“That’s one thing I can say about the Marine Corps, they don’t mess around.”
Zach Hansen, 18, about his time at boot camp in California.
Recalling a pool of sweat in front of his face while his arms rhythmically pumped up and down doing endless pushups, Zach Hansen calls boot camp the most fun he’d never like to have again.
The 18-year-old 2012 Moffat County High School graduate recently returned home for a ten-day leave after completing boot camp at San Diego's Camp Pendleton in California.
Enlisting before graduating high school, there was never a doubt in Hansen’s mind he’d be joining the marines.
“I’ve always wanted to be a marine," Hansen said. "My dad was a marine. My grandpa was a marine. The marines are just the very best in the world honestly."
More than a job, Hansen recognizes being a marine is a way of life. Having lived it while it growing up, Hansen has had no problem adjusting.
“You’re not just a marine when you’re in uniform,” Hansen said. “You’re a marine 24/7, so you have to uphold the values of the Marine Corps.”
Those three core values are honor, courage and commitment.
“It’s not just three words, it’s a lifestyle,” Hansen said. “You live your life with honor, you’re courageous, and you’re committed to the Marine Corps, God and your country.”
After his father passed away in 2007 Hansen said he had to step up and get a job when he was just 13 years old.
Finding work sweeping and helping out around the shop at Northwest Diesel, Hansen said learning to earn his keep at a young age already has helped him in the Marine Corps.
“You can tell the kids that were babied because they’re the first ones to give up,” Hansen said. “You can tell the kids who worked their whole lives and earned everything they have.”
Part of that lifestyle requires keeping your nose clean.
“You have to stay out of trouble,” Hansen said. “You can’t even get speeding tickets or anything to join up.”
Hansen said the recruiting process was probably worse than boot camp because of all the hoops he had to jump through.
With admission standards becoming even stricter in recent years, Hansen even had to get a waiver for the tattoo on his forearm.
Hansen said he expected boot camp to be challenging and to get yelled at, but he wasn’t able to fully understand until he experienced it. He spent 13 weeks in boot camp and learned plenty during that time.
“You do a lot of running,” Hansen said. “A lot of running.”
Hansen said he also learned the Marine Corps’s martial art program, basic rifle techniques and land navigation.
Having grown up shooting with his dad, that element of boot camp was the easiest part for Hansen.
Being cut off from contact with friends and family was the hardest thing for Hansen.
“You’re stuck with writing letters and it seemed like forever before you got to hear from someone,” Hansen said. “There’s not cell phones or electronics in boot camp. You just get paper, a pen and envelopes.”
Challenged physically, mentally and emotionally, Hansen said he felt everything related back to the mental challenges.
“Nothing is a physical challenge in a sense,” Hansen said. “They’ll challenge you physically until your body wants to quit and your mind has to be stronger than your body to tell your body to keep going.”
Not to say those push-ups weren’t difficult.
“That’s one thing I can say about the Marine Corps, they don’t mess around,” Hansen said.
Hansen signed an eight-year contract, five years active and three years reserve, with a military occupation specialty as a fixed wing aircraft airframe mechanic.
Hansen said MOS’s are determined by SAT, ACT and the military ASVAB test scores. Recruits then list three choices and an MOS is assigned based on the need of the corps.
Although not sure if he’d like to turn the Marines into a career, Hansen said if after five years he doesn’t like what he’s doing he’ll either reenlist with a new MOS or get out and go back to school.
Hansen said he thinks those five years of active duty will fly by.
“High school was four years and it seems like it’s taking forever going through it then you graduate and you’re like damn, that went really fast,” Hansen said. “That’s how boot camp was too.”
While he’s home Hansen said he’s mostly trying to spend time with family and friends and get things done around the house for his mom.
Although she's proud of him, Hansen said his mom doesn’t like that he has to be far from home.
When he’s finished with his ten-day leave, Hansen travels back to Pendleton for Marine Combat Training, then to Pensacola, Fla., for aviation training.
His ideal deployment?
“Anywhere other than America,” Hansen said. “I just want to go see the world, but I’m going to go where the Marine Corps needs me to go.”
Darian Warden can be reached at 875-1793 or firstname.lastname@example.org