Marine Corps helps recruits win the battle of the bulge

BEAUFORT -- Overweight his entire life, Pfc. Cory Haynes was ready for a change.

An October graduate of Marine Corps basic training at Parris Island, Haynes' journey to become a Marine started well before passing through the sentry gate of the storied depot.

"I'm about 5-foot-6, and I weighed about 200 pounds. I mean, I was pretty overweight," said Haynes, a 19-year-old Easley native. "I just decided I was going to start losing weight. I started walking, then jogging, and drank a lot of water.

"And by the time I enlisted, I had lost 62 pounds. I was down to about 138 pounds."

The work he'd done to get in shape prepared him for what lies ahead for every recruit at Parris Island.

"The physical training program that I had been in with the Corps really helped me in boot camp," he said. "It was still really bad and really hard, but that PT made it a little easier."

Now serving his first duty station at Fort Lee, Va., as a food service specialist, Haynes said he can understand why overweight young people might gravitate toward the Marine Corps, which he said seems more willing than other military branches to work recruits into shape.

Ulysses Milana arrived at Parris Island on Nov. 10 after losing 140 pounds in 11 months to become eligible for basic training.

Once tipping the scales at 330 pounds, the 23-year-old Lewiston, Maine, native was turned away by Army and Navy recruiters in December 2007. Then he met Marine Staff Sgt. George Montieth.

"When I initially talked to him, I could tell that this was a person who didn't just have goals but was going to follow through. This wasn't a New Year's resolution," Montieth said. "I didn't know how long it would take. I mean that's a lot of weight, but I told him that we had to do some weight training and improve his nutrition because drinking beer and eating pizza won't get you to where you want to be.

"I just gave him the tools. Ulysses did all the work."

What followed was a remarkable body transformation in which Milana shed nearly 15 pounds a month before meeting the Corps' weight requirement for recruits.

Montieth said Parris Island's rigorous boot camp probably won't derail Milana's quest to become a Marine.

"After seeing his drive and knowing the caliber of person he is, I don't think there's anything that boy can't do," Montieth said.

Attached to the depot's 3rd Recruit Battalion, Milana was unavailable for interview.

Recruiters nationwide work with would-be Marines to help them get into shape before ever arriving at Parris Island, said Staff Sgt. Alex Diaczenko at the Marine Corps recruiting center in Savannah.

The Savannah substation handles Marine Corps recruiting in Beaufort, Jasper and Hampton counties, as well as in the Savannah area.

Diaczenko said he wasn't surprised to hear that a Corps recruiter took a chance on Milana.

"It takes a different kind of person to walk into a Marine Corps recruiting office," Diaczenko said. "If someone is willing to come in here and step up to the plate, we're willing to do what we can to help them achieve their goals."

One of the Savannah substation's recruits graduated Friday from Parris Island after dropping more than 60 pounds.

"When he came to us he weighed more than 250 pounds; he's graduating at 184,"Diaczenko said.

The Marine Corps Body Composition Program dictates how much a Marine should weigh in relation to his height. Recruits fighting the battle of the bulge often enroll in the Corps' Delayed Entry Program, which allows young men and women to commit to the Corps as much as a year in advance.

"When we send recruits to Parris Island, they still might be a little fluffy, but a lot of the most radical body transformations we've seen actually happen at the depot," Diaczenko said.