It seems like just yesterday I was in New Orleans up to my knees in floodwater, now I'm up to my ankles in mud in Parris Island, S.C. Still, it seems like the right place to be. This is where thousands of others have started their own journey so it only makes sense that this is where we start our Home Front Road Tour.
It's not my first time behind these gates. About 10 years ago my brother Joe went through basic training here. I would write to him everyday and he would write back telling me about the obstacles and challenges he was facing. It was hard to imagine that a place called Parris Island was less than idyllic. A couple months later when our family was allowed to tour the training center, it all came together.
I remember hearing the raspy voice of drill instructors barking orders at young recruits with freshly shaven heads. Ten years later, Parris Island is exactly as I remembered.
The Marines have given us amazing access to the training camp. They allowed us to follow a group of young recruits for the day. As we witnessed them struggle with a muddy obstacle course before dawn and saw them being screamed at by drill instructors (straight out of central casting!) I couldn't help but wonder why in the world would anyone volunteer to go through this — especially now with a war going on?
We sat down with three young recruits: 18-year-old Trenton Roberts from Jacksonville, Fla; 18-year-old Shauna Paddie from Oswald, Texas; and 19-year-old Michael Laurello from Geneva, Ohio, to ask them why they volunteered. All three said they decided to enlist after Sept. 11, all three said they had other options and all three said their mothers cried when they told them they were going to become Marines. (A note to their mothers: They all look great, are eating well and are more worried about you than they are about themselves.)
Laurello told me he had the chance to take over his family's construction business back in Ohio. Instead, to his mother's dismay, he said he wanted to be on the front lines in Iraq. He told me, "I don't think the rest of America wants us to be over there fighting the war. They say it's not our war but we're helping other people and every human being has a right to be free. And what we're doing over there is right."
When my brother enlisted, there was no war going on. To me, at the time, it seemed more like he was just going off to an intense summer camp. He would end up being pulled out of college to serve in the first Gulf War. But these young men and women, their families and their drill instructors know they will likely end up on the front line in Iraq. Parris Island may look like it did 10 years ago, but it's a different world.
Tomorrow we're moving on to Ft. Benning, Ga. I'm traveling along side my fearless and mud-loving photographer Mark LaGanga, jack-of-all-trades Jake Barlow and producers Karen Raffensperger and Michael Solmsen. I should tell you that Mark, Mike and I couldn't resist a chance at trying the ropes course at Parris Island. We raced to the top. I'm not saying who won — but my brother would be proud.