Note: the story has been corrected to show Sean G. McCool is the seventh McCool to enlist in the Corps and the 11th member of his extended family, spanning four generations.
– By LANCE CPL. JOSEPH JACOB, Marine Corps Recruit Depot, Parris Island
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 rate, the uneasy wait and butterflies before facing down a challenge. It feels like another football game.
Tonight, however, there is no stadium awaiting him outside the bus. There are no stands filled with scores of supporting family 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 at Parris Island, S.C.
All at once, the gravity of recruit training dawned on the 19-year-old as a drill instructor climbs aboard the bus and ordered the new recruits of Golf Company onto the yellow footprints. While rushing to his place among the yellow footprint formation, McCool felt 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 over four generations – his father and brother among them. Counting extended family, McCool is one of 11 relatives to serve in the Corps.
For the Sharpsburg resident, 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 that needed it. His initiative would not go unnoticed by his superiors, and by training day four, he was designated as guide of Platoon 2044.
McCool’s 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, and the two things they taught me that got me ready for this were to respect authority and never accept my current limits,” he said.
This attitude toward authority is in part what earned him recognition from his senior drill instructor, Staff Sgt. Devon A. Luevano. Early in the first phase of training, after a long day of drilling and impromptu physical training, after the platoon kept failing to follow directions, recruit McCool passed a test of character from Luevano.
With the platoon exhausted, frustrated and tempers running high, Luevano sat them down and asked why the platoon could not perform on the drilling field. Without missing a beat, 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 too large of 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.
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 only blamed himself. He was the platoon’s guide after all.
Afterward Luevano admitted that he’d never seen a recruit do it. McCool alone accepted responsibility for the platoon’s failures.
“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 football field.
“It was like on my high school football team,” said McCool, who played right guard and was the lead blocker at Northgate High School. “It’s not the team’s fault for losing games. It’s the leader’s fault.”
Approximately 19,000 recruits come to Parris Island annually for the chance to become United States Marines by enduring 12 weeks of rigorous, transformative training. Parris Island is home to entry-level enlisted training for approximately 49 percent of male recruits and 100 percent of female recruits in the Marine Corps.
Luevano presented McCool with the coveted Eagle, Globe and Anchor emblem, which represents the U.S. Marine Corps, during a ceremony at the Iwo Jima flag-raising statue June 3. The ceremony, held after the final hike of recruit training, marks the end of the transformation from recruit into U.S. Marine.
After graduating recruit training June 9, McCool 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 said 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.