Marines hefty load unshouldered
By Lance Cpl. Dorian Gardner
| | October 14, 2005
MARINE CORPS RECRUIT DEPOT SAN DIEGO, Calif. --
Throughout his whole life, he was always the slow, fat, out-of-shape kid in his class. Determined to be a Marine, and after a recruiter told the hefty applicant that only his chances were slim, Pfc. Braden Wiley would change.
"You only get one shot at life," said Wiley, Platoon 3117, Company K. "Nobody wants to live it like a fat slob."
At age 12, his parents divorced, and Wiley spent the rest of his teenage years living with his mother and siblings in Dodge City, Kan.
He always dreamed of serving his country, and that dream became clearer once his parents divorced, according to Wiley.
"It's been a dream ever since I was a little kid, but I was too fat to go," said Wiley. "I noticed the integrity and discipline required to become (a service member) and I admired those qualities."
Near his 20th birthday, Wiley visited a recruiter in Dodge City.
"I weighed 300 pounds when I walked into the office," he said.
Wiley's obesity didn't suggest a promising future in the Marine Corps.
"They wouldn't talk to me at first," said Wiley. "They said there was no way I could go to (boot camp)."
Wiley said the rejection devastated him, and he gained more weight.
However, it all reversed.
"One night it clicked," he said. "I got on the floor and did some push-ups and sit-ups. I made an oath to myself that I would make it through to the Marine Corps."
The 5-foot, 11-inch Wiley needed to weigh no more than 186 pounds to join.
"I went back to the recruiter's office and looked over the height and weight standards. I got my head right," said Wiley.
After that, the motivation to join the Corps didn't stop flowing. He told himself: "Lose weight. Become a Marine. Run faster. More push-ups."
He said he had never been able to keep up with the other guys, and he wanted that to change.
When Wiley's mother bought herself a treadmill, Wiley made sure to visit her every day after work and exercise on it. When he started his treadmill exercises, he couldn't run or even jog, so he started with fast walks.
"I made a goal to make it hurt as much as possible each night," said Wiley. It wasn't long before he stepped it up. Wiley went from barely being able to walk to running two miles a night.
"I knew if I didn't make it hurt, it wouldn't do any good, so I made it hurt as much as possible," said Wiley.
He eventually made it back to the recruiter's office, almost one person lighter.
The motivation continued to flourish.
"We helped him get where he needed to be," said recruiter Sgt. Forest Bernard. "We run a pretty rigorous program."
As time went on, Wiley and the recruiters became more involved. Not long after, Wiley was the one helping the recruiters. He would call the other poolees for weekly functions and make sure they were all training, according to Bernard.
The recruiters saw his motivation to train, and he was promoted to poolee guide. "His attitude went from hanging around and being a supporter to stepping up and becoming the leader," said Bernard.
"He was pretty much a lead-by-example type of guy," said Bernard. "Everything he asked them to do, he would do with them."
Three years after being told the Marine Corps was not an option for his future, Wiley was leaving for recruit training.
"I hated receiving," said Wiley. "(but) I knew every Marine before me had done it. It's a rite of passage."
Wiley started boot camp at 208 pounds and currently weighs 195 pounds after 13 weeks of training. He keeps with him a picture of his heavier self for inspiration.
"I don't want to say I dwell on it; it is more of a reminder," said Wiley. "It keeps me grounded, letting me know what I can accomplish. It keeps me working."
While the picture has been a driving force for Wiley's daily boot camp routine, he said it serves other purposes: "I guess, more or less, maybe more now, it inspires other people. It may not matter to some, but my story has motivated a couple other people. If it can help them, then it's all the better."
Certain aspects of boot camp were different than he expected. "I pictured boot camp as being 100 percent Full Metal Jacket," said Wiley, referring to the Stanley Kubrick movie. "The teamwork was hard. The effort needed to get a platoon to accomplish one common goal - it's so stinking hard. Coming in, I thought we would be able to get anything done; I didn't realize it would be such a struggle."
In the final phase of recruit training, Wiley and recruits ran a final physical fitness test with a three-mile run for time, pull-ups, and crunches. Running faster than half of Company K, Wiley crossed the line at 20:40. He also did 10 pull-ups and 136 crunches. He started training with a 22-minute run, 3 pull-ups and 65 crunches.
"Boot camp is what you make of it," said Wiley. "If you want to slime through, then you do. I don't want to look back and say I didn't give 100 percent. I want to be proud and say I gave everything I had while I was here - that I earned the title Marine."