Proud But Heartbroken for New Marine

Columnist Joe Smith describes his teeter-totter emotions while watching a family member graduate from boot camp.

I was privileged to witness my brother-in-law graduate from Marine Corp boot camp this past week.  It was in beautiful San Diego. Our whole family was able to fly out there and attend the Family Day along with the graduation. 

We took a tour of the Marine Museum which chronicled past exploits of the Marines and individual officers that stood out in times of combat. We saw weapons of war from every skirmish Marines have taken part in.

We listened as a Marine officer took us through the program, explaining the how’s of breaking down a civilian just to build him/her back up as a Marine. We met other families and conversed about the family pride at seeing what our sons and daughters have accomplished. We talked with each other about our recruit and laughed about days gone by.

Thursday was Family Day. We met many of the Drill Instructors and they walked us through what happens during those intensive three months. Words cannot describe the physical, emotional, and mental strain these men and women endure to earn the title Marine. The one aspect of boot camp that blew my mind was the fact that the Marine Corp told the recruits what time to…ahem…go #2.  If you had to go before that time, you better learn to hold it!

Then we finally got to see our recruit. The physical change was striking! Gone was the pimply, awkward teenage boy. That kid was replaced with this strapping young man. Words like “Yes Ma’am, No sir” came out of his mouth like it was just part of everyday conversation. He stood tall with his head high and even when just talking with us he stood at parade rest.

He was polite and proper. He still had his same personality and sense of humor but the dumb kid had been left behind for a courteous and strong gentleman.

The graduation ceremony took place on the next Friday. We sat in stands across from the Parade Deck. No one but no one is allowed on the Parade Deck!  It is a sacred place that only allows for Marines to step foot on. We watched as over 300 young men and women were given the title Marine on that Parade Deck.  The ceremony was at times fun and other times very solemn.

When the time came for the last order given by their Drill Instructors, all the soldiers did an about face and yelled simultaneously “AYE AYE SERGEANT! OORAH!” And then they were Marines.

Very rarely in my life have I ever felt so proud of someone. To see the little boy that I have loved for the past 14 years turn into a man was something I honestly haven’t experienced before. I am proud that he chose a life of service.  I doubt that he serves for his country (but maybe he does). My guess is that he serves for those he loves.

He chose a life that might involve him putting himself in harm’s way to defend the weak. He chose a life that may call upon him to kill in order to save others. He chose a life that many of us rarely think about or have the slightest inclination of what it takes to live.

My brother-in-law is a United State Marine and I am proud to know him.

It also breaks my heart.

It breaks my heart because someone has to choose a lifestyle that may call on them to die in defense of others. It breaks my heart because my brother may have to take another human life. It breaks my heart because we live in a world that knows much about pain and suffering but not nearly as much about redemption.

To stop and think about the fact roughly 2 million of our sons and daughters around the globe must stand guard is a sobering thought. It’s a thought that should cause us to stop and pray every day for the lives of these men and women that stand as the front line against enemies foreign and domestic. It’s a thought that should send shivers of gratitude through our core as we realize they stand in our place. It’s a thought that should rip our hearts into pieces that this is the reality of life.


As I sat in those stands and watched my little brother wear that uniform, my mind was constantly drawn to that thought. As proud as I am, and I am very proud, my heart was troubled.  It was troubled because we are broken.  Something is wrong with us.

Turn on the news and watch for yourself. 

We rape, steal, kill, and destroy each other over stuff! We take what we want, when we want without thought of consequence or of others. We run through our natural resources like we believe they’ll never end. We hoard and save and buy and allow our greed to turn us into mindless consumers while most of the world is doing without.

All the while, quietly in the background, men and women like my brother-in-law are called upon to clean up the mess that humanity often leaves in its wake.

At what point do we start to demand better?

When do we look at our kids and realize that the world we are leaving them is not the world we were given?

When do we start looking at our governments and scream at them to listen?

At what point do we start the turnaround in our homes?

I walked away from that ceremony and family trip changed. I am altered in a way that was unexpected. I view the world slightly different knowing that someone I love stands in front of me, willing to take a bullet if it meant saving me. 

I have two choices from this point forward. I either do my part as a parent and human being to make this world better- and not just for America but for all. 


I do nothing.

And isn’t that the choice we all have? 

I guess the real question then becomes: Which answer will you choose?  Because I know the answer my brother chose.

Julie Hohe April 27, 2012 at 02:47 PM
Awesome article Joe. My dad was a Marine and fought in the Korean war. I never thought of what he went through during his Marine training or what he went through during the war. He died when I was 11 and at that young age I didn't think to ask him. This article reminded me of what a strong man he was and all he went through to keep our family (and others) safe. Thank you for sharing your experience.
Jana Kertz April 27, 2012 at 06:41 PM
Amazing job Joe! I loved how you shared so much of the incredible experiance, including the heartbreaking as well as how extremely proud we are of our sons and daughters. Read it through tears.. Thank you so much for putting what so many of us feel, into words.


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