Ben Bramblett had spent the whole day enduring pain. The recent North Forsyth High School graduate was in the midst of training at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot on Parris Island, S.C., and his platoon of about 60 recruits was being tested with near-constant physical challenges. Every hour brought on more burpees, more sandpit work, more screaming from drill instructors.
The finale came in the squad bay, where the recruits lived, with his feet on his footlocker while holding a push-up position that seemed interminable.
“It was probably like 15 minutes,” Bramblett said, “but it felt like forever.”
In the midst of that crucible, Bramblett’s mind searched for something positive to latch on to, and so he thought of how all the training might benefit him in the long term.
“I remember thinking, if we do this now, if we soak in the training and get the discipline now, we’re going to be even better Marines than all the other recruits that aren’t necessarily having this struggle that we’re having,” Bramblett said.
Bramblett eventually proved himself right. The 18-year-old was recently selected as the company honor graduate out of almost 400 recruits, even receiving a promotion to lance corporal, the first to do so at Parris Island in over a year.
“To be the company honor graduate, and to have that title and to be Marine lance corporal, it’s humbling more than anything,” Bramblett said.
Bramblett was inspired to go into military service by his parents, but particularly his mom. Bramblett says she suffers from several autoimmune diseases and has been on chemotherapy for almost 13 years.
“She told me ‘do something with your life that you’re never going to regret,’” Bramblett said.
That seemed like mission work at first. During high school, Bramblett went on several trips to countries in Central America through church groups in Forsyth County. He enjoyed waking up early and knowing that he was going to help someone in need.
Bramblett eventually felt that the mission field wasn’t for him, but he recognized the work gave him a mindset and skills well-suited for the military. Besides, he took four years of JROTC at North.
“That seemed like the most logical decision,” Bramblett said, “morally, financially, ethically – everything.”
Bramblett was eager to get started. His initial ship date to Parris Island was late August, but Bramblett wanted to make the most of his summer. A spot came open before North’s graduation, so he worked with his high school counselors to get the paperwork necessary to officially graduate early. Off he went on a bus in the early morning hours for 13 weeks of recruit training.
The first week taught Bramblett how to act and look like a Marine. He learned the courtesies and history of the Corps. He shaved his head. He lived in the camouflage utility uniform.
“It’s meant to break you down,” Bramblett said. “Kind of take away your individuality as a citizen.”
The remainder of his training taught Bramblett how to be a Marine. The 400 recruits were divided into five platoons, and they learned hand-to-hand combat, water survival skills, marksmanship and navigation.
At the end, each platoon selected an honor graduate based on a physical fitness score, marksmanship score, knowledge and leadership ability. The five platoon honor graduates then advanced to a Board where they were competed for the company honor graduate by the same criteria as well as an interview.
In his interview, Bramblett remembers being asked what set him apart, what distinguished him from the 400 recruits.
He thought of his parents.
“Everything I did in training, I gave 110 percent like my parents have taught me to do,” Bramblett said.
Marine combat training is next. Bramblett leaves Monday for the School of Infantry East at Camp Geiger in North Carolina. After a month there, he’ll go to Pensacola, Fla., for training in the aviation field. He wants to work with aviation ordinance.
But Bramblett will always remember his 13 weeks at Parris Island.
“The bond that you make through getting put into a stressful environment and then taken away so rapidly … I mean, I’ll never forget those guys,” Bramblett said.