ANN ARBOR, Mich. --
“I thought it was a joke," said Papple, the Staff Noncommissioned Officer in Charge of Recruiting Sub Station, Ann Arbor, Michigan. "When I first saw him I thought he was a Marine, the dude was decked out in Marine Corps apparel and was even rocking a Marine Corps backpack.”
At first, this interaction may not seem very odd. However, considering these two men were meeting for the first time at the Detroit Metro Airport you may reconsider.
“(Sullivan) called me a few days before we met at the airport and asked if I could help him join the Marine Corps before his 29th birthday,” said Papple. It is required for an applicant to start recruit training before they reach the age of 29. “I told him that if he showed me that he deserves a chance I would do everything I could. The next thing I know, I’m getting a phone call from him asking if he can get a ride from the airport; I told him that I wasn’t driving all the way to Sacramento to pick him up. That's when he told me that he just landed in Detroit. He literally bought a plane ticket and flew half way across the country just for the opportunity to become a United States Marine.”
To completely understand the circumstances for this unorthodox meeting, we must start from the beginning. In 2006, Jacob Sullivan first started his enlistment process in Sacramento, California.
“I had the intention of joining the Marine Corps straight out of high school in 2006,” said Sullivan. “During this time the Marines were overseas, and my mother asked me to consider attending college for one year first.”
According to Sullivan, he listened to his mother and started school at American River College in his hometown.
After his first year at the Junior College, Sullivan dropped out of school. Shortly after, he was blessed with the birth of his daughter Kalia Sullivan. In order to support himself and his family, he spent the next three years floating through various jobs trying to find something he had a strong passion for.
"I knew I needed to make something of myself, and my goal was to make it into the NFL," said Sullivan.
In 2010, he joined a non-paid semi-pro team out of his hometown. After his first season with the team, his head coach encouraged him that playing in college was the only way for him to achieve his goal of making it into the NFL. He re-enrolled at American River College, and after making the team in the 2011 season, they went undefeated and won the championship.
According to Sullivan, because of how successful that season was, he started to receive many offers to some reputable colleges across the states.
“In 2012, I started attending Southern Oregon University in Ashland, Oregon. I ended up holding a starting position on the team’s offensive line for two years,” said Sullivan. “Now it was 2014, and I was focusing on training for the NFL combine.”
When Sullivan was prepping for the combine, he knew because of his lack of having an agent to represent him, his only chance would be to walk on for a tryout. He continued to add weight as he needed, to be bigger and stronger to compete with the next level of talent. However, during this training, he continued to get this feeling that there was something still missing in his life.
“This feeling got to the point where it would leave me upset most of the time,” said Sullivan. “When the day of the combine finally arrived, I woke up listening to reports of Marines facing combat overseas. It was at that moment that everything clicked. I knew that my place was over there fighting with those Marines. I told myself that I would do whatever was needed to enlist.”
That day, instead of heading to the combine, he stayed in Oregon and walked into the Marine Corps Recruiting Sub Station in Medford.
“I sat down with one of the recruiters and told him my story,” said Sullivan. “We talked for several hours, and he mapped out everything I would need to do to enlist in the limited time I had left.”
At this point, Sullivan was 27 years old and one year out of college sports.
“I put a lot of muscle on during my training, but also a lot of fat,” he said. “During this time in my life I was the heaviest I’ve ever been, I was walking around at 395 pounds.”
According to Sullivan, at the time he visited Medford, he would need to weigh under 235 pounds to meet the Marine Corps height and weight standards and have his chance to earn the title United States Marine. This would require him to lose 160 pounds within 16 months.
“I had a choice to make, deciding to finish my degree or enlisting,” he said. “Both options would take about the same amount of time, but for the first time I decided to choose my country over myself.”
Sullivan began training weekly at the substation, attending all weekly warrior trainings and pool functions. After nearly a year, he decided to return to his family in California and finish his preparation.
Sullivan decided he wanted to walk into the new Recruiting Sub Station in Sacramento as soon as he was close to reaching the height and weight standards. Unfortunately, he was in for another setback.
"When I met with the recruiters in RSS Sacramento, I was now 28 years old. I didn’t know it beforehand, but I found out that because I was a year older, the height and weight standards changed. I now had to weigh 214 pounds to enlist. This meant I would have to lose a total 181 pounds if I wanted to earn that title.”
According to Sullivan, the routine he practiced was to prepare himself was rigorous.
"At the height of my training, I would wake up early and train for two hours," said Sullivan. "It would consist of 30-40 minutes swimming, 30 minutes of core work, and 20 minutes of high-intensity interval training on any cardio machine. Then I would then go to work. After work, I would train for another two hours focusing strictly on cardio, I would run five miles on a treadmill then switch over to a cycle for 30 minutes."
During the summer time, he explained that he would kick up the intensity and run up to 10 miles with garbage bags underneath his sweats. He also stopped all weight training.
After many months of continuous hard work, Sullivan had lost over 170 pounds. He talked to a recruiter at the Military Entry Processing Station in California, to see if he could receive a ship date to recruit training. However, he was met with some adversity. All of the days to go to training prior to his 29th birthday were taken.
“I was running out of options,” he said. “My last chance was to call a recruiting station in Ann Arbor, which is near where my uncle lives, and see if I could attend recruit training in South Carolina instead of San Diego. That was when I gave Gunnery Sgt. Papple a call.”
According to Papple, after hearing Sullivan’s story and how much effort he put in to reach his goals, he decided he would do everything in his power to give him the chance to earn the title.
Finally, on January 23, 2017, he stepped on the yellow footprints at Parris Island, South Carolina where he would begin recruit training. Upon completion, he walked across the parade deck on April, 21st as a United States Marine.
Since completion of recruit training, Sullivan also completed School of Infantry East earning the military occupational specialty of 0331 Machine Gunner. He is now stationed in Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, California where he serves as a team leader billet for his squad.