PARRIS ISLAND — From the halls of Fort Mill High School to the shores of Lake Wylie, area educators are enlisting to help students make perhaps the most pressing decision before them.
Dozens of teachers and administrators from South Carolina and Tennessee arrived at Parris Island last week to take on recruit training. They fired M16 rifles, rappelled a tower and punched Marine instructors with pugil sticks while grilling current and past recruits on their experiences. It’s all part of a program designed to familiarize educators with Marine service so prospective enlistees at their schools won’t have to rely solely on recruiters for advice.
Gales Scroggs hadn’t fired a gun since eighth-grade hunters education, and he hadn’t ever shot down a wooden tower on a rope. By Thursday morning, the former Fort Mill School District Teacher of the Year and current assistant principal at Fort Mill High no longer blinked at mock mortar blasts, ear-splitting gunfire soundtracks and Marine recruits crawling toward him through barbed wire.
“Not nearly as nerve-wracking as 80-some teachers with guns yesterday,” he said. “That was nerve-wracking.”
Christa Feaster of Lake Wylie is teaching her second year at Harding High School in Charlotte. As she watched recruits sparring from an elevated, octagonal arena as part of a 72-hour crucible of drills required for graduation, Feaster particularly enjoyed seeing a future battalion of females.
“I support women, especially, going to the military because it’s good for them,” Feaster said. “A lot of people don’t encourage them.”
The base housed about 600 recruits last week. Parris Island is the training ground for Marine recruits from throughout the eastern half of the country, a base in San Diego is for the western half. Staff Sgt. Alimar Ferrer came from Oregon, so he wasn’t a Parris Island recruit. He just sends them there now as one of two recruiters covering York County.
Ferrer spent two tours in Iraq but said the decision on whether to enlist can rank among the most difficult times for Marines, especially when parents and potential recruits aren’t on the same page.
“That’s when it gets scary,” Ferrer said. “That’s when it can get fun.”
The final decision must belong to the recruit, but sessions like last week’s help in offer an outside perspective on what might be best for a student, he said. In addition to drills, educators met with Marines who said the service gave them a leg up heading into law school or law enforcement, among other careers.
Scroggs said the idea of would-be law enforcement officers spending time in the service first might not be an obvious choice, but could mean a significant pay bump or better rank down the road.
“I’ll have a lot of students who might be interested in law enforcement, but they never may have thought of that,” he said.
Feaster heard about career training options, military and otherwise, available to anyone willing to work hard.
“I’ve always been interested in seeing students pursue something like this,” she said. “I’m more interested now in the possibilities for high-achieving students, students who need a bigger challenge. I would definitely steer them this way.”
Clover High School graduate and recruit Taylor Godwin is in his seventh of 13 weeks at Parris Island. Last week he mixed photo sessions and the issuing of dress blues into constant drilling, physical testing and “having to scream all day.” Godwin hopes to become a scout sniper, then aviation mechanic.
Godwin is the first of his family to join a military branch.
“I was just sitting at home feeling lazy while my friends were out working to protect our freedom,” he said. “I was working three jobs, and I felt lazy.”
The former soccer player isn’t particularly enjoying mountain climber drills, and painfully learned his lesson on how not to operate a mask in the gas chamber. But he’s staying the course toward the most grueling and rewarding weeks of training ahead.
“You want to make sure you can put everything on hold,” Godwin said. “This isn’t just another job. It’s a career.”
Les Brooks is a guidance counselor at the School of Biotechnology, Health and Public Administration at Olympic High School in Steele Creek. He’s also a U.S. Air Force reservist who enlisted in the ’80s to help pay for college, then again in 2003 to serve in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“Like any profession,” Brooks said of military service, “the more information one can retrieve from those actually in the field they want to pursue, the better.”
Brooks says high school staff members influence career choices for “students willing to listen.” He cautions that independent research is “a must” and anyone unsure about serving shouldn’t sign the dotted line.
“The more information you have, the more power you have to make the decision that is right for you,” Brooks said. “If you are not sure, don’t sign up. Wait until you are sure one way or the other. You should be able to clearly tell others why you want to join, what you want to accomplish or contribute and where you want it to take you.”
Where the Marines took educators last week was a step closer to meaningful conversations with students, not necessarily to wave a flag for the branch but to provide a detailed picture of what a student could expect.
“This has definitely opened my eyes,” Feaster said.