Future Marines get head start on basic training
By PAUL WOOD | The News-Gazette | Associated Press | Published: December 4, 2018
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Push-ups, chin-ups and sit-ups.
They're the upside of training for future Marines, who will face greater challenges — hefting ammo boxes full of rocks over their heads and heading out for a brisk 1.5-mile run.
Twenty or so future Marines are at the recruiting station every Thursday, getting a taste of what boot camp will be like, preparing for the physical rigors.
The high school seniors or recent graduates are called "poolies" because they're part of the pool of future Devil Dogs.
"Poolie (Elijah) Wasson requests permission to mount the bar!" the Central senior shouts as the training begins.
The Delayed Entry Program incorporates recruits into the inactive reserves and includes an agreement to report for active duty, most often called "shipping out to boot camp," at a specific date in the future.
The Marines tell the senior and recent graduates "this timeframe may be anywhere from several days to several weeks, to several months."
Recruits must be at least 17 years old and get a high school degree or pass the GED before active service.
Wasson, who'd shown leadership when there were shots fired at Central High school last year, can do 20 or more pull-ups "on a good day," and he was having a good day.
"A Marine is the best-trained soldier there is," Wasson said.
All the services have delayed entry programs but not always regular classes; the local Army recruiting station also has Thursday-afternoon physical training.
Centennial's Kylie Lafi said that as the only woman, she's had nothing but support from her fellow poolies. She added that love of country motivates her.
Softball prepared her for the physical training.
"I've hit the max for females already," she said.
Mahomet-Seymour High School senior Ethan Anderson said the delayed admission to the Marines has helped build his character.
"I think it gives me a reason to be a better person even when I'm not" training, Anderson said. "I think it sets me apart from a lot of people."
And it gives the young men and women a sense of where they will belong, as well as camaraderie.
"It's nice to know I have a plan secured for after high school," said Griffin Rose, a senior at Arthur-Lovington/Atwood-Hammond High School. "It has also taught me a lot of respect both in the classroom and in physical training. It's something I've always wanted to do because it's a family thing."
Newly minted Paxton-Buckley-Loda graduate Dominic Amore had just put in 45 push-ups that Thursday, up from 37.
"I enlisted two weeks after my high school graduation," Amore said.
It has been an experience for him in recent weeks.
"I came into the delayed-entry program unable to do a single pull-up, and hadn't run over a mile ever," he said, breathing hard after a series of lifting the full ammo boxes.
The future warriors have as many as 365 days in the program, with an agreement to go into active service.
"The poolies only get financial benefits once they report" to training, said Staff Sgt. Matthew Rentfro of the Champaign office.
The poolies are gung ho — enthusiastic and energetic.
"My top two choices are combat support and infantry. I want to be able to do work that I'll be proud of," Anderson said.
Marine recruits here currently outnumber Army recruits at the office next door. (Both the Air Force and the Navy have recruiting offices on Bradley Avenue, but not weekly training, often stressing personal work, recruiters said.)
The Army has a similar program with up to a year to enter, but has been cutting back recruiting temporarily.
"The 2018 recruiting post-mortem comes at a time when the Army is taking a deep look at not only how it recruits, but the standards it has upheld," the Army Times wrote a month ago.
On a recent Thursday, one of the future soldiers doing physical training is recent grad Michael Cook of Champaign. Crunches, a mile run and push-ups are part of their regimen.
"I grew up in a family in the Army," he said after a series of push-ups. "I have cousins in the Air Force and Navy. We love our freedom."
Henry Johnson, a senior at Mahomet-Seymour High School, also said service runs in his family. The baseball player's family has served continually since at least World War II, and Johnson's father was in the Army.
"I'm joining the infantry to see the world and fight for my country," he said. "I'm interested in Ranger School."