Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island --
For most of the 20,000 recruits that step onto Parris Island's yellow footprints every year, recruit training is only the beginning. But for the Recruit Separations Platoon, which houses recruits being processed for entry-level separations from the Marine Corps, a new program has been implemented to help prepare them for successes in the civilian world.
Operation Fresh Start combines lectures and practical application exercises to help recruits identify and address the deficiencies that prevented them from completing recruit training, as well as topics relating to their success in the civilian world, such as preparing for job interviews or building resumes.
The program was started by then-1st Battalion Executive Officer Maj. Brandon Mokris who noticed that the majority of recruits being separated had issues dealing with stress. Mokris tried working with recruits on a one-on-one level but soon found he didn’t have enough time to give each recruit the attention they needed.
Inspiration struck when Mokris watched Sgt Maj Jorge Guerrero, then Sgt Maj of 1st Recruit Training Batallion, speak to Family Day attendees prior to graduation.
"One of his lines was 'it's our responsibility to return quality citizens back to society,'" remembers Mokris. "I kind of took that to heart. These recruits have signed on the dotted line, they've stepped on the yellow footprints-- regardless of whether they've done one day or 20 years, they are part of the Marine Corps. I wanted to make sure we were doing our part to return quality citizens back to society."
For Mokris, doing his part came in the form of Operation Fresh Start, which launched in June 2017. The classes are taught by an all-volunteer team of active-duty enlisted and officer personnel from across the Depot, as well as civilian contractors and retired Marines. Extra effort is made to seek out speakers who have entrepreneurial experience, providing recruits with practical tips for smartly investing their money or even starting their own business.
Rct. Reed Deane, who majored in business before enlisting and is still working to pay off his student loans, has found these classes particularly impactful.
"I learned more about finances than I did in some of my college classes," said Deane. "It's really going to help me later."
For many recruits in RSP, it can take time to overcome the disappointment of not realizing their goal to earn the title Marine.
Rct. Christine Senyk-Porino was dropped to RSP following a concussion received during training. She was at first too depressed to take much of value from the Fresh Start Classes, but that changed after she attended a lecture given by a drill instructor on the Marine Corps’ 14 Leadership Traits and how they translate to success in the civilian world.
“He said ‘even though you may not have gone through all the training, you still have those leadership traits inside you,’” said Senyk. “I realized that even though I am going home, I’m not going home as a failure.”
Senyk still hopes the Marine Corps can be an option for her in the future, and plans to attempt recruit training again after recovering fully. However, Fresh Start has led her to consider other possibilities.
“I was really disorganized when I left home,” said Senyk. “I’ve gained a lot of discipline. If [the Marine Corps] doesn’t work out, I’ll probably go to college for computer science. It’s been a passion of mine since 7th grade.”
While recruits in RSP will still have to face the disappointment of friends and family after returning home, Operation Fresh Start helps ensure that every recruit who steps aboard Parris Island leaves with the tools to succeed.
“They can prove to themselves and others that this was not a waste by hitting the ground running and being successful,” said Mokris. “That’s what’s going to show people that the Marine Corps really did have a large impact on their lives.”