New Marine gave up home, lived in truck for choosing to serve
By Lance Cpl. Dorian Gardner
| | April 07, 2006
MARINE CORPS RECRUIT DEPOT SAN DIEGO --
Sometimes he went to the recreation center nearby to take showers, but if he didn’t get off work in time, it was bath time in a local river.
Pvt. Bryan A. Smith, Platoon 3075, knew the military would play a role in his life but he never expected it would leave him in the back of a pick-up with his cousin. Arguments at home about his decision eventually led to his mother telling him to leave the nest.
At age 15, it became clear to him the Marine Corps was the only service that fit his wants and needs.
“I was never really interested in flying, so the Air Force was out, and the Navy … I didn’t want to be on a ship the whole time,” said Smith.
“I guess it was when I first heard ‘The few and the proud,’ instead of the Army’s ‘Be all you can be,’” said Smith.
Before he made it to San Diego, Smith had to survive hardships in Colorado.
Though his parents divorced before he could remember, Smith lived with his mother and saw his father once a month.
During his senior year at Basalt High School, Smith and his mother moved into a house where they house-sat for another family. During that time, Smith studied architecture while managing the house.
He performed tedious tasks like hanging Christmas lights on roof drains. He also maintained the back yard and organized all exterior work done on the property.
His teacher noticed his potential in a home design Smith created for his class and was astonished with his abilities. This design afforded Smith a scholarship in architecture to Roger Williams University.
“I was debating going to college and making (my mother) happy, or joining the Marines, which I’ve been wanting to do for so long,” said Smith.
Because Smith’s brother is a Marine, he knew what to expect during training.
Soon after his decision to join the military, Smith received his diploma and left the house at age 18.
He moved in with his cousin until he left for boot camp. The two lived in the back of his cousin’s pick-up truck for months. Because the pick-up was their home, Smith had to bag up his clothes and leave them in the back of the truck while he was at work.
“It was a small, beat up 94’ Ranger,” said Smith. “We had to take all my stuff out of the back and put it underneath the truck. There weren’t any pillows; just barely enough room for us to sleep side-by-side in two sleeping bags.”
For six months, they slept outdoors. Eventually they made their way from a truck to a camper; Smith said it wasn’t very warm but it kept their things dry, for the most part.
In January, Smith boarded a plane for San Diego. Worries about training never crossed his mind.
He said making the decision to go to boot camp wasn’t hard. More than his need for acceptance in the Marine Corps, he waited for his family to accept him. Through correspondence with them, he began to get issues resolved.
“I just wanted my family to be proud of me,” said Smith. “Now that I have talked to them through letters, I know they don’t think any less of me. When I got here, I think (my mother) really started to appreciate what I was going through.”
During the first phase of training, recruits are introduced to the Marine Corps lifestyle. Drill instructors concentrate on breaking old habits so that recruits may succeed in training.
“He was quiet,” said Sgt. Joe Saltas, drill instructor, Platoon 3075. “He blends in more than he stands out. As far as physical training goes, he never had a problem.”
With more than 50 other recruits to monitor, Smith maintained his spot in the crowd by following orders and moving fast.
“I was nervous, but the hardest thing was how it seemed that time was dragging,” said Smith.
Not knowing whether his family supported him was on his mind, but Smith didn’t have much time to ponder on the events going on at home.
He enlisted to become an infantryman. Recruit field training taught him many infantry basics, which gave him a look at the life he wanted to live.
During the second phase of training, recruits are taught how to fire the M-16 A2 service rifle. Smith qualified as a rifle expert.
Before recruits returned to the depot for third phase, they concluded field training along with the Crucible. Smith’s senior drill instructor noticed his enthusiasm during this demanding evolution.
“He was one of the kids who came here and wanted to be here, so he picked up what we were teaching him” said Sgt. Jesse Saltzman, senior drill instructor, Platoon 3075. “I noticed he was very effective when he took control of his squad and led them through the obstacle.”
With the Crucible and field training behind him, Smith was encouraged he had gotten so far and believed he would succeed in the field of infantry.
“I knew I could do it and be good at it,” said Smith.
Upon his return to the depot, Smith had to confront the only thing that rattled him about training: the swimming pool.
“Coming back, I was worried about swim (qualification),” said Smith. “My brother was one of the top swimmers in his company, and I didn’t want to go home and have him make fun of me.”
By the end of swim qualification, Smith wasn’t worried about ridicule. He qualified at Combat Water Survival level two, which is the highest level for recruits to qualify at.
Sending new, well-trained Marines into the fleet is important to every drill instructor aboard the depot.
“When put in a position to lead, I have full confidence that he is able to do so,” said Saltzman. “He won’t have a problem adjusting to the fleet and completing his missions.”
Once escaping the restraints of living in a pick-up truck, Smith earned the respect of self and family members by completing what he set out to do – become a Marine.