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Tom Morton Goes to Marine Boot Camp

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb
The Truth Network Radio
December 5, 2023 3:02 am

Tom Morton Goes to Marine Boot Camp

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb

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December 5, 2023 3:02 am

On this episode of Our American Stories, Tom Morton had always wanted to join the military..and finally did after trying out college twice. Here's Tom with a look into his life, and boot camp at Parris Island, South Carolina.

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State Farm, Bloomington, Illinois. And we return to our American stories. And as you know, we tell stories about everything on this show. And up next, a story suggested to us by a listener. In 2009, Tom Morton decided to join the Marine Corps.

But it wasn't a cakewalk to get onto the yellow footprints at Parris Island. Here's Tom with his story of joining the Marine. So I was born and raised in Nashville, Tennessee, you know, kind of a middle class upbringing, like in the suburbs and stuff. Overall, fairly normal childhood. My parents split up and got a divorce when I was 13. It was hard initially, but eventually it was something that I came to really respect and treasure because I learned a ton from my stepdad. And like my father is a more, he's always been a businessman, you know, like he kind of followed the smarter path, the more stable path. That was kind of what his father pushed on him.

And my stepdad didn't really have a lot of family by the time he was an adult. So he ended up getting drafted into Vietnam and kind of was forced into service. But the way that he handled it and the way that he looked at it, it always kind of made it seem not necessarily something glorious, but something honorable. The way that my stepfather Gary is about handling trauma and stuff, like he looks at everything as kind of like, well, that was terrible, but I learned this from it and I'm moving forward. And I think that was kind of what made me realize that, like, even if the military was going to give me things that were horrible to experience, like it was something that I could learn from and grow from if I took the right path with it. And, you know, I think even as a little kid, I was always fascinated by the military. But, you know, after I think after I got to know my stepfather and kind of had somebody that was honest and open with me about, you know, the bad times, not just what you see in war movies and stuff, it made me respect it more, even knowing that it wasn't as as positive as it was portrayed.

So that was, you know, my stepdad's always been a great, very positive influence on me. And, you know, my dad has to we just we've always kind of not always, but over the military, when I wanted to join, we we butted heads quite a bit. If I was going to join the military, he wanted me to at least go through college and go in as commissioned officer and therefore at least have in their minds some kind of a better chance of survival because you're better trained, higher up the food chain.

However, you know, people look at it. But, you know, it just wasn't really my my mentality. I always I kind of looked at it as like the guys who would climb the ladder from the bottom and make it to a point of respect. I wanted to enlist and work my way up. I remember when I a big shift in things for me of which which branch I wanted to approach was when I went to an army recruiting station, like, you know, went out of my way. They hadn't talked to me or anything and just went found one. And I walked in and I was just really, really overweight army recruiter, just like the the most like inner service kind of trash talk poster guy. And I'm like, yeah, so I'm really interested in enlisting, but I really want to go to like the Rangers or special forces. What can you tell me about that? Like, what are the options?

How does that work? And this dude kind of like rolls his eyes and scratches his head for a second. He's like, oh, you're going to want to talk to Mike about that. He's not here today.

I think he's supposed to be here Thursday. And I just thought that was the most unprofessional, like ridiculous answer I could possibly get. So I walked out really disappointed, just kind of thinking like, well, maybe the military isn't quite what I thought it was.

Maybe it's not what I'm looking for. And then a week or two later, I got a call from a Marine recruiter. Anyway, he started chatting me up and he was like, if you thought about joining the military and I told him, yeah, you know, I'm really interested in joining the Army Rangers. You know, I want to go the hardest I can go. And he's like, well, has anyone ever told you the basic Marine Corps Infantry School is longer with longer hikes and harder training than Army Ranger School?

I was like, well, no, no one has ever told me that. That's my intention now. And so that was kind of the the ceiling point of the Marine Corps for me is, you know, I wanted to go, you know, start out at the hardest level of infantry I could find. And then from there, I had hopes of going to like recon or snipers or something along those lines. I almost talked my mom into signing off on letting me enlist early, basically, like as soon as high school was done, even though I hadn't turned 18 yet, I would go straight to boot camp. But, you know, my dad was very hesitant and didn't want to sign that over and basically said, like, you know, when you're an adult, you can make that decision for yourself.

But I really want you to take some time, get an education and think about this before you do it. I kind of relented and agreed to go to college and at least just see how that went. You know, see if something in school grabbed me that made me want to go and do that professionally more than I wanted to join the Marines.

So I went to University of Tampa for my first semester and a half. And yeah, that level of freedom was not something that 18 year old me was quite ready to handle. I got kicked out of school. So that was the point where I kind of tried to tell my parents, like, hey, look, see, I tried school.

I'm obviously an idiot. It didn't work out like time for me to go join the Marines. And I remember in that summer after that spring semester when I got kicked out, my sister and I were talking about it. And she was really upset. She was just worried about my well-being. But she expressed her worries enough to me to where I kind of relented and again agreed, like, all right, I will try school again. I know I kind of screwed around and partied last time around, so I wasn't really giving school a hard try, so I'll go back. So I went to Middle Tennessee State, but I still had this kind of back of my mind urge that I wasn't, I needed to do something else, too. So I went and talked to my advisor and kind of explained, look, I kind of feel an internal obligation to serve four years in the Marines at least. So she said, like, if you're going to drop out to join at some point, now is kind of the time because you're not so far in that you will lose everything. So that was when I kind of decided, like, all right, well, it's now or never.

So in October of 2008, I signed my contract and swore in in Nashville, Tennessee. You know, like, something that was always really attractive to me about the military was an idea of, like, order and consistency and everything and doing something that I could be really proud of telling people that I did. So I was really excited about it, but I was also very afraid of telling my family. And when I did, it didn't go over all that well. Everyone started trying to find loopholes, like, you know, until you finish boot camp, you haven't actually, you're not actually obligated to do anything or whatever. And I had already made up my mind. And on top of that, given my word, like, the way that I look at a contract is once you give your word that you're going to do something, whether it's signed or not, or just a handshake, you do it, you follow through and finish it out. So from that point on, there was no going back.

I also really didn't know what was coming. When you're listening to Tom Morton tell the story of how he ended up becoming a US Marine, and my goodness, I wanted to enlist and work my way up, he told his dad. His dad, of course, wanted his son to go to college. And if he was going to go into the military, come in with some protection, because maybe those officers won't get hurt in war. By the way, those officers do get hurt in war.

But, well, as often is the case in many of our stories, you can love your dad, but disagree. And when we come back, more of Tom Morton's story here on Our American Story. Mustang and envision where it could take them or see the new Bronco or Bronco Sport and think what that thing needs is an off-road dirt bath. Because built Ford proud is more than just a set of words. It's a pact between us, our drivers and what we can do together.

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Let's continue with his story. Yeah, then I kind of found out the hard way that it's nothing like that when you're actually in it. Remember when we first got there, there's the iconic scene of the drill instructor getting on the bus and screaming at everyone, like, you know, telling you, get off my bus right now and you have to get on the yellow footprints. And those yellow footprints are a big source of lore in the Marine Corps, you know, like they're just kind of referred to and everyone knows exactly what you mean. Like, what would you do to go back and not step on the yellow footprints? Like when you're 10 miles into a horrible hike in the rain or something, you know, it's always a point of reference of kind of like the matrix thing of red pill or blue pill. Like, what would you do to go back and not stand on the yellow footprints?

Just stay on the bus. But, you know, once you get there, it's complete chaos for the first week. It's all just sleep deprivation and just making you feel like you do not know what to do because you don't. You're just thrown into the most extreme version of a very, very regimented lifestyle without being told how that regiment goes. So you learn through messing things up and then getting, it's called IT'd, individual training. Basically, when a drill instructor says, you there, come over here and you go to the quarter deck, which is the little open area at the front of your squad bay, and then you'll get pushed through a series of push-ups, jumping jacks, crunches, whatever. Basically, just any exercise until you start to fatigue and then they'll push you a little longer and then you finally think it's done when they tell you to stand up and then they'll tell you to do something else. And it's all about just pushing you past your comfort zone.

And then there's also the pit, which is every series of buildings for each company has a pit. It's a gigantic, probably, I don't know, about the size of a tennis court area of sand that is surrounded by gigantic logs and basically you go and do a bunch of calisthenics in the sand. So you get super sweaty and the sand sticks to you and gets all down your pants and into crevices and places it shouldn't be. But if it's 6 a.m. and you've just been doused in sand, well, guess what? You got sand in every orifice for the rest of the day.

No matter how much more running you do or how many more calisthenics you have to do, it's all going to be done with sand rubbing in your undies. So really it's all about trying to remove your identity as a person, as an individual, so that they can rebuild your identity as a part of a larger group or an organization, you know, as a team. So when you first get there, you don't have even name tapes.

You can't say the word I, me, you, my, any of that. It's this recruit or like recruit Morton request permission to speak to drill instructor so-and-so. And if permission is not granted, then recruit Morton does not get to speak. And, you know, you start learning how to tell time based on how hungry you are because you can't have a watch.

You're not allowed to know things like that. But you start figuring out from your schedule like, OK, well, my stomach's growling pretty hard. So we got to be within about an hour of lunch. It's incredible how much you you can conform to such a harsh environment. But that's what it's designed to make you do. But I also completely recognize that it was all a mind game, like everything that the drill instructors were doing were intended to break us in some way.

So I never really broke because I feel like I was a little more capable of keeping my calm than some. Like I and just because I was a little older, which doesn't sound like that much to be 20 going in, like enlisting, being that much older than anyone. But most people who enlist are 18. So because of that, I was a squad leader for all of boot camp, which doesn't really mean much. It just means that you stand at the front of the line and anytime someone in your squad makes a mistake, you you get to pay with them.

I would say a big moment for me and recruit training was so the tail end of recruit training, the final test is what's called the crucible. It's a three day nonstop field exercise where basically all day you're either hiking or going through some kind of a obstacle course or doing like team like team building exercise kind of things where like you you have to climb this obstacle. But you can only do so if you like make a human pyramid to be able to step on each other and then pull each other back up or whatever, like stuff like that. But it's nonstop and you have like night hikes and everything.

And so, like, really, you're only supposed to get about three hours of sleep a night and you're on your feet moving at all times the rest of the time. And our crucible got a little special sauce because it had been raining for three straight days before our crucible started and continued raining for the entirety of it. I don't know how much you know about Parris Island, South Carolina, but it's a very swampy environment. So when it rains hard for a long time, the rain doesn't go anywhere. It just keeps getting deeper. So by the time we got to all these obstacle courses, most of them were at least knee deep in water. But drill instructors being drill instructors, that just means, all right, they're going to hate life more.

They're going to earn it. All right. So we spent three days just staying soggy to the point where your feet have been the skin on your feet is so soft from nothing but wet boots that your skin is tearing off inside your boot. A lot of us were bleeding through our boots like you could see it coming through by the end. I just remember that final hike. You hike back to the main parade deck where you actually do your your drill competitions and graduation and everything. And you get in formation. You're right there in front of the replica statue of the statue of Iwo Jima.

It's right at sunrise. And your drill instructors go through and present each one of you with your first Eagle Globe and Anchor, which is the Marine Corps emblem. Because up until that point, you haven't earned it.

You don't deserve to wear it. And so that moment is like a really big shift for you. Like it's you're no longer a recruit. You are a Marine now.

Like you are property of the U.S. government and part of the oldest and the fiercest fighting force America has to offer and one of the fiercest in the world. And the drill instructors get to choose who they give who each of them gives Eagle Globe and Anchor. I was very proud that my senior drill instructor chose to present me with mine because he was he was an incredibly impressive Marine. He was silent drill team before 9-11 happened. And then as soon as it did, he was on in one of the first units in Afghanistan and then went to Iraq for the Battle of Fallujah.

Just just a living legend of war stories. And to have someone like that choose to whether it was because he saw something in me or maybe just liked me better or whatever, for whatever reason, having him choose me and hand me the EGA was very meaningful on its own. But it was also the first time that I could speak to him without having to request permission and refer to myself and him in the third person. So, you know, he asked me, like, if I had anything to say. And I remember just choking up and barely holding it together and saying, I never thought that a little piece of metal would ever mean so much to me as this does. And he looked me in the eye and he said, it's not just a piece of metal, it's a way of life. And I think that was when it kind of set in that has me choking up a little bit now, even.

Oh, what was that, 2009? So 12 years later. But, you know, that was kind of what really reinforced the concept that the Marine Corps isn't just a job or you don't just serve a little time in the Marine Corps and then get out. It's not like the Army or the Coast Guard or the Navy. It's it's a different mindset. It's a warrior ethos that once you've if you truly like adopt that mindset, you will never be the same.

You will always be something different. And even though, you know, all that kind of settled in on me later over over time, it was still an extremely impactful moment. And, you know, just getting to to shake that man's hand after he had made my life hell for so long and knowing that it was over, it was it was a very, very liberating and exciting and inspiring moment. And a special thanks to Monty Montgomery for the production on the piece and a special thanks to Tom Morton for talking about his journey to becoming U.S. Marine. And as the saying goes, once a Marine, always a Marine.

It's not just a piece of metal. He said it is a way of life. And indeed, it is the story of Tom Morton, his Marine story.

And he speaks for so many here on our American stories. Elevate Miami Art Week with the Chase Sapphire Reserve Card. Sapphire Reserve Card members will enjoy exclusive access into the Sapphire Lounge at Lowe's Miami Beach Hotel, featuring food, cocktails, art exhibits, interactive installations and more.

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Whisper: medium.en / 2023-12-05 04:49:31 / 2023-12-05 04:59:03 / 10

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