A young recruit steps off the bus to begin his first day of a three month journey. After what should have been a two hour plane ride has turned into a 13 hour adventure, he is tired and anxious. Before he has time to think, a muscular Drill Instructor is in his face, screaming at him to “get his ass in line.”
The next 36 hours are full of more screaming, an abundance of vaccination shots, and a constant desire to sleep. When sleep finally comes, over 48 hours after he left his home, he passes out.
Three hours later, at 0400 (4am), he is awoken by more screaming Drill Instructors. He and his bunkmates throw on their gear as fast as they can, and start training. From 4am to 10pm, everyday for three months, he and his new family are constantly berated and broken down, forcing them to rebuild each other to be stronger.
After three months, they emerge new men. This is the life of every new United States Marine.
When Matt Swan was a 16 year old junior at Steinert High School, he decided that one day he would embark on this journey. “I knew I had to serve,” he says.
When he turned 17, his parents signed the paperwork allowing him to enter into the DEP (delayed entry program) for the Marine Corp. Once he signed his intent papers, he passed the physical and written test, and swore in.
After graduating high school, Swan said goodbye to his family and friends, and stepped onto the plane to begin his journey.
“That’s when it hit me.” Swan says. “Up until me getting on that plane, it all felt fake. When we took off, all at once I realize ‘Hey, you’re starting your life now. This is real.’ It was an unsettling realization.”
After boot camp he was allowed to return home for 20 days, before going to North Carolina followed by California.
“Obviously it was tough,” Swan says. “I didn’t sign up for easy. I knew going into it that I was going to live a hard life. It’s exactly what I expected and I love it.”
In North Carolina, he learned the various survival skills every marine is taught. From surviving in the wilderness alone to shooting high power machine guns, everything was covered.
“I think that was the coolest part of all my training,” Swan said while laughing. “Those big guns are loud as hell. It was impossible not to crack a grin the first time I shot one.”
It wasn’t all “fun” however. “Being in the field for that long was awful,” he added. “We went 28 days without hot water. I had to learn real quick how to shave without water or shaving cream.”
When he arrived in California for his MOS (Military Occupational Specialty) training, he says it was a “night and day” difference.
“We got to sleep in real beds for the first time in a month,” he remembers with a smile. “I got to take a hot shower every day, eat three real meals instead of MREs. It really made me realize how much stuff we all take for granted.”
While he’s away his family and friends have had to make their own adjustments.
“The hardest part (for us) is having him gone for so long at a time.” Swan’s mother, Linda, says. “We knew he was going to be gone a lot, but it’s tough sometimes when he’s gone for a long period.”
Liz Kent, Swan’s girlfriend, feels the same way. “It hurts having him gone all the time,” she says. “Everyday I wake up wishing he was home with me. I couldn’t be more proud of him though. It’s hard for me, but I know it’s what he feels he has to do. That’s how he is. He loves this country so much and feels like it’s his duty to serve it.”
“Swan is one of the best men I know,” one of his best friends, Zack Pappas says. “When he’s home, no matter what I need I know I can call him. More than once I’ve called him to get me out of a tight situation, and, no matter where or what I’ve gotten myself into it, every time he’s came through for me and helped me out. If that’s not the definition of a great man, I don’t know what is.”
Like Kent and Linda, Pappas misses him when he’s gone. “It’s really weird for me. We went from hanging out almost every day to me going without seeing him for months at a time. It sucks, but I know he’s doing the right thing.”
His current trip, however, will be the toughest test yet as he prepares to deploy to Japan.
“Being in a foreign country is a weird experience,” Swan says. “I’ve been on vacation before, but this is completely different. Everyday I wake up and do my job, but I’m in Japan. It’s not an easy thing to get used to.”
Swan is expected to return home in early July, after he completes a ten month deployment.
“It’s gonna be rough, but we couldn’t be more proud of him.” Linda said.