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Bound for the Corps

Three longtime friends prepare for the same boot camp platoon as part of the Marines' buddy program. The teens are eager, but their parents are torn.

July 29, 2007|David Zucchino | Times Staff Writer

ALI and Yasmin Motamedi did not want their eldest son to join the Marine Corps.

They paid close attention to the news, and they didn't like what they saw: Marines and soldiers dying in Iraq and Afghanistan; young men and women with their limbs blown off; veterans coming home mentally scarred and emotionally broken.

Daniel Motamedi, 17 years old and brimming with wisecracks and bravado, considered the Marine Corps the opportunity -- and the adventure -- of a lifetime. While his friends watched "American Idol," he scoured the History Channel for old war footage. He memorized Marine Corps history and traditions. He joined ROTC. He wore a Marine Corps lanyard and plastered the Corps logo on his parents' gold Mercedes.

On Mother's Day, at the family home in Stevenson Ranch, Daniel confirmed what his parents had feared for months: He was joining the Marines. Boot camp would begin 10 days after his high school graduation.

"We hoped he'd at least go to college first ... " Yasmin said later. "I spent all of Mother's Day crying."

Ali thought his son was too young: "When you're 17, you really don't think straight. It's all hype and energy and instinct. It all feels wrong. I should be going to war, not this kid."

The couple support President Bush's decision to invade Iraq. Ali, a shoe company executive who left his native Iran at 17, believes the U.S. should have attacked Iran as well. Yasmin, a Los Angeles Police Department detective who emigrated from El Salvador at 12, believes the U.S. military "could be a little more forceful" in Iraq. Both parents agonized over what might happen to their son if he enlisted.

In the end, after several frank sessions with Daniel's Marine recruiter, after emotional talks with their son, after studying casualty statistics on the Internet, and after overcoming a father's misgivings and a mother's dread, they signed papers allowing Daniel Brien Motamedi, a minor, to become a Marine recruit.

"I just had to give it to God," his mother said. "I'm at peace with it now."

In a time of war, when Americans have soured on the grinding conflict in Iraq, and the rosters of the dead lengthen daily, young men and women continue to join the military. Although the Army missed its recruiting goals in May and June, all four services exceeded their goals last year. More than 80,000 recruits joined the Army, 36,000 the Navy and 30,000 the Air Force. An additional 32,000 joined the Marine Corps. In June, 4,113 Marine recruits signed up, exceeding the monthly goal of 3,742.

Daniel Motamedi didn't just join. He talked Daryl Crookston and Steven Dellinger -- all friends since seventh grade -- into signing up with him under the Corps' buddy program, which puts recruits into the same platoon for the 13-week boot camp. Enduring the rigors together made joining more attractive for the three, promising a sort of long-term camping trip and perpetual boys' night out, with guns. Ali says the prospect of his son serving with friends helped persuade him to sign Daniel's papers.

Another friend, Flor Negrete, also visited the Marine recruiting office in nearby Canyon Country at Daniel's urging. Ultimately, she signed up too.

Against stereotype

THE four do not fit the stereotype of Marine recruits -- poor blacks and Latinos from the inner cities, lower-class whites from the rural South and Midwest, troubled kids escaping broken homes. They have caring parents and tightly woven families. They live in middle-class and upper-middle-class neighborhoods in the Santa Clarita Valley.

When pressed about why they enlisted, especially with the near-certainty of being shipped to war, they mention motives that seem almost quaint in the consumer-centric serenity of Santa Clarita.

Daniel: "I've always been a patriot, always thought of the Marines as gods.... Both my parents are immigrants, and I feel this is one way to pay back what they've done for me."

Daryl: "I love the traditions and the history of the Corps. I have a protective personality, and I want to protect my country.... Daniel and I have both been asked: If you were given $10 million and all the beautiful women you wanted, would you take that over the Marines? No, we would not take that over this."

Steven: "I love how the Marines train really hard-core. I like their pride, the way they make you work so hard to accomplish stuff so that it really means something to you."

After several visits to the recruiting station, the boys sought out two 2006 graduates of their high school, Academy of the Canyons in Santa Clarita, who had survived boot camp a year earlier and were Marine reservists. They couldn't help but notice their friends' hardened physiques, their high-and-tight Marine haircuts, their confidence and swagger.

"Oh, man," Daniel said. "They told the best stories about boot camp -- how it's tough and intense, but also kind of wild, and actually funny, with this great camaraderie."

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