Michael Watkins stepped to the pull-up bar with the same wide-eyed look as all the other recruits. It was a moment where his brain and his body were preparing to battle each other.
After grabbing the grimy grip-tape covered bar, Watkins looked comfortable pulling himself up. But after 19 times, his expression quickly changed. After 21 reps, his brain was still demanding his body to do one more, but his body refused.
Watkins made a final attempt, his neck and face straining, but to no avail. He let go of the bar gently and walked over to other finished recruits standing off to the side. The next recruit in line stepped up, looked at the bar with the same wide-eyed expression, and repeated the task.
“We’re sending them a lot stronger these days,” said Staff Sergeant David Valentin, the staff non-commissioned officer in charge.
Valentin is the head of the Naples Marine recruiting station, a small office tucked between a Sweetbay supermarket and a State Farm Insurance office in a strip mall off the corner of Collier Boulevard and Vanderbilt Beach Road.
Every Monday, Tuesday and Thursday, a group of recruits meet behind the Marine office and do conditioning and strength exercises as Valentin watches. These teenagers are in the Delayed Entry Program, or DEP.
Summertime is when most of these recruits ship off to Parris Island for boot camp.
Today, seven recruits in Naples leave for Miami, where they are processed at the South Florida Marine headquarters, and then board a bus with others from all over South Florida to head to South Carolina for nine strenuous weeks of training.
Recruiters, like Valentin, say they use the time before these young adults head out to strengthen them physically, as well as mentally. Their standards for passing the Marine Corps Initial Strength Test in order to be sent to boot camp are sometimes double what is required to enter training at Parris Island.
Spencer Richardson, 19, a graduate of Naples High School, has seen the effects of coming to training. Richardson, who is one of the seven leaving August 1, said when he first signed up, he could only do 8 pull-ups. He now regularly does 18. “This program prepared me as much as I needed to be.”
Richardson also said he feels a little nervous leaving for boot camp, but noted that he knows that’s to be expected. “I second guessed the decision like anyone would signing over four years of their life.”
But Richardson said he had a heart to heart with the other recruiters and now looks forward to graduating boot camp.
“If I can do that, I can do anything,” he said.
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Connect with Greg Kahn at www.naplesnews.com/staff/greg-kahn/