Paul Collins and Devon Enochs reached a significant milestone in their lives earlier this month — they went up a mountain as recruits and came down as U.S. Marines.
“The Reaper is the last challenge (of boot camp),” Enochs said of the 700-foot mountain near Camp Pendleton in Southern California.
“It’s the defining moment of becoming a Marine,” Collins said.
Collins and Enoch, who graduated from Moffat County High School in May, returned home this week after completing 13 weeks in boot camp at Camp Pendleton and the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego.
Collins and Enoch went through boot camp from June 21 to Sept. 17.
During that time, the two friends were in the same platoon.
The 13 weeks of training culminated in a 54-hour team exercise called “The Crucible,” the final component of which was a pre-dawn march up “The Reaper.”
“It’s a nine-mile hike (round trip),” Collins said. “You hike four miles to the mountain, then it’s a mile straight up.
“Once you hit the top of that mountain, you’re just so overwhelmed you almost break down.”
However, Collins said he didn’t break down, which he attributes to the discipline he’d learned in previous weeks.
Boot camp is divided into six components: Receiving, phases 1, 2 and 3, “The Crucible,” and Marine week, Collins and Enochs said.
Receiving, which lasts a week, is mostly for administrative matters, including immunizations and paperwork.
However, Collins said the receiving period is also about shaking up new recruits, a process that begins with putting newcomers in what he described as less than desirable recruit housing.
“When you get there, they put you in receiving barracks,” he said. “They’re really nasty and dirty. You think, ‘Oh my God, what did I get myself into? I’m going to be living like this for 13 weeks?’”
“The toilets were overflowed,” Enochs said. “There was water, trash (and) feces everywhere. … They do it on purpose.”
At the end of receiving week, the recruits were moved into cleaner housing and were introduced to their drill instructors.
Collins said the drill instructors entered the barracks and swore an oath to turn the recruits into the best Marines possible. After the oath, the room turned to “chaos.”
Collins said drill sergeants tore through the room, throwing the recruits’ gear all over the barracks, and then ordering them to find it.
The introduction to their new way of life took three hours.
Thus began training.
Phase 1 included physical training, drilling and marching with rifle movements. Phase 2 included marksmanship and field exercises. Phase 3 put all the pieces together and allowed platoons throughout the company to compete against each other.
Collins said each phase began with the drill sergeants “smashing” the recruits down. This, however, happened with a purpose.
“They make sure to make you feel like the lowest possible person you can,” he said. “And they start building you up again.”
“It’s a mind game. That’s all it is. You go (to boot camp) knowing it’s a mind game, but you can’t help but fall into it. You fall into it and that’s how they train you.”
At the end of phase 3, “The Crucible” begins.
For 54 hours, with little sleep or food to sustain them, the recruits performed intense drills and grueling hikes.
“We hiked about 50 miles over the 54 hours,” Collins said.
After ascending “The Reaper,” the recruits headed down the mountain for a brief ceremony, where they were each presented with the official Marine Corp emblem — the eagle, globe and anchor.
And, for the first time, Pvt. Enochs and Pfc. Collins said, their drill sergeants treated them as fellow Marines.
Enochs’s great-grandfather, Arthur Buls, also served in the U.S. Marine Corps. Buls said he’s proud of his great-grandson.
“As (Enochs) was growing up, we talked a little bit about the military, and he was quite impressed with the Marine Corps,” Buls said. “So, he decided it was his thing to do, and he went through it with flying colors.”
Buls, who fought in the Pacific in World War II and now lives in Las Cruces, N.M., said he’s not concerned that Enochs chose the military.
“No, not a bit,” he said. “This was his choice, and I think it was a good one. It’s something all high school boys should go through.”
Enochs’s mother, Krista Wildermuth, said she’s noticed a big difference in her son and Collins since they returned from boot camp.
“It’s been a huge life change for both of them boys,” Wildermuth said. “They left as kids and came back as men.”
Collins’ parents, Eric and Jenny Knez, are hosting a party for the two Marines at 5 p.m. today at 74 North Linda Vista Drive in west Craig.
“Everybody’s welcome,” Jenny said.
Jenny said she has mixed feelings about her son’s decision to join the Marines.
“It’s a little scary as a mother to think that your son or daughter might be deployed to a war area,” she said. “But, I’m also very proud.”
Collins and Enochs have been told that they will be deployed to Afghanistan sometime in the next six to eight months. Both men said they stand behind the war effort.
“I’m excited to do my part over there, if I can,” Collins said. “I support it 100 percent.”