Molding Marines: Educators leave boot camp with understanding of Marines

Published 8:56 am Monday, April 14, 2014

Niles’ Josie DeJong, wearing the black Marines hat, is instructed on how to shoot an assault rifle Thursday at Camp Pendleton. (Leader photo/CRAIG HAUPERT)

Niles’ Josie DeJong, wearing the black Marines hat, is instructed on how to shoot an assault rifle Thursday at Camp Pendleton. (Leader photo/CRAIG HAUPERT)

SAN DIEGO, Calif. — Like most people, Niles’ Josie DeJong did not know much about the U.S. Marines Corps outside of what she’d seen on television or in the movies.

“I was under the impression that it was one of the more physically demanding armed force branches, but beyond that I didn’t really know,” said the Niles High School at-risk counselor. “I work with our local recruiter, but I didn’t take the opportunity to ask many questions before, so it was still kind of a mystery going in.”

After spending a week immersed in the life of a Marine at the Marines Corps Educators Workshop in San Diego, Calif., DeJong gave the world’s elite fighting force the ultimate endorsement.

She’d be willing to sign off on sending her child there.

“I would’ve been a proud parent, but I wouldn’t have ever recommended it for my child before because of the emotional attachment and being worried about safety,” she said. “But now I have one child I might actually think it would be a good fit for. Looking at what he is interested in and his skill set at this point, as long as those continue, I could see that being a good option.”

During the week of April 7-11, DeJong was one of 40 educators, including 20 from Michigan, to attend the workshop, which is designed to give them the knowledge to better address questions students might have about military service. The workshop is offered several times a year to different educational professionals across the country.

Educators spent each day learning about several different aspects of the Marine Corps, including educational benefits and the opportunities afforded to each Marine. For instance, the Marines offer more than 700 different jobs from aircraft and vehicle maintenance to infantry to music and communications.

Educators also got to participate in some of the drills and exercises recruits do during training, from shooting an assault rifle to marching in formation to taking part in a portion of the Marines’ final test — the Crucible.

“I think it is a great opportunity they’ve offered to us,” she said. “It was really generous of the country to offer us the opportunity to learn. While we aren’t there to recruit, when we hear the misconceptions we can share our experiences.”

One of the biggest misconceptions DeJong believed before the workshop involved the mentally and physically challenging 12 1/2 week boot camp. DeJong didn’t realize recruits had some down time to talk with their senior drill instructors about issues they might be having during training. She also learned that the intensity of boot camp decreases as time goes on.

“I always thought they were being yelled at and drilled the whole time, but that’s not the case,” she said. “They are keeping up on caring for the mental health of recruits. That surprised me.”

DeJong also was impressed by the graduation ceremony educators witnessed Friday, the final day of the workshop. Three-hundred and twenty-one recruits from Hotel Company graduated in front of a large crowd at Marines Corps Recruiting Depot.

“I felt like it really was a momentous occasion for the recruits and family members and those that support them,” she said. “It was like a high school or college graduations in that it was a really significant moment in their life that they were always remember.”

As a counselor, DeJong provides direction for the futures of high school students in Niles. She said this experience will change how she approaches questions about the Marines.

“In the past, I would only talk about it with students that were interested in the Marines,” she said. “While I’m not out to recruit new people for the Marines, I would say, especially for the people that perform well academically but are not sure about college or are scared about paying for it, I would perhaps offer up the suggestion, whereas I wouldn’t have done that before.

“Now, having more background knowledge, I could ask them more questions as to whether the Marines would be a good fit for them.”