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'Boot camp buddies' move on

Worthington High School graduates Jonathan Sickmeyer and Jesus Sanchez, both U.S. Marines, visited the Nobles County Freedom Veterans' Memorial Park Monday after completing boot camp training earlier in August.

WORTHINGTON -- They are the best of the best, proud possessors of the Eagle, Globe and Anchor, topped with the motto "Semper Fidelis" -- the emblem of the U.S. Marine Corps.

Jonathan Sickmeyer and Jesus Sanchez, both 2008 graduates of Worthington High School, joined the ranks of "the few, the proud" to become U.S. Marines, graduating from boot camp Aug. 22.

"I personally wanted to serve this country and repay this country for what it's given me and my family," Sanchez said of his decision to enlist.

The two men were co-workers at Hy-Vee when they realized they both intended to join the Marine Corps after graduating from high school.

They then signed up as "boot camp buddies," a system allowing people to stay together throughout boot camp, allowing them to encourage each other and adjust to their new lives more easily.

Sickmeyer, the son of James and Genie Sickmeyer of Worthington, always wanted to go into the military, and opted for the Marine Corps because it is considered the best of the best and offers the toughest training.

And the training was tough.

"They try to break you in any way they can," Sanchez said.

"To build you back up into Marines," Sickmeyer added.

Physical strength was not enough to get by, either -- boot camp demanded from the prospective Marines a high level of mental resilience and the ability to cope with constant challenges.

"Discipline -- discipline above all," Sanchez said, describing what he learned from his time at boot camp. "It shows you how to keep your bearing. Honor, courage, and commitment."

Marine boot camp is divided into three phases that last a total of 13 weeks. The first week is called "receiving," during which the recruits work on their medical records, bank accounts and wills. Then the work begins.

"The first phase is mentally challenging. They're always screaming at you, seeing how you'll react," Sickmeyer said. "In the second phase there's more responsibility, and if you screw up they'll get on you a little harder."

Sanchez, the son of Marisela Sanchez of Worthington, compared it to the difference between a high school freshman and a high school senior.

Four men in their platoon of 72 did not graduate to become Marines, with health issues holding a few back and another stopped by a failed test, which he will be allowed to attempt again in a different company. One man quit.

Although Sickmeyer, Sanchez and their brother-Marines graduated Aug. 22, they became Marines earlier, after they passed through the Crucible -- a grueling 54-hour test of obstacles, challenges and hikes, which must be completed while carrying a 90- to 95-pound pack.

The Crucible culminated in a charge up "The Reaper," a mile-high hill shaped like a sickle. The men were told that when they reached the top of that hill, they would be considered Marines.

"I never realized how physically, your body could get tired," Sickmeyer said, recalling the long trip up the hill. "You'd see guys passing out left and right. I started seeing little red lights."

Even at the top of the hill, where they received an apple and a Gatorade -- "the best thing in your life," Sickmeyer said -- and became Marines, the trial wasn't over. They still had to go back down, considered the harder of the two trips by many of the new U.S. Marines.

"You've completed the toughest training the U.S. has to offer. It's a great feeling," Sickmeyer recalled. "You almost feel like you could do it again."

Their families and friends are also proud of Sanchez and Sickmeyer.

"My mom personally said she was the proudest on earth. I was first in my family to graduate... it made me a better person. It opened doors," Sanchez said.

After the long months of boot camp, from May 22 to Aug. 22, Sanchez and Sickmeyer will finally be separated in their careers when they report in at Camp Pendleton, Calif., again Tuesday. Sickmeyer will attend infantry training, and Sanchez will go to combat training and learn construction and remodeling.

Neither is sure yet if he wants to become a career Marine or exit the service after the first four years of duty. They expect to be deployed to either Iraq or Afghanistan after they finish the rest of their training.

"They're big on integrity," Sickmeyer said.

"On doing the right thing, even when no one is looking," Sanchez agreed. "We try to set an example and just be the best."

Sickmeyer advised anyone interested in joining the Marines to listen carefully to what instructors say and listen and obey them.

"If you don't have a path, the Marine Corps is the best place to go to show you a path," Sanchez agreed. "I'm proud to be called a Marine, a devil dog."