MARINE CORPS RECRUIT DEPOT PARRIS ISLAND, S.C. --
Pfc. Nathaniel Laprade, a Marine with Hotel Company, 2nd Recruit Training Battalion, Recruit Training Regiment, Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, stands tall holding the Lead Series guidon unlike any before him.
Standing tall at a height of 4 foot 7 inches, that is. Laprade stands as a source of motivation not just for his platoon, but for all of Hotel Company.
Despite his height, Laprade never faced problems getting respect among his peers, some of which even used him as a basis for their motivation.
“I think they kind of looked up to me in a way,” said Laprade. “I had one recruit, now a Marine, who told me that I was his motivation.”
The other recruits saw Laprade conducting the obstacle courses, close-order drill, and shooting on the range and it helped them stay motivated to push through training. At the same time Laprade saw this and used this to stay motivated and keep pushing himself forward.
“You know it’s pretty encouraging when you see that motivation, it helps you get motivated second handedly,” said Laprade.
Recruit training includes various obstacles courses throughout the training cycle and many of the obstacles stood taller than Laprade. The drill instructors of Hotel Company saw Laprade completing the obstacles with little to no trouble and used him as a way to help motivate Laprade as well as the other recruits.
“It showed me that mounting the obstacles wasn’t really a challenge because of my height, it just meant I needed to push myself to jump a little higher,” said Laprade.
Nearly all obstacles stood taller than Laprade himself, however they were not the most difficult challenges for Laprade. However, the hikes challenged him more than any other training event. As the Lead Series guide, Laprade leads the formation next to his platoon’s guide who is tall with a long stride.
“Little legs with a little body weight, a lot of weight in the pack, and a lot of miles in the hikes,” said Laprade. “That was the hardest part for me, the hikes.”
For Laprade one of the most important things learned during Recruit Training is that everything is a race, with the objective to increase the recruit’s level of speed, skill, and efficiency.
“Recently we just finished cleaning our rifles and we were looking back on Phase 1 of training, when we barely knew what we were doing or how to clean the rifles,” said Laprade. “We kept doing it, and doing fast, that’s how we became more efficient.”
When Laprade was in the enlistment process his recruiters told him stories about Richard Flaherty, a Green Beret from Vietnam who, at 4 foot 9 inches, claimed to be the shortest servicemember in history. However, instead of being uneasy about having slightly larger shoes to fill, the stories filled Laprade with determination to be better.
“The main part that inspired me was that he was Army and 4 foot 9 inches,” Laprade said. “If I go Marines when I’m 4 foot 7 inches, I will beat him in two ways.”
For Laprade his recruiters were a huge part of why he chose to enlist in the Marines. Growing up he wanted to be a pilot in the U.S. Air Force but over time his heart changed. During high school he joined the school's Army JROTC program and was mentored by Ret. U.S. Army 1st Sgt. Thomas Gent the program instructor.
“I think that’s where the real military form came from, the discipline, the drill, the uniform, and everything like that,” said Laprade. “I really liked that, I liked that everything was snap precision, and when I looked at the other branches they didn’t have that snap precision that I was looking for.”
As Laprade progressed through high school he continued to get better and improve within his ROTC program. Laprade was promoted to Battalion Executive Officer for his school and he continued to strive for that snap precision and even taught drill to the more junior cadets under him. When Laprade met a Marine recruiter for the first time it became an experience he would never forget.
“One day in the cafeteria there was a Marine recruiter standing there and his uniform was perfect, no flaws no nothing,” Laprade said. “You just felt something, stood there, strong and disciplined, a solid statue of determination of honor, courage, and commitment.”
When Laprade saw the recruiter, it struck something in him, and he knew the recruiter represented the snap precision he was looking for. Laprade was struck by how well the recruiter was able to do his job, even after hours of talking to his peers who had no interest in serving.
Laprade sat down with the recruiter and had a long discussion about the Marines and discovered at the time he was too young to enlist. The following year, Laprade was going to graduate high school and he was one of the first students approached by the recruiter.
“He told me that my name was the first that was pulled from the system because he saw something in me,” said Laprade.
Laprade believes the recruiter did not come to him because of his height, he believes it was because he had the snap precision and determination found in all Marines.
“I did really commit myself to The Marines Corps at that time.” Laprade said. “It went all the way from the Army, to any other branch, I was solidly devoted to The Marine Corps.”
With Laprade’s graduation within sight he looked back on recruit training and reflected on how he felt throughout. Like many Marines, his arrival on Parris Island feels like a dream, from arriving on the yellow footprints to the time they meet their drill instructors, those first days are a haze. To Laprade it was all a surreal experience, one filled with fear, hard work, and determination and he never let that fear hold him back.
“That’s how dreams are gonna be, you are going to be afraid of stuff, I was always afraid of failing but I got through it,” said Laprade. “You are only afraid until it happens, when it starts you just have to focus on getting through it, and losing the fear and when you finish you’ll look back and know you got through it."
Pfc. Nathaniel Laprade graduated from Recruit Training on September 1, 2023 and will continue training at Camp Geiger for Marine Combat Training after ten days of leave.