Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island --
Growing up in Beaufort, S.C. Capt. Ziaire O’Brien and 1st Lt. Luke Johnson drove past Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island and wondered what was on the other side of the gates that separated them from the world of recruit training. They grew up seeing active duty and retired Marines everywhere; at school, at the grocery store and growing up in the Beaufort community they had a military influence from a very young age.
Both Marines are serving as assistant series commanders in 2nd Recruit Training Battalion and watch over the training and transformation of young men into Marines.
However, this wasn’t the initial plan for either of them.
O’Brien had planned on enlisting in the Marine Corps since his sophomore year of high school and becoming a drill instructor he thought so highly of.
“I had planned on enlisting. I wanted to be a drill instructor too,” said O’Brien. “Just from the example I saw growing up I looked up to them and wanted to be apart of the recruit training process.”
“My mentor, [Ret. Gunnery Sgt. Robert Shannon,] suggested during my junior year that I become a Marine officer instead,” said O’Brien. “I enjoyed being in charge and I enjoyed taking care of people. I guess he saw that early on and he knew I would do well in the officer corps. That was why I went with it, I trusted him.”
Even though both grew up in the same town they had different plans originally. The Marine Corps influence was positive for both of them, but Johnson still wasn’t planning on joining, he was more focused on sports.
“I grew up being more accustomed to sports and the outdoors,” said Johnson. “I had never been in JROTC or attempted it at all, sports just fit me better. Once I got to the Citadel my first semester was my first real experience of a military structure. Even though I saw it in high school I never thought about trying [the JROTC].”
“I always knew I would join the Marine Corps if I ever joined the military,” continued Johnson. “My dad was in the Marines but told me not to join. He thought I would be able to use my studies in civil engineering in a different branch.”
Johnson’s decision to join the Marines came after he went to the Citadel for wrestling and civil engineering. During his time there the physical effort from wrestling, structured atmosphere of a military school and the psychological and mental strength that was required, helped him realize just how much he was capable of doing.
“It came to my realization [that I wanted to join] even more after I graduated from college and worked for an engineering company,” Johnson continued. “I wanted to be able to apply myself in a way that I did at college: mentally, physically, and psychologically.”
The same effort also helped him realize he always wanted to be a Marine, and it was the only way he could make the best use of the strive he had found during school.
After spending so much time striving for excellence at school, Johnson realized that he wanted a way to use everything he had learned and decided to become an officer.
O’Brien continued his path to becoming a Marine officer past the Marine JROTC program at Beaufort’s Battery Creek High School and to the ROTC program at The Citadel.
He became the regimental adjutant during his senior year of college which made him responsible for the duty schedule as well as the placement of the weekly parade on Fridays.
“Drill and parades are one of the reasons [Johnson] and I both enjoy the graduations on Parris Island so much,” joked O’Brien. “We practiced it so much during college and learned to enjoy it.”
During high school, Johnson and O’Brien were friends but didn't start becoming great friends until going through the Citadel together. After graduating both earned their commissions and were in the same platoon at The Basic School together where they grew closer. After attending military occupational school, they were reunited after both received orders to Camp Lejeune, N.C. O’Brien became a Logistics Officer and Johnson became an Amphibious Assault Vehicle Officer.
After Camp Lejeune, Johnson and O’Brien both requested to come to MCRD Parris Island as series commanders, meaning they would oversee hundreds of recruits and over a dozen drill instructors. Both wanted to help lead the nations’ men and women to become the next generation of Marines and to see what it was like on the other side of the gate of Parris Island.
“I knew I was supposed to come back [to Beaufort] in some kind of way,” said O’Brien. “Maybe not as a drill instructor like I originally planned, but now I get to serve the drill instructors and make sure they have everything they need to train recruits.”
After growing up in Beaufort, going through school together and being roommates at Camp Lejeune, Johnson and O’Brien had become great friends.
“Maybe if I had done JROTC during highschool things would be different,” said Johnson.
“But we’re in the same boat now,” continued O’Brien. “Almost literally, we’re here together doing the same thing.”
Johnson and O’Brien both wanted to come back to Beaufort, it was a coincidence that they came back at the same time, to their own hometown.
“It's come full circle for me,” said Johnson. “I got to flip the script by coming back home as an assistant series commander and see what the hype [on the island] was about, all the long nights and early mornings…it’s needed and required in order to train recruits and to help them earn the title Marine.”