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Old 01-08-2007, 07:34 AM
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Boot camp tests recruits from the Navajo Nation

Boot camp tests recruits from the Navajo Nation



By Steve Schmidt
UNION-TRIBUNE STAFF WRITER
November 24, 2003

Julio Nez thought he had things figured out, but at this moment, with three beastly Marine Corps drill instructors going medieval on him, he's not sure of anything.

One of the instructors – the one with the reddest face – keeps snarling and cussing.

"I can turn my pain meter up alllll daaaaay lonnnnnnnnngg!"

Part II
Mettle of Honor
Boot camp tests recruits from the Navajo Nation
Julio has been at Marine Corps Recruit Depot near downtown San Diego a few days, and right now, crowded in the barracks with hundreds of recruits, the 18-year-old wonders if he made the right decision. He's left his family, friends and girlfriend in northeast Arizona for the longest and toughest boot camp training in the U.S. military, a 13-week test of body and spirit.

What's more, he's volunteered in wartime. Others his age are beginning college or hunting for jobs.

Julio is a Navajo, and to his tribe the Marines are a special calling. The warrior cultures bonded in World War II, when hundreds of Navajos, trained in San Diego, served as Marine code talkers in the bloody victory over Japan.

The same flame of patriotism burns in men such as Julio Nez and Nathaniel Bitsui. Both left the harsh and gorgeous Navajo Nation, America's largest reservation, in June to begin the crucible of Marine training.

Leaving home was tough – and not tough at all. Both men weathered the teary goodbyes, but also ached to move on and start their adult lives.

But will they survive boot camp? After four days in San Diego, the drill instructors are doing their bad-guy shuffle, yelling and screaming and reminding everyone who's in charge, and they better not freakin' forget it because they're nothing but a bunch of nasty recruits!

This is the Marine Corps, not the Peace Corps. Boot camp is supposed to transform the nation's youth – jocks, gangbangers, farm kids – into a brotherhood of Marines worthy of an elite fighting force.

Behind the gates of the recruit depot, a football toss from San Diego Bay, the newcomers will bunk together, shower together, shoot and clean rifles together. Over marathon days, they'll learn to march and endure the roars of their teachers.

"You will give 100 percent of yourselves at all times. You will obey all orders willingly, instantly and WITHOUT QUESTION!" yells Staff Sgt. David Baldock, Julio's senior drill instructor. "Above all else, you will never QUIT, and you will NEVER, EVER GIVE UP!"

Some won't make it to graduation. Some are injured, others attempt or feign to attempt suicide.

Julio and Nate, keepers of a Navajo legacy, begin boot camp with deep doubts. Their ancestors survived the same training and went on to do their people proud.

Julio and Nate pray they will, too.
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