On several occasions in the column, I’ve referred to my rather dull military experience. In the early 1960s, every American male had what was called a “military obligation.” On your 18th birthday, you were expected to register for the draft. And, if you were not considered ineligible, for any number of reasons, you could either enlist or wait to be drafted.
When the draft was ended, and that “military obligation” along with it, many people thought our military might dwindle to perhaps a handful of malcontents and unhappy losers.
That brings us to Samantha Copeland, the daughter of a dear friend of mine. I have known Samantha’s mother for what I guess could be called ages. I was surprised when I learned that Samantha had decided to join the United States Marines. I had to ask why.
At first I assumed it was for the various benefits. I was wrong. Samantha really loves this country and wants to serve it. Though only 18, she told me, “I’m very patriotic at heart and I feel that serving your country is one of the most honorable things to do.”
But why the Marines? She told me, “I chose the Marine Corps specifically because it is the most-challenging branch, and the codes of honor, courage and commitment that they live by is something I personally live by already.”
How many of today’s youngsters are thinking like that? Politicians are trying hard to divide the American people, and the colleges and universities are going out of their way to teach American’s youth that this free nation is somehow evil. It becomes surprising that any of our youth want to serve in our military.
Even the president is discouraging America’s young men and women from entering the military by constantly speaking of reducing our fighting forces.
Back in those good old days when I enlisted, we took the oath, got on a bus and arrived in basic training. Whether fat or thin, strong or weak, we all fell in the next morning and began our eight weeks of total hell.
I have a close friend whose son recently became a Marine, and it seems that the weeks of basic — or as the USMC calls it, “boot camp” — are still hell. But, now they do help new recruits with some preparation.
Not only is Samantha willing to give her country and the Marines four years of her life, she has already begun preparing for boot camp. Every Thursday she and other potential recruits work out with Marines by running about three miles, lifting ammo cans and preparing for strength and endurance.
Samantha is not simply preparing to be a Marine. She is preparing to be a good one. She has told me that she does not worry about the USMC turning her into a man. But, she does expect that when boot camp is over, she will have been turned into a Marine. And, that is what it is all about.
So, I wondered if Samantha had thought about the possibility of her being put into combat. Even someone such as myself who, after basic training, spent all of my time behind a desk had to wonder about that.
Can I really carry a comrade out of a firefight?
Can I crawl through mud when someone is firing real bullets at me?
Can I shoot at a target that is shooting back?
Can I kill someone?
Samantha is an 18-year-old girl, recently graduated from high school. Did she think she could do any of those things if called upon?
Like me, she just could not be sure. She said she would go into combat if called upon, but would not want to be a liability to her fellow marines.
And, after the first four years are up? Samantha has a very level head on her shoulders. She will either make the Marines a career, or perhaps leave the Corps and go to college. Her interests outside of the Corps are also those of a young woman interested in being of service to others. She will seek a degree in biology and work on conservation for the planet and wildlife.
Samantha Copeland will be inducted into the United States Marine Corps on April 28. This country will benefit from having such a fine American in its service.
I will hope to see her before she leaves, but if not, I will tell her in this column: Samantha, I want to be just like you when I grow up.
Al Jacobson is a Commerce City homeowner. He writes children’s stories.