Photo by Johnny Jackson
Charles James (center) has been spending time during his 10-day leave from military training with his girlfriend, Loni Underwood, and his father, David James, and their family.
By Johnny Jackson
McDonough resident, David James, said he was pleasantly surprised when he received the telephone call last spring. On the other end was a local military recruiter asking for his son, Charles James.
"I felt really good about it," said James, of learning his son had researched and pursued a career in the military on his own. The 42-year-old father said the call from the recruiter, while his son was at school, was the first time he had known of the son's intentions to become a United States Marine.
"I wanted to do something different, and be a part of something bigger than myself," said Charles James, who completed basic training at Parris Island, S.C., on Sept. 3. He is home this week on leave, before he returns for additional training at Pensacola Naval Air Station.
Roughly three months removed from graduating from Ola High School in McDonough, the 18-year-old reached another milestone, completing 13 weeks of boot camp. His family members and friends attended graduation ceremonies at Parris Island.
"I'm very proud of him," said his stepmother, Melissa James. "I'm just overwhelmed. He's done what he said. It was a great accomplishment, and we're behind him 100 percent."
The Marine's mother, Renee Burton, and grandmother, June Burton, were also on hand to celebrate his graduation. "We're both very, very proud of him," said June Burton, of Jonesboro. "He's my only grandson, and I'm proud of Charles for making it. I was impressed. It's a tough program, and they go through a lot."
The grandmother said, since Charles James has been away at boot camp, she has noticed "he has a lot more confidence, and he's more spiritual and sure of himself."
"His peers are going to see the change in him," added Melissa James. "He's always been a good kid, but he has very much more respect. He stands up taller now, than what he has."
Gunnery Sgt. Terry Ballew, who helped recruit Charles James, said personal growth and maturity is the desired goal of Marine basic training. "That's the hardest training any young man or woman could ever go through," said Ballew, the Staff Non-Commissioned Officer in Charge of the U.S. Marine Corps Recruiting Substation, in Jonesboro.
Different things motivate recruits to follow Charles James' path, said Ballew, noting that three major motivations are the opportunity to serve their country, the job security, and the college benefits. "I tell them to make sure they're doing it for the right reason," Ballew said. "They should make sure it's what they want in their heart, and not in their head."
Charles James said he pursued becoming a Marine because he admired the men and women in uniform. "I saw how they carried themselves with such dignity," he said. "I thought I could never do something like that. But their values -- honor, courage, and commitment -- are my values."
However, he acknowledged being unsure at the onset of basic training. "When you get there and five drill sergeants come and scream in your face, you think 'What's the fastest way for me to get off this island?'" he said. "The fastest way to get off is to graduate. I compared it to hell. But I got through it. In my opinion, you need some sort of spiritual guidance to get through it."
Charles James, one of four siblings in his family, said he treated his training as a job. "It's not just a job anymore, it's my lifestyle," he said. "Those [marines] are my brothers, and I'm on their side."