the house at 6 AM, and I’m sorry to my roommate for being so loud). We landed at Charleston and drove an hour and half south to Beaufort. During the drive, my father and I asked my mother about the hotel we were staying in. One question in particular: “Do they have in room bathrooms? Or are we going to have to share?” was answered with a very questionable “I don’t know”. My Dad and I were quite concerned. My mother has a tendency to just do things to get them done and not read reviews, or really plan.

To our surprise we pulled up an exquisite old building. The hostess was quite friendly, the rooms were nice, and weather was perfect. I had been stuck in CA weather (which is really no weather) for a many months, it was nice to fill a consistent chill throughout the day, though I might have packed appropriately.

My mother didn’t bring any paperwork from the Marines with her down to SC. Both me and my father chastised her about this error. Especially when the hostess found the information online about the graduation ceremony which said we wouldn’t be allowed on base without a visitors pass. I spent the entire night stressing that I had flown all the way down not be able to see my brother. My father was resolute that if we got their early enough we could find a way on. So we left early. Once at the base post, the marine standing guard just issued us on (no pass needed). While I was ecstatic to get no base without issue, it is a little disturbing that their security was so loose.

The first day was family day. During the time we were on base there was constant advertising for the marines. We were directed to a building, similar to a gym where they were showing motivational movies about the Marines. After about an hour of these things, our sons and daughters marched in. Everyone was so far away we couldn’t pick out Spencer. When they were dismissed for their 5 hours of liberty, we went down to the deck to find him. It was quite hard, but he eventually spotted us because of my hair line.

We spent the remainder of the day running errands that he hadn’t been able to run while in training. We went to the PX. I was unaware, but if you ear honors, you aren’t given the pins for achievements. You get notified that you achieved that honor and then go the PX and spend your money on the badge or medal. Spender had to buy several pieces for his uniforms. He also was looking for a new G-Shock watch. The cost in store was $100. Using my iPhone i was able to find it on Amazon for under $70. I would think they would cut our service men and women a better deal. I was upset to see them paying the same as anyone else.

We hunted down some food at the commissary, basically a large grocery store. We took it out the rifle range and ate a nice lunch. We went to the bank so Spencer could switch to the Navy Federal Credit Union. He was unable to explain to us why it was better than his current bank, but he made the switch. We had just enough time to walk through the Marine museum before we had to take him back so he could get into formation in time. We waited till he had to leave and returned to our car. Getting out of the parking lot was another adventure. We ended up waiting about 30 minutes before we finally found a way out. I took a bunch of photos driving off the base, but didn’t like any of them. We got back to the hotel, went shopping, I took some pictures of the marina and went out for dinner to a nice little place within walking distance. The remainder of the night I spent reading, helping the hostess deal with a few circuit breaker problems and just chatting.

The next morning started early, we got up and made it to the base pretty early in the morning. Despite the fact that we arrived more than half an hour before the graduation was scheduled to begin, we found the stands by the parade deck completely packed. We found seats, but they were tight. In the end the tightness was good because it was cold and windy, and being packed together kept us more warm. It was a nice ceremony. The band was pretty good and the march was interesting to watch.

After the dismissal we went down the parade deck to find Spencer. It was very hard to find him because everyone in uniform looks so similar. We finally got together and took a couple of photos and then rushed off to get his bags and get moving. We drove an hour in a tight car all the way up to Charleston where I started my three day, marathon of a road trip, but that is a story for another post.

It was a good trip, and the marines did change Spencer. In my view, not for the best. Many of the attributes that I loved about him were veiled under his shiny marine exterior. They were still there but were hidden away. I understand that part of that change is necessary, if you are a marine you have to follow orders without question. Even if that means walking to your death so you can save thousands of other lives, you still have to follow that order. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t know how to enjoy life and what I was most upset was that they didn’t teach him about context switching. Some days you need to be able to do what your told, and other days, with family, there is a different way to behave and I’m not sure he got that.

One prime example was the ability to laugh. Apparently you are not supposed laugh in the uniform, it is a sign of disrespect. When you laugh its called “loosing your bearing”. Spender fought very hard to keep it under control, but the end he began to loose it, and I have proof: