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thedrifter
02-01-09, 09:27 AM
Men, in 90 Days

January 31, 2009 12:49:00 PM
By JONAS HOGG / News Herald Writer

Editor's note: The is the final installment of reports being filed this week by News Herald military writer Jonas Hogg from Parris Island, S.C., as the latest crop of Marine recruits undergoes training and a group of educators attends the Marine Educators Workshop. For photos, videos and blog entries on the trip, go to newsherald.com.

PARRIS ISLAND, S.C.— After several days of learning how raw recruits are forged into Marines, a group of Panhandle teachers, counselors, school resource officers and administrators participating in the Marine Educators' Workshop spent the final hours of their trip looking at the finished product.

Out on the parade deck, more than 800 legs beat a synchronized rhythm into the cold wind. At a command, the formation stops. A second barked order, and the cold wet air is broken by the sound of hundreds of people turning in perfect unison, grinding asphalt under sole.

Among those standing expressionless against the biting wind is one of Rutherford High School's own, Pvt. Joshua Knowles. Two proud grandparents, Jon and Connie Knowles, along with Knowles' anxious fiancée, Kheyndra Peak, and his soon-to-be mother- and sister-in-law.

"We're just very proud of him, we've always been proud of him. This is just a great day," Connie Knowles said.

The graduation marked the finale of the whirlwind process that unfolds amid the giant oaks of the Marine Recruit Training Depot at Parris Island, S.C.

"It made me realize why they do what they do, with the tearing down the old person and building up the new person," said Shelly Zeigler, who recently attended her son's graduation.

The assembled audience stared back at the sons, brothers, husbands and fiancées who are, in many ways, no longer the people they once knew.

Upon graduating, they became the Marines of Company B, 1st Recruit Training Battalion.

In the stands, mothers and fathers dabbed at their eyes while girlfriends swooned over the boy they last saw more than 90 days ago, now standing ramrod straight in a crisp green uniform.

"The fact that they can accomplish what they can in 12 weeks ... just that in itself is amazing to me," said Brenda Garth, whose son, Hunter, is in training at the island. "They accomplish so much in their job of making Marines and the recruits accomplish so much in earning and becoming that title."

The celebration focused heavily on the same values the recruits have spent 13 weeks learning: honor, courage and commitment and the importance of leadership and discipline.

"I was a boy," Knowles said. "Now, I'm a man. I have a whole different appreciation of life. You don't take it for granted anymore."

Knowles, like most of the new Marines, remained focused and tense, even in the embrace of family. After months of military discipline and forging bonds with the other newly minted Marines, being back around civilians he described as "weird."

"I'm really excited. I'm just ready to get him home," Kheyndra said, beaming as she looked at her Marine fiancée. "And he looks really good."

Ellie