Times' photojournalist gets unprecedented access to Marine boot camp

By Donovan Quintero and Candace Begody
Navajo Times

SAN DIEGO, Calif., June 6, 2013

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F or five grueling days, high school educators learned what it takes to be a Marine.

Last week, from May 27 to 31, the United States Marine Corps opened its doors to 40 teachers, vice principals, principals and coaches giving them unprecedented access on how they make Marines as part of the Educators Workshop.

Members of the media from throughout New Mexico and west Texas were also invited to document this annual event called the Educators Workshop, in which educators volunteer to undergo a mini-Marine boot camp with the intent of teaching their students about this military branch.

For the group that this photojournalist followed, educators were required to put aside their civilian way of life when they were introduced to their drill instructor.

No longer were they allowed to carry themselves however they chose. Instead, all they knew from that point on was, "Yes, sir!" "No, sir!'

Training for the educators was somewhat similar to that of the Marine recruits.

They learned how to shoot the same type of weapons the recruits train with – the M16A4.

They also shared the same type of food with the enlisted and they were free to ask the recruits about how life was for them in the military.

This photojournalist was fortunate enough to run into eight total Navajos, but was only allowed to speak to three.

For one soon-to-be Marine, as long as there is a support system in place, it comes easier.

"It's really hard here but if you put your heart and mind to it and you have support from your family and friends, anything is possible," said O'Bryan Benally, 19, from Cortez, Colo., who is scheduled to complete his training on June 14.

Jeremy Jackson from Sanders, Ariz., also reiterated what Benally stated about the toughness of becoming a Marine.

"So far it's been tough. Basic training is really tough mentally, not so (much) physically," said Jackson, who is also scheduled to graduate from boot camp on June 14.

The Marine Corps Recruit Depot is also the home for Staff Sgt. Ronaldo Jumbo, Senior Drill Instructor originally from Whippoorwill, Ariz., whose job for nearly three years has been to train young men to become Marines.

According to Jumbo, he is one of two senior drill instructors who are Navajo throughout the country.

"I started this tour back in November of 2010 working an average of 90 to 120 hours a week training Marine recruits," said Jumbo. "I've always wanted to become a drill instructor, ever since I went through boot camp back in February to May of 2002.

"I wanted to do the same thing my drill instructors were teaching us – the wisdom, the courage that goes along with making a recruit a Marine. It's been a good tour."

The two-time Purple Heart recipient, who was featured in the Navajo Times in August 2012 and is the older brother of Chinle standout runner Rolonda Jumbo, said he will be "taking off his campaign cover" this November, which means his tour of duty as a drill instructor will end.

A campaign cover is a distinct forest green, four-dent hat that only Marine drill instructors don. Drill instructors can serve for only three years before returning back to their previous military jobs.

He will then start his new tour of duty at Camp Pendleton, north of San Diego.

On the last day, educators watched boot camp graduates march for the final time, after three grueling months, with their drill instructors before reuniting with their loved ones.

Two local high school teachers participated in the Educator's Workshop including Gallup High's basketball coach Domonic Romero and football coach Cyle Balok.

Of his experience, Romero said, "I didn't know too much about it but it was the best workshop I've ever been to. I've always had respect for our armed forces, but now I have a greater understanding of what they go through and it humbles you to see young men from all over America working hard."

Romero agreed that it's more challenging mentally.

"It's not like you're just lifting, but they push you get up early, you have 12- hour days and it exhausts you mentally."

The long-time Gallup basketball coach said he hopes to instill the type of discipline he experienced at the workshop into his athletes.

"Being a coach, I'd love to bring back that type of discipline to my team. This generation needs more of that discipline – there's no reason why they could not…"

Overall, Romero said witnessing first-hand what it takes to become a Marine "gives you a perspective that, they really do work hard. I truly know how hard these kids work to be a Marine."

For more information on how to attend an Educators Workshop, contact your local Marine recruiter to start the application process.

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