PARRIS ISLAND, S.C., June 20, 2017 —
The white school bus sits idling as its passengers eagerly await what lies outside its folding doors. No one is certain what time it is, but the completely black skies outside the bus hint that midnight has come and gone. Despite all the nervous men on the bus, one sits calmly with his head down, staring at his legs.
This entire situation has a ring of deja vu for Sean G. McCool -- the late-night bus ride, the fluttering heart, the uneasy wait and butterflies before facing down a challenge. It feels like another football game.
But tonight, there is no stadium awaiting him outside the bus. There are no stands filled with scores of supporting family members and friends, and no cheerleaders to encourage him to do his best. All that awaits him outside the bus is a pair of yellow footprints and 12 challenging weeks of training.
All at once, the gravity of recruit training dawns on the 19-year-old as a drill instructor climbs aboard the bus and orders the new recruits of Golf Company onto the yellow footprints. While rushing to his place, he feels slightly reassured knowing that this was not the first or second time a McCool came to Parris Island in hopes of earning the title of United States Marine. He would be the seventh in a long line of proud Marines dating back to 1925, his father and his brother among them.
Selected as Platoon Guide
For the Sharpsburg, Georgia, native, simply coming to Parris Island to carry on family tradition would not be enough. That is why, from that initial week in receiving when the majority of recruits are blindsided by the sudden lifestyle change, McCool took charge and did everything in his power to assist those around him who needed help. His initiative would not go unnoticed by his superiors, and he was designated as guide of Platoon 2044.
McCool said his upbringing is what prepared him to take on the role of leader during boot camp. "I have always been around Marines since I was little," he explained, "and the two things they taught me that got me ready for this was to respect authority and never accept my current limits."
This attitude toward authority is in part what earned him recognition from his senior drill instructor, Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Devon A. Luevano. Early in the first phase of training, after a long day of drilling and impromptu physical training, the platoon kept failing to follow directions. Recruit McCool passed a test of character from Luevano.
With the platoon exhausted and frustrated and tempers running high, Luevano sat the platoon down and asked why the platoon could not perform on the drilling field. Without missing a heartbeat, the recruits began blaming one another. The tall recruits blamed the shorter recruits for falling behind during the marching formations. The short recruits blamed the tall recruits for taking large steps and leaving them behind. Nearly everyone blamed the squad leaders for taking right turns when the orders were clearly for the left.
McCool did not take part in the blame game. He could not pass off the responsibility of failure in front of the senior drill instructor he respected. When he was personally asked for the cause of the problems, he blamed only himself. He was the platoon's guide, after all.
Afterward, Luevano said seeing a recruit accept responsibility for the platoon's failures was a first for him as a drill instructor.
"I've never had anyone say that before," Luevano said. "That was the honest answer I always wanted to hear from a recruit."
McCool likened it to his days on the field.
"It was like on my high school football team," said McCool, who played right guard and was the lead blocker. "It's not the team's fault for losing games; it's the leader's fault."
After graduating from recruit training June 9, McCool said he believes what he gained from the experience was the leadership skills that will be necessary in his career in the Marine Corps.
As he walked off the parade deck toward his cheering family in the stands, he added, it felt as though he was walking off a football field, victorious and excited to be reunited with his family as the newest in a long line of Marines.