Two 21-year-olds, bound for Connecticut, strolled through the Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport midafternoon Friday. Still walking in sync, and wearing their perfectly pressed uniforms, the two young men smiled ear to ear as they stopped periodically to talk with other travelers. It had probably been only the fourth time they were allowed to smile in the last 13 weeks. The other three likely occurred when they completed the daunting Crucible, had a few hours of free time on Family Day and then graduated from Parris Island a few hours before being dropped off at the airport for 10 days' leave. The pair were part of Company D's 246-man graduation class.
Prior to the hourlong ceremony at the Peatross Parade Deck, Brig. Gen. Lori Reynolds addressed the new Marines' families during the colors ceremony.
She welcomed the proud parents and siblings into the United States Marine Corps family and commended their sons, brothers and grandsons for their commitment.
"They could be doing anything, by the way. They could be in college. They could be out making money. You know that, they're yours," she said, standing in front of Barrow Hall with an enormous American flag flapping overhead. "But they chose, for whatever reason, to leave you, leave the comfort of their families and come to arguably the most difficult recruit training experience America has to offer."
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Reynolds didn't sugarcoat what lies ahead for the new Marines.
"I don't know what's in store for them. If you listen to the news, there's all kinds of things going on. When you go home today you're going to go home to neighbors who don't realize we're a nation at war.
"We are, and when we come out of Afghanistan there will be somewhere else that your Marines will be called to go because over our nation's history and our Corps' history there has rarely been a day when our Marines haven't been out and about, moving to the sound of chaos somewhere.
"That's what we live for."
Courage and commitment
During the choreographed graduation ceremony, Lt. Col. Edward Garland, 1st Recruit Training Battalion commander, took the microphone and bragged about his newest Marines.
"Throughout (boot camp), they learned the importance of our core values of honor, courage and commitment," he said. "Today, these Marines stand here joining a long line of patriotic men and women who have earned the title of United States Marine."
Then Garland turned back to the Marines, still standing in formation.
"I'll tell you today is about you, your families and what you have accomplished. Know that after today it's no longer about you," he said. "It's about the people sitting in the stands and the nation with whom we serve. It's about the Marines who have died before you.
"It's about the Marines standing next to you and it's about the Marines with whom you have yet to serve."
After the final note had been played by the Parris Island Marine Band, and the Marines had been dismissed, the young men let out a yell in unison before rushing toward their families to embrace and take pictures.
The 246 Marines left the parade deck for leave to relax and recharge before continuing on with their new career.
"You got them for 10 days," Reynolds had quipped earlier. "They need to fit in the same uniform they leave here in."