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Saturday, Oct. 7, 2006 | Kurtis L. Clawson was scared out of his mind when he stepped off a bus into a night filled with disorganized bodies and barked orders 12 weeks ago.
Next week, the 19 year-old from Kennewick, Wash. is scheduled to graduate from the Marine Corps Recruit Depot with the top honor in his company, officially becoming a Marine.
Clawson still has to complete infantry school and other training, but like the roughly 600 recruits who graduate each week, he could find himself patrolling the mean streets of Baghdad or Kabul in a little more than a year.
We caught up with Clawson to find out why he joined the Marines in a time of war, what he’s learned in the last three months and why he thinks you could survive boot camp.
Why did you join the Marines?
I had family in the military previously. My uncle was a Marine. My father wanted to be a Marine but couldn’t because he had a previous injury. The organization, the pride of being able to serve your country and do something that’s looked on as one of the most difficult yet most rewarding experiences you can have was always appealing to me when I was younger.
Did you join right after high school?
Well, I took a year off. I just worked at the local mall. I wasn’t going to college; I wasn’t really doing much with my life.
With wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, some might question the wisdom your decision. What role did the wars play in your choice?
It pushed me even that much further to join. That way I can serve my country that much more now that it’s a time of war. I can go over there and be in the actual front lines and be fighting and that just gives me a great deal of pride to know that I can actually do that. This is the opportunity so I’m going to take it.
The country seems to be pretty divided on the legitimacy of the justifications for going to war and why we are still fighting. Do you have any thoughts on all of that?
It doesn’t really matter that much. I know that we are over there right now and so I know that they need our help and I’m willing to go over there and help.
And risk your life?
What did your mother think of your decision?
She handled it a lot better than I thought. She was excited because I had talked about it during my high school years and then high school came and went and I still hadn’t joined. Then I finally did it and she was happy that I was doing what I wanted to do. She supported me all the way.
Is she worried?
Yes, she is worried. She’s a mom. But at the same time she wants me to do what I want to do.
How did your father react?
He was thrilled. He never got this chance and he’s overjoyed that I have this chance to do this.
You’ve been at boot camp for 12 weeks now and received some pretty intense training. What’s the most significant thing that you have learned?
Being able to work with those that you never thought you would be able to. There were some other fellow recruits when I first came here that I thought I would never ever get along with but now they are friends for life. It just shows that you can work with anyone when put in a certain situation.
The main thing I have learned here is that you can do about 10 times more than you think you can in any aspect, whether it be just running or whether it be working together with someone.
Was basic training harder than you imagined?
It’s difficult but … I think everyone should go through boot camp once. Everyone has the ability to make it through. It’s whether or not they choose to.
What are you looking forward to most after graduation?
Just to be with my family and to be myself again. I’m not saying that I’m not myself here because there is a big change but it’s not quite a change. It’s more of an adaptation to an organization instead of just a complete change. It’s more of a transformation to where you are the same person but they have just sharpened you.
– Interview by DANIEL STRUMPF