ST. PAUL (AP) -- Brandon Morter recently turned 18. While he doesn't know much about the world yet, he does know he wants to become a U.S. Marine.
The waning war in Iraq hasn't scared him. In fact, he first contacted the Marines after it began. He hopes to ultimately serve in a specialized infantry division.
"The thing I want to do is kind of like in the movies, where the guys go in and do the special missions," he says. "The war in Iraq wasn't too much of a factor in my decision. But I did think, 'If I was over there, I'd be a lot of help.'
"I want to serve my country," he says. "I think I am a patriotic person. I've got the flag on my car, and whenever people talk down the president, I tell them, 'Hey, shut up,' you know? I say, 'What would you do if you were in his shoes?' I'm definitely supportive of President Bush. I don't know where we'd be if we didn't have him as president."
Morter's apparently not alone in wanting to sign up -- his local Marine recruiting station in Coon Rapids recently has seen about a 10 percent increase in business. Perhaps that's partly due to the prominent role Marines have played in the Iraqi war.
"Last week, we had six guys walk through the door in one day," says Staff Sgt. Thomas Andrews Jr.
Typically, it's parents who need reassurance about what it will be like to serve in the Marines during these troubled times.
"They want to know, 'Is my son going straight to war?'" Andrews says. "And that's not the case."
In fact, after 12 weeks of boot camp, new Marines undergo training for their specialty that can range from two months to two years.
War or peace, the Marines recruit 40,000 men and women into its ranks each year; about 700 come from Minnesota. Not all the recent recruits join up with war in mind. Some want the college education that will come, thanks to serving; others want the job opportunities they receive in the Marines; others are following family tradition.
Regardless of why they join, when they take the oath of enlistment, "they have a patriotic air about them," says Staff Sgt. J.J. Rodriguez, public affairs representative for the Marines' regional recruiting station.
As young men prepare to graduate from high school, their thoughts turn to their futures. That's why local Marine recruiters attempt to contact each high school senior male before graduation to see if he has considered joining the military. They contact him again a year later to see if he has decided that college or the job he found isn't for him.
"Kids today have a lot of things given to them," Andrews says. "Some see this path as a challenge and an adventure."
In Morter's case, he contacted the Marines earlier this month. A recruiter came to his school to talk to him. That recruiter walked away impressed.
"You could tell he was brought up well," says Staff Sgt. Robert Kortje of the Coon Rapids station. "I got a lot of 'Yes, sirs' and 'No, sirs.' Not necessarily a strict upbringing but brought up the way most kids should be but aren't. He has a potential of becoming a very good Marine, someone who goes above and beyond what is expected of him. He has already asked me, 'What can I do to get better at this?' and 'How can I train for that?'"
Morter says he chose the Marines because it is seen as a particularly challenging branch of the military with a grueling boot camp. The Marines' active members total about 172,000, making it a small but elite branch of the U.S. armed forces. With their battle readiness by air, by sea and by land, the Marines are typically the first to see action in times of trouble.
He hopes to enlist within the next week or so, once his paperwork is in order and he has shown the Marines he can do at least two pull-ups, a minimum of 44 crunches in two minutes and a 1.5-mile run in 13 minutes and 30 seconds. (If he can't, recruiters will work with him until he can accomplish those physical feats. Then, he will be ready for boot camp.)
Bring on the Marine challenge, says Morter, who is excited and relieved to have a life plan.
"I'm not looking to go and just kill people. That's not what I'm going into the Marines for," he says. "It's more about challenging myself and learning things. It's a big decision, but it's something I want to do. I know I will learn things about myself that I don't know now, and I will be able to accomplish things I didn't think I could accomplish."
At the Morter family home in Big Lake, two telling Post-It notes hang near the calendar.
"Do right," proclaims one.
"Treat people right," the other commands.
Bustling around this kitchen is Audrey Morter. At 39, with her long hair and petite frame, she is as youthful looking as Brandon. But it is clear from her no-nonsense manner that she runs this household firmly. She has to -- she has five sons, ages 6, 13, 16 (twins) and 18 (Brandon).
"We run a tight ship as far as home life goes. With so many kids, you've got to, to keep the chaos down and to keep an orderly house," she says. "One of the twins is also considering joining the Marines, and he told us, 'You know, living here has really prepared me well for the military.'"
The boys' daily discipline includes morning devotions, which begin "promptly at 6:50 a.m.," their mother says. The older boys do their own laundry. Brandon also spends eight hours cleaning the large family home every Sunday (a chore he gets paid for), in addition to working at Target. They are a churchgoing family, and the boys attend private Christian schools.
Besides his strong faith, one of Brandon Morter's passions is bodybuilding. He has a personal trainer and spends about eight hours a week at the gym. His mother thinks the demanding hobby is another reason her son has the discipline it takes to be a good Marine.
"There's a real science to bodybuilding, down to how many spears of asparagus you can eat," she says. "He's very determined, and he's very self-disciplined. If he decides to do something, he does it."
The teen's parents aren't surprised he wants to join the military; he's been talking about it for a couple of years. They are supportive of his decision. But that doesn't mean it's not difficult for them on some levels.
"My mom, you know, is just like any mom -- 'Oh, my baby, I don't want anything to happen to him,'" Brandon says. "That's why I'm going to wait until January to go to boot camp, because she wants me to hang out with her for a while. She said she wants another Christmas with me. She also wanted to make sure this was something I really wanted to do, you know, put down the pros and cons, and the pros outweighed the cons. There really weren't any cons."
His mother says her faith helps her feel comfortable with her son's choice.
"Nowadays, there is so much prayer support for the armed services. It sort of takes the worry out of it," she says. "To be honest, I'm not really worried. I'm really proud of Brandon."
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