For many high school students, it can be a challenge to figure out their goals after graduation. But for best friends Xander H. and Tryston H. joining the United States Marine Corps felt like a good fit and has become the perfect way to expand their horizons after high school.
The Marines work closely with U.S. Naval forces at sea and serve on U.S. Navy ships to protect naval bases, guard U.S. embassies and perform other services. A part of the Navy, it’s a smaller branch of the military—only the Coast Guard has fewer members.
“It sounded like a cool life experience that I wanted to be a part of,” Xander says. “I like how it’s an elite corps and a band of brothers. I always played on sports teams so this aspect really attracted me.”
Tryston was slated to play football in college, but decided to join the Marines instead. “I wanted to experience the world in a different way,” he says.
After graduating Armstrong High School in 2017, they spent the summer relaxing and staying fit to prepare for the 13-week boot camp—the longest in the military. Tryston decided to join the Marines first, and Xander jokes that he joined too, because he couldn’t have Tryston “holding it over him” that he went to a more difficult boot camp.
Getting Through Boot Camp
While they could have requested to go to boot camp together, they opted to go separately. Xander left in October and Tryston followed in November for the Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton in San Diego.
“Our recruiters gave us different dates and we decided to go with it,” Xander says. The timing was also different based on the specialties they wanted to go into. “I did wish that I went with him at times, but we may have not met as many people and may have leaned on each other too much,” Tryston says.
The only easy part of boot camp may be the packing — they boarded the plane only with a little cash, social security card and ID. Cell phones were left behind since outside contact was limited to letters during training.
While being without a phone would seem tough, the boot camp kept them so busy that the day-to-day mental and physical challenges became their main focus. Both said the majority of the members of their platoons completed the training.
Xander started with about 100 recruits in his platoon and 73 completed the boot camp, and there were 449 total in the entire Bravo company. “You get to know the guys really well since you’re going through the same thing,” he says.
“The first month was the worst. Everything is a countdown including the time you shower, brush your teeth and eat ... and there’s no privacy on top of this,” Tryston says. “They’re breaking you down to build you back up. The only way I wanted to go home is graduating boot camp.”
“You have to be tight in everything that you do,” says Xander, recalling details like their covers and hats having to be starched and straight. They were cleanly shaven the entire time.
A highly regimented day generally started with an early wake up time, and workouts, class and training in specific skills were held throught the day. They only had one hour of their own, or “square away” time.
The two were pleasantly surprised when they were able to spend some time together over Christmas. They shared boot camp stories and talked about what they missed about home, Xander says.
Becoming a Military Family
Kiersten, Xander’s mom, and Carissa, Tryston’s mom, say they found their experience to be vastly different from friends who had kids attending college in the fall. It was an emotional time to have their children away with limited contact.
“It was a big shock,” says Kiersten, to receive a phone call from Xander where he could only say he had arrived safely at boot camp. “I couldn’t check in on him and he couldn’t call me if he was homesick.” After boot camp, the Marines are able to communicate more frequently with family and friends.
During boot camp, the families could write letters and the new Marines had limited time to write back. Receiving letters became a big deal for both sides. During the entire boot camp, there were only two phone calls to home, one of which was the first initial call.
“We had him gone over the holidays, which made it different,” says Carissa. The family had a calendar countdown, and Carissa says she and her husband Tim would discuss what Tryston would be doing with his two younger siblings.
“It’s a lot of unknown. We lean on each other, but it’s actually a more controlled environment,” Carissa says about Tryston being in the military versus college.
“He does have a brotherhood as well. Everyone in the platoon is looking out for each other. It puts me at ease more,” says Tim.
“You’re just so proud he’s doing this on his own,” Carissa says.
Carissa and Tim point out there are some assumptions people tend to make, one being that someone who went into the military couldn’t get into college. “This isn’t a last resort thing to do. These are mature and well-respected kids. It’s not like ‘I have nothing else to do so I will be in the military.’ They chose to make the decision,” Tim says.
“It’s a great career. We knew it was the right thing for him and so we just go with the flow,” Kiersten says.
After graduating from boot camp where families could attend the ceremony, Xander and Tryston had nine days to fill up on home-cooked meals and hometown favorites. Then it was off to a one month program to learn basic rifleman skills for combat and additional training for various specialties before being stationed. There are Marine Corps. Bases across the world in places such as Japan, Germany and Afghanistan, but the majority are in the U.S.
What advice do these new Marines offer for those considering the military? “Think about what you do in your daily life and if you can do without them. It’s a tough decision, but it just felt right to me. I would make the same decision again,” Xander says. The experience taught him about being responsible for himself. A bonus is the military will offer financial assistance for college as well, he added.
“I grew up fast in the three months,” Tryston says. “It gives you more appreciation of what you have and I carry myself differently now.”
*At the request of the families due to military policy, we did not use their full names.