Last weekend I traveled to San Diego with my mom, niece and nephew to watch my little brother graduate from Marine Corps boot camp training. I had mixed feelings about him joining the military in the first place, so I wasn’t sure how I’d react to seeing him as a Marine after having not seen him for about seven months.
I’ve gotten used to not seeing my brother, or the rest of my family, for long periods of time. I left Tucson, where I was born and raised, when I was 18 years old to go to college out of state in Idaho for two and a half years. I also moved away from home two years ago to take a job in South Dakota.
But having to write my brother letters instead of texting him, knowing he would go through tough training as the Marine Corps prepared him for war, felt different than the usual distance between us.
Our first day at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot was family day. We got to see my brother and spend time with him there from noon to 5 p.m.
Before he was released to hang out with us for the day, families were given a Marine Corps 101 orientation. We sat in a large theater and heard about Marine Corps history, ranks and some resources to which my brother now has access.
Then the company commander briefed the families on what the graduating Marines had experienced in the last three months.
He told us about “The Crucible,” a test in the final phase of training. The Crucible is at Camp Pendleton, where recruits march more than 45 miles in 54 hours and only get three MREs (meals ready to eat) and eight hours of sleep during that time. I was glad my mom doesn’t understand English too well.
I knew my brother’s training would be intense, but hearing about The Crucible reminded me that he’s training for battle. The thought of my brother being deployed scares me. So I tried not to cry as the commander told us recruits were exposed to tear gas and had to learn to carry heavy equipment in water.
My tears of fear quickly turned to tears of pride as the commander announced that we would be witnessing a naturalization ceremony. I was reminded that I should be proud of my brother and all other Marines willing to put their lives on the line to defend us and our country.
Four graduating Marines stood on the stage ready to take the Oath of Allegiance to become U.S. citizens. These young men — two from El Salvador, one from Kenya and one from the Ukraine — reminded me that this country was built by immigrants and continues to thrive because of immigrants.
As the men took the oath, I realized I could not hold back my tears anymore. I couldn’t stop crying.
The young men on that stage chose to defend the United States before becoming citizens here.
Despite their different cultures and backgrounds they all experienced the same training and signed a contract agreeing to serve our country.
They are all now part of a military family, the same family my brother decided to join when he signed his contract with the Marines.
Seeing my brother stand tall in his uniform, I was no longer scared for him. Instead, I was proud of him for enduring the tough training and becoming a marine.
During family day he was told to be a gentleman. I watched my brother open doors for us, hold my purse, pick up trash on the floor and shake hands with other Marines in his platoon.
The graduation ceremony consisted of the soldiers marching in their dress blues and white with black visor hat.
I realized last weekend that my little brother is not so little anymore. As a big sister, I’m always going to worry about him, and I’m always going to want to protect him from dangerous situations. That’s not always possible.
My brother is going have a lot of unique experiences as a marine, and he’s going to have his fellow soldiers to care about him. Those soldiers will come from many walks of life, but I feel better knowing that they have the same goal: to protect each other and our country.