Marine, 18, from Union County dies while training in California

jmarusak@charlotteobserver.comJanuary 17, 2014 

Josh Islam decided after his sophomore year at Weddington High School to serve his country after graduation by joining the Marines.

His baseball coach knew he’d be “the best of the best,” because Josh always gave his all.

“He is one of my top five favorites of all time,” Coach Travis Poole said Friday. “Josh gave 110 percent to everything he did. You knew what you were getting from him every day: full steam. He always wanted to finish first in everything he did. That’s what made Josh successful.”

Islam, 18, died Monday afternoon while undergoing an initial screening test for the Marines Awaiting Reconnaissance Training, School of Infantry-West, at Camp Pendleton, Calif.

“The test involved treading water for 30 minutes in a swimming pool at Camp Las Pulgas,” said Col. Sean Gibson, spokesman for the Marine Corps Combat Development Command in Quantico, Va.

Camp Las Pulgas is in the center of Camp Pendleton and is home to the 11th Marine Artillery Regiment.

Gibson said the Marine Corps investigation into Islam’s death could take several weeks. He said he didn’t know whether anyone else was in or near the pool at the time. His cause of death has not been determined, Gibson said.

Islam’s father, James, said Marine Corps officials who visited him and his wife, Donna, told them the Marine Corps is awaiting the results of an autopsy. The couple live in Gainesville, Fla.

But he said officials provided the family information “that’s enough to say it’s not consistent with a drowning.” He said he could be no more specific, but added, “I want them to find out what really happened.”

Islam graduated from boot camp at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot at Parris Island, S.C., in October, according to information released by the Marine Corps. He graduated from Marine combat training at Camp Lejeune on Jan. 10, and his military specialty was as a rifleman.

“I wish to extend our heartfelt prayers and condolences to the family of Private First Class Islam,” Marine Corps Brigadier Gen. John Simmons said in a statement. “Our first priority is to provide his family with the support they need during this difficult time.”

Josh was the third of the couple’s seven children, said James Islam, who asked the Observer to call Poole to hear what type of person their son was.

“You could be having a bad day, and he could be having a bad day, and what he was worried about was fixing yours,” Poole said. “I knew he would be successful.”

As a pitcher for Weddington, he won Game One of the Class 3A state championship series in June. Weddington went on to win its second straight championship.

“All he ever wanted to do is join the Marines and serve his country,” Daniel Calabretta, the team’s star shortstop and series most valuable player, wrote on Twitter using the hastag #RIPJoshIslam, which friends are using to remember Islam Calabretta is now a Duke University baseball recruit. “Trained for his whole life and now he’s gone.”

Staff researcher Maria David contributed.

Marusak: 704-358-5067; Twitter: @jmarusak

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