Molding Marines: Crossing the finish line

Published 8:54 am Friday, April 11, 2014

Buchanan’s Austin Herdklotz is nearing the end of his training to become a U.S. Marine. (Leader photo/CRAIG HAUPERT)

Buchanan’s Austin Herdklotz is nearing the end of his training to become a U.S. Marine. (Leader photo/CRAIG HAUPERT)

SAN DIEGO, Calif. — Two weeks away from becoming a U.S. Marine, Buchanan recruit Austin Herdklotz said he can finally see the finish line.

“Every day we wake up and while we are doing stuff we remind each other that we’ve got 15 days left, 14 days left,” he said. “The excitement is definitely starting to build.”

It’s a far different feeling than the one the 19-year-old had when he first got off the bus at the Marine Corps Recruiting Depot in San Diego,

Calif. He still remembers the fear he felt when he stood on the yellow footsteps and heard the drill instructor bark orders at him and his fellow recruits for the first time.

“It was terrifying. You have no idea what is going on and what you are supposed to do,” he said. “You are out of your element, and, for me, far away from Michigan, in a whole new place.”

Herdklotz, whose father is a priest at Life Action Ministries in Buchanan, said he felt like quitting during the first few days of training — something he never thought he would consider. He found the strength to continue in the knowledge that family and friends had high expectations for him. He didn’t want to let them, or himself, down.

“I knew if I quit I would regret it for the rest of my life. That’s what kept me going for the first few weeks,” he said. “After that, I started to get the hang of things and that’s what made it a little easier.”

With one long day full of challenges followed by another, Herdklotz said it is difficult to keep track of time during the 12 weeks of intense training. One of his fellow recruits, he said, summed it up perfectly with the observation that the days feel like weeks and the weeks feel like days.

“It is true because every day feels like it goes on forever, but once you get past Sunday you feel like, man, that week went by fast,” he said. “It feels like that every Sunday.”

Herdklotz, who was home schooled, decided to pursue becoming a Marine after realizing he didn’t know what he wanted to do with the rest of his life.

“My dad always said, ‘don’t go to college unless you know what you want to be and want to do.’ I had no idea. Eventually the military became an idea in my head,” he said.

Herdklotz is scheduled to graduate April 21. If he does, he will leave for Pensecola, Fla., where he will train to become an aviation mechanic.

He’s already begun thinking about what it will feel like to graduate in front of his family and friends.

“I think it will be a real deep sense of pride. I will definitely be holding my chest up high. It is something I’ve been dreaming about for a while now,” he said. “It’s been a really hard process, but I am almost there. I will be very proud if I accomplish it.”

Graduating also means getting back to a normal life and experiencing the things he’s missed most, like music, basketball and, perhaps most of all, sleeping in.

“That one kills me every morning,” he said.

Despite the challenges, Herdklotz is happy about his decision to become a recruit.

“Even though I am not a Marine yet, even if I left today and never earned the title, it has definitely been for the better because it has already changed me in many ways,” he said. “I strive to be more disciplined and I strive more for perfection. I strive to be a better person. I already hold myself to a higher standard.”

When asked if he had a message for someone back home, Herdklotz talked about the support he has received from his family, and, especially, his girlfriend.

“She’s been amazing. She’s written to me almost every single day. Her letters have really kept me going through those hard days,” he said.