It's been one year since a bleary-eyed Sean Sieler of El Toro sat at his dining room table at 3 a.m., drinking a cup of coffee and waiting to be picked up and driven to San Diego.
That was the drizzly January morning the 19-year-old Woodbridge High School graduate was inducted into the U.S. Marine Corps. It's a morning, he now says, that will forever stand out in his mind.
"Oh, yeah," he said with a grin, "it always will: Jan. 7-- 'time to go. ' "
Sieler, whose first day in the Marines and graduation from boot camp three months later were chronicled in The Times, is home on a three-week leave.
Since graduating from infantry training school at Camp Pendleton eight months ago, the $716-a-month private first class has been stationed at a naval submarine base in Bangor, Wash., one hour north of Seattle, where he is assigned to what the Marines refer to as barracks duty.
"I just stand guard duty," explained Sieler, smiling when asked exactly what it is he guards: "I'm not allowed to say."
Sieler, now 20, was asked if it seems like a year has already gone by.
"Not really," he said, then laughed: "But then again it has. It's weird, like it flew by. It's been interesting; I won't say it's been boring."
Barefooted and wearing an unbuttoned green fatigue shirt and blue jeans, Sieler looked rather unmilitary--except, of course, for his haircut: cut close to the scalp on the sides and only a half inch growth on top. The Marines allow up to three inches on top but, Sieler explained, "the command I'm at requires short hair."
Sieler also has lost his Southern California suntan and now sports a decidedly Pacific Northwest pallor. "They've got a saying up there," he said, 'you don't tan, you rust.' "
The most visible change in Sieler is the weight he has gained over the past year. The 5-foot-6 former high school wrestler and football player weighed 163 pounds when he went into boot camp and 175 when he came out. He now weighs in at a beefy 185 pounds--the result, he said, of eating and lifting weights.
But the biggest change in Sieler over the past year has been internal.
"I've changed a lot," he said. "I've grown up a lot more than I was a year ago. I see more of what's going on, like my vision has broadened. I just understand more (about life).
"I would have done some of it (growing up) anyway, but a lot of it is because of the Marine Corps. They put you up there, and you're on your own. The only person you rely on is yourself. If you get sick, you go to sick bay. If you're home, your mother's around and she can take you to the doctor."
Sieler groaned when asked what was the low point of his first year in the Marines.
"The morning after (being inducted)--after getting only four hours of sleep," he said. "Otherwise, it's all been pretty good."
Spending Christmas on base was an exception, however.
"That was tough, the first Christmas away," he admitted. "I would have rather worked Christmas instead of sitting around thinking of home, presents, the turkey on the table with all the trimmings. . . ."
Sieler said his most memorable experience, "besides graduating out of boot camp, was probably getting out of (infantry training) school. It's like you've got your MOS (military occupation specialty) and you're now qualified in that MOS. It's like getting your diploma in high school."
Sieler's military occupation specialty is the infantry and, while stationed at the submarine base in Bangor, he receives periodic infantry refresher training such as going on patrols, setting up ambushes, throwing grenades and qualifying with a rifle. He said he also has had classes on terrorism. "We've been having a lot more on them, too."
Sieler described guard duty at the submarine base as being "all right. It's more or less routine, but you have to get the routine down to a fine art. We're usually inside--in a vehicle or tower or building, but every now and then we're out in the snow and stuff."
Sieler said he wouldn't mind being stationed overseas and thinks "with my MOS, the chances are I'll go overseas for a while."
As a Marine infantryman, Sieler was asked if there were any potential military hot spots he would prefer to avoid. The Mediterranean area near Libya, perhaps?
"Ah, Libya's nothing," he said with a grin, adding, "I'll go where they send me; it's my job."
When he's on duty at the submarine base, Sieler works two to three days straight and then has 1 1/2 days off.
As a Pfc., Sieler said, he brings home close to $600 after taxes are taken out of his $716 base pay. But expenses are minimal. He eats on base and lives in a three-man room in a barracks. In fact, he said, he saves $100 to $150 a month, in addition to putting $50 a month into a college fund, in which the government matches $2 for every $1 he puts in.
Sieler has bought a 1977 Plymouth Arrow and on weekends he often drives to Seattle or Bremerton. "On a long weekend," he said, "I plan to go on up to Canada."
So far, Sieler said, he hasn't done much on his leave.