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thedrifter
09-09-09, 09:25 AM
Marines back from camp with promotion, friend
Originally published September 09, 2009

By Megan Eckstein
News-Post Staff

Clay Thorne wrestled at Middletown High School. Robert Fudge played football at Frederick High School. Thorne has one brother. Fudge is the second of five siblings. Thorne is white. Fudge is black.

Despite their differences, Thorne, 18, and Fudge, 20, became inseparable this summer during Marine training. They not only helped each other survive boot camp but also graduate in the top 2 percent of their platoon.

Thorne took his workouts seriously when he started coming to the recruiting substation in Frederick in November 2008, saying he believed joining the Marine Corps would be the best way to keep his life on track.

"I didn't really have any intentions of making friends at training," he said. But then Fudge started attending the sessions in February 2009.

Fudge always knew he'd join the armed services after seeing his father serve as an Army flight medic (currently deployed in Afghanistan) and his sister Eleasha Holmes serve as an airman in the Air Force. He chose the Marines because it seemed the most group-oriented, he said, but he was still surprised he formed such a close bond with Thorne.

"When we first met each other, we were competing from the start, doing pull-ups," Fudge said. The two said they got to talking at some of the biweekly training sessions, and their friendship bloomed.

Thorne and Fudge agree that their friendly competition drove them to succeed. Thorne was promoted to squad leader in July, and Fudge earned that title soon afterward. And after enduring the 13-week Marine boot camp together in Parris Island, S.C., Fudge and Thorne were both awarded a meritorious promotion to private first class, an honor bestowed on only four of the 51 recruits in their platoon.

"I knew we were up there, but I didn't think anyone noticed," Thorne said.

Gunnery Sgt. Kelvin Paulk, who runs the Frederick recruiting substation, said it is rare to have two Marines from the same town graduate with such high honors. Of the 66 recruits he sent to boot camp this year, only four -- including Thorne and Fudge -- have received this promotion. He credits their success with entering boot camp on the buddy system -- though they were already so close they didn't need a formal title for the help they provided each other.

"They would sort of speak for one another, be accountable for one another," Paulk said.

Jennifer Thorne, Clay's mother, said the two "have become like brothers" over the past few months. Fudge even moved in with her family in May, and he wrote them weekly letters while in South Carolina.

Paulk said he has never seen anything like the friendship between Fudge and Thorne. "It was something that had all the right makings to turn out the way it did," he said.

The two are about the same size, making them perfect to compete in physical challenges. But they also found that they needed a little help dealing with the drill instructors, adapt to a new culture and be away from their families for the first time, their relatives said.

After finishing boot camp at the end of August, Thorne and Fudge came home to Frederick to help recruit new members, said Staff Sgt. Christopher Ramirez. Next week they will travel to Camp Geiger, N.C., for 21 days of Marine Combat Training before they split up for more specialized training. Fudge will go to Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri to learn to be a motor vehicle operator, and Thorne will go to Pensacola, Fla., for training in communications interception. But the time apart shouldn't have much of an effect on these two.

"They'll probably be brothers in arms for a long time," said Jennifer Thorne. "Forever."

Ellie