2 Moffat County graduates are now Marines
December 30, 2016
Craig — In three short months two 2016 Moffat County graduates changed from boys to men and are now in the Marines.
Tracer Hickman and Chase Wagoner enlisted in February, after graduating from high school in May. They shipped off to Marine Recruit Basic Training — or boot camp — in San Diego, California on Sept. 19 and graduated on Dec. 16.
"The hardest thing you could ever do in your life is to join the Marine Corp," Hickman said.
Training challenges the physical, mental and emotional strength of each recruit.
"He went from teenager to an adult in 13 weeks," said Chase Wagoner's father, Doug Wagoner. "He stands taller. Talks firmer. He's turned into a man."
During the 90-day program "we learned military ethics, basic rifleman skills, history, mental and physical preparation for combat and confidence building," Hickman said.
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Growing up with an outdoor lifestyle helped the pair.
"We did a lot of physical stuff — hiking, hunting, looking for horns — so that helped," said Chase Wagoner.
Letters from home, from school children and veterans helped the two overcome the mental and emotional challenges.
"During boot camp there were a lot of people in the community that wrote to them and without everyone's letter it would have been super hard on them," said Chase Wagoner's mother Erin Forquer. "It was great to have everyone in the community support them."
Not everyone makes it through boot camp.
"There are a lot who get held back because they can't complete a mission, and Tracer made it his very first time," said Hickman's proud father Christopher Pierce.
Chase Wagoner, who was in the same company but a different platoon, excelled in training.
"Chase graduated college two weeks before high school so he was able to graduate as private first class, a rank above other kids in his platoon. He's also a shot expert," Doug Wagoner said.
According to Hickman, about 600 men and women started training at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego, but only about 530 graduated.
"You’re not able to get comfortable at all. That's when mistakes are made, so they prepare you to not be comfortable in any situation," Hickman said.
Hickman is upholding a family tradition of military service.
"His great grandfather, Vernon Pierce, was in the Air Force. His grandfather, Michael Pierce, was in the Navy, and I was in the Army," Pierce said.
"When your child decides to go into the armed forces it's bitter sweet. It's scary as hell, but it's the most noble thing you could do to put yourself in harms way to protect everyone's way of life," Doug Wagoner said.
Family members were able to travel to California to attend graduation and family day.
"It was amazing. I never knew anything about the military. They invite you in and teach you a lot and make you comfortable," said Hickman's mother Stephanie Hickman
She attended the ceremony with her daughters (Tracer Hickman's sisters) Tatam Hickman and Tahoe Chenoweth.
"They have both said that they want to go into the military," Stephanie Hickman said.
The new Marines are helping recruiters until Jan. 17 when they travel to Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton for 30 days of combat training.
Then they join the Marine Corps Detachment at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri for 60-day training at the Motor Transport Instruction School before they are assigned to their first duty stations.
"They could end up just about anywhere," Doug Wagoner said. “He's finally excited about his future and that makes me excited about it."
Wherever their futures take them one thing is certain — once a Marine, always a Marine.
"Becoming a Marine is not a last minute choice, it's a life choice," Hickman said. "Once you go through the process, it's etched into your soul."