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A Marine recruit says goodby, leaving civilian life behind . . . : 'Yes Sir!' : 'I Can't HEAR You!' : 'YES SIR!'

January 31, 1985|DENNIS McLELLAN

He considers himself just a "a normal kid trying to get ahead in the world." He's a 1984 graduate of Woodbridge High School in Irvine, a former member of the high school wrestling and football teams, an average student who earned "Cs and a few Bs." His favorite pastimes are riding his Honda XL-185 motorcycle and lifting weights at a gym.

And on a recent Monday, 19-year-old Sean Sieler of El Toro was inducted into the United States Marine Corps.

He was one of 11 Marine Corps applicants from Orange County who went down for processing at the Military Entrance Processing Station in San Diego that day.

Sieler, according to Marine recruiters in El Toro, is typical of the young men--and women--who enlist in the Marines, 443 from Orange County in fiscal 1984 and 49,338 nationwide.

If there's any sense of flag-waving patriotism motivating these young people to step through the doors of a Marine Corps recruiting office, says Gunnery Sgt. Blaine Matteoni, it's generally not something that comes up while they are talking to a recruiter.

The reality, said the El Toro recruiter, is that the young people who enlist are primarily interested in job training and educational opportunities. (While they are on active duty, they can attend college in their spare time and the government will pay 75% to 90% of their tuition.)

Young people, Matteoni maintains, are realizing that joining the military is a viable alternative to college or getting a job immediately after graduating from high school.

"What they tend to be looking for," he said, "is a way to bide their time."

Sieler was working part time in an El Toro pizza parlor last August when he signed up for the Marines' delayed-entry program, which ensures that an applicant's guaranteed job training slot will be available when he goes in.

"I was getting bored," Sieler said, "and I didn't think I was right for college right off the bat."

He laughs when recalling the reaction of his high school buddies when he told them he was joining the Marines: "They said I was crazy."

His friends are now in college and working part time, but Sieler feels he made the right choice.

That includes joining the one-in-four Marine Corps applicants who sign up for training in combat arms. In Sieler's case that means the infantry, a field of training he thinks will help him land a job as a police officer when he gets out in four years.

"I wanted to get the tactical training," he explained. "When I become a police officer, I'd like to try to get on a SWAT team or tactical unit."

Besides, he said, "in two years I have the option of lateral movement into another field, and I'd like to apply for embassy duty or military police."

But why the Marines and not some other branch of the military?

Part of the appeal, he said, is "being the best. They always say the Marines are the first to go, and the only reason they're the first to go is because they are the best."

But doesn't the possibility of having to go into combat some day scare him?

"I guess it scares everybody a little bit. . . . But your country is something you believe in. And if it's something you believe in, it's worth fighting for. I would consider myself a patriot, yes: Stand up for your country, be willing to fight for it and, if necessary, die."

At 19, Sieler said he doesn't really remember the Vietnam War. He was, after all, only 9 years old when it ended a decade ago. He believes, however, that he has a realistic view of war.

"I think I do--at least I hope I do," he said. "My stepdad was a medic in Korea, and he's told me some of his old war stories, and he says it's no picnic, and I can believe it. I know in the movies they glorify all the battle scenes. It's not like that."

In late November Sieler quit his part-time job and broke up with his steady girlfriend.

"Because I'm going away for a while, we decided to become what you call just really good friends," he explained. "And she's still in high school, so it gives her a chance to meet other people. We fought a lot about it, but we finally decided it was the best thing."

He spent his last weeks of civilian life relaxing, visiting his father in Arizona--"I kind of lost contact with him; my parents have been divorced about five years"--and trying to get in better shape for boot camp.

"I like to be very competitive; it keeps life from being dull," said the muscular, 5-foot-6 teen-ager. "I'm always setting goals for myself, like in boot camp I'm going to shoot for my blues. That means being the best in your platoon: You graduate with honors and are allowed to wear dress blues at the graduation ceremony."

One week before reporting to the Military Entrance Processing Station in San Diego, however, Sieler acknowledged that he had mixed emotions about his decision to join the Marines.

"I'm kind of getting excited, kind of getting nervous," he said. "I think, 'Is this really for me?' But then I say, 'Yes, this is what I'm doing. I'm not turning back now.' "

3:10 a.m. Monday

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