Article Last Updated: 11/28/2005 01:17 PM
Recruits hear Marines' call to duty, honor
Lowell Sun

PARRIS ISLAND, S.C. -- In the face of a bloody war with no end in sight, the U.S. Marine Corps continues to find men and women willing, if not eager, to lay their lives on the line.

“I was kind of looking forward to it. All of my brothers and sisters are over there,” said Marine recruit Kevin Hayes, 18, of Shirley.

“His brothers and sisters” are his fellow Marines, serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Hayes is on the deck of the training pool at Parris Island Recruit Depot in South Carolina, where, on any given day, 4,500 recruits prepare for battle.

They are called “warriors,” and it is no secret on Parris Island that recruits could find themselves in the deserts of Iraq within three months of graduating basic training.

It is a reality many Marines seem to embrace.

Lt. Scott Miller, 24, is a public-affairs officer on Parris Island. He has come close to being deployed but has not seen combat.

He wants to. He said he feels a duty and obligation, both to his country and to his fellow Marines.

“My friends have been over (in Iraq) sometimes two or three times getting shot at, and I still haven't gone,” Miller said. “I want to go. It's what I've been trained for.”

That mind-set is passed on from Marine to recruit every day on Parris Island, where war is more than a business -- it's a lifestyle.

“I wanted to serve with the best fighting force in the world,” said Matthew Tremblay, 19, of Chelmsford.

Tremblay, like several other local recruits interviewed by The Sun, chose to be trained for infantry duty after boot camp, increasing the likelihood that he will see combat.

“When I think of a Marine, I think infantry. I'm a little nervous, but I know it is something this recruit has to do,” Tremblay said stoically, without breaking his focus from training.

Before being interviewed, recruits were briefed by senior officers and told to answer questions honestly, but not discuss their own political views.

As of last week, 2,092 Americans have been killed in action -- 30 from Massachusetts -- and another 15,000 have been injured. Nearly 600 of those casualties were Marines.

The grim reality of war has made recruiting volunteers for the armed services a daunting challenge for recruiters, particularly in liberal, wealthy Northeast communities where college, not Baghdad, is often the preferred destination.

“It's probably the most difficult job I've had. I call kids' homes, and their parents tell me they don't agree with the war, they hate George Bush, and they hang up,” said Sgt. Phillip Baugh, a recruiter from New Haven, Conn., who accompanied The Sun and a group of local educators to South Carolina.

But in eastern Massachusetts, Maine and New Hampshire, the Marine Corps has more than met its mission.

Staff Sgt. Ken Tinnin, of the Portsmouth Recruiting Station in New Hampshire, said last year his regional offices recruited 863 new Marines, 36 more than its goal for fiscal 2005.

“In this area, thankfully, there are a lot of military supporters,” said Staff Sgt. Wil Olmeda, a recruiter at the Lowell recruiting office, who grew up on Central Street.

Middlesex County accounted for 18.4 percent of the 1,957 recruits from Massachusetts who entered the Army, Navy, Air Force and Army Reserve in 2004 -- more than any other county in the state.

While those branches have struggled to meet their quotas, the Marine Corps has remained highly selective, further solidifying its reputation as an elite fighting force.

To enlist in the Marines, recruits are screened for their desire to join the corps, their physical readiness and their education. Recruiters encourage those interested to research other branches, and education is a must.

“I'll tell a potential recruit to go get his diploma,” Olmeda said. “High school is a must. We don't accept GEDs, only once in a blue moon. Especially when they're seniors, it's my job to stay on top of them. I have kids in here every day doing their homework. I'll help them with their math.”

Joining the Marines is also like joining a family, so Olmeda said he does his best to involve parents in the enlistment process.

Despite recent reports that Marine recruiters have misled young people to get them to sign up, Olmeda said he always tells the truth, even when it means explaining to parents there's a good chance their son or daughter will see war.

One man Olmeda recruited worked in Lowell for three weeks before shipping out to infantry school.

Private Kevin Lynch, 19, of Billerica, graduated from Parris Island on Oct. 28. He briefly thought about joining the Army but said he felt the recruiters were just telling him what he wanted to hear.

His decision to enlist, however, has forced his parents to toe the wobbly line between supporting their youngest son and protecting him.

“I hate to see my son go over to Iraq,” Helen Lynch said. “I pray every night that he doesn't have to go because I don't know if I could handle it. I'm not going to say I don't believe in the war. I just feel it's unnecessary for them to be over there. I think they should send them all home.”

Lynch chose infantry training over any other Marine occupation, because he said it will afford him the greatest opportunity to make a difference in his life. He said he will be nervous when the time comes to go to Iraq, but he understands it is part of becoming a Marine.

Despite his parents' best efforts to discourage him, they fully support Kevin because he's following his heart.

“I talked to him until I was blue in the face, even suggested the Coast Guard,” Kevin Lynch said of his son. “But he went in for all the right reasons, and I can't help but be proud.”

Last month, Kevin and Helen Lynch traveled to South Carolina and had the privilege of seeing their son graduate Parris Island.

Laurie Hayes, of Shirley, can hardly wait to share the same moment with her son, Kevin, on Dec. 21.

The reality that her son may soon be fighting a war an ocean away from their small rural town does little to diminish her pride.

“I see the stories on the news and I cry. All I can say is, ‘God, keep him safe.' If he were killed in action, at least I'd know he was really doing what he wanted. How many of us in life can say that?” she said.

Matt Murphy's e-mail address is