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Mentorship plays a role in building Marine Corps fighting force

Recruits from Mike Company, 3rd Recruit Training Battalion, bring their seabags on line before emptying them for an initial gear inspection at Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego, Aug. 18, 2017. (U.S. Department of Defense/Released)

When a Marine Corps recruiter sees a new Marine he brought into the fold graduate from Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, he sees more than a comrade and an addition to the fighting force.

He sees one of the hundreds of teenagers he has mentored and helped mold into “the right stuff.”

One such recruiter is Staff Sgt. Matthew Burcham, who has had a hand in getting a few southwest Georgia natives to join the ranks of the Corps. The son of a Navy veteran, Burcham initially went to the University of North Florida and at first leaned toward following in his father’s footsteps before joining the Marine Corps.

Earlier this month, at least one recruit of his graduated from Parris Island. He met with the recruit often after school prior to the recruit’s training, as he saw the potential of a quality Marine in him.

From there, Burcham was able to see the transformation witnessed in every new Marine.

“He went from not being completely physically fit, and not very motivated, to taking a complete 180,” the staff sergeant said. “You couldn’t tell it was the same person when (the training was) done with him.

“They go from not being productive members of society to being pillars of society.”

If recruiters act as if there is a little piece of themselves in every person they bring into the fold, it is because that is indeed the case.

“We have a personal interest in them becoming Marines because they are a reflection of us,” Burcham said.

Many recruiting offices have boards labeled “Marine” and “Poolee” with pictures of recruits on them. Pictures are moved to the “Marine” board or taken off depending on whether they make it to basic training graduation.

Recruiters sometimes find themselves as mediators between potential recruits and their family members. There may not be a meeting of the minds regarding a young person’s future, or the potential recruit may either have a discipline problem or a rough relationship with his or her parents.

It is expected that a potential recruit demonstrate that he or she can respect authority. When they do not, teachers and guidance counselors will often call the recruiters to step in.

“When I have visited teachers, I have given them my card,” Burcham said. “If a recruit is not representing the Marine Corps well, and he does not represent himself well, he is not the person we are looking for.”

A lot is expected of people who step onto the yellow footprints at Parris Island, so it is hard to sell some people — recruits as well as families.

“Sometimes that scares people off,” Burcham said. “This is not just a numbers thing for us. We are looking for quality applicants.”

Recruiters do not receive commission, so putting time and energy into a recruit is done out of passion. They find them by establishing a presence at schools, where they may even talk to a class or set up tables in the cafeteria, or “area canvassing” — which is when members of the public see a Marine in uniform and start asking questions on how to earn the title themselves.

When someone expresses interest, there are factors that need to be taken into consideration such as physical and mental health, educational requirements, Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery scores, history of interactions with law enforcement, fitness requirements and the location and content of tattoos.


© 2019 The Albany Herald, Ga.

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.