PARRIS ISLAND, S.C. --
For most recruits, the hardest part of boot camp is boot camp, but for one new Marine who graduated Sept. 20, 2013, it was the hefty two-year challenge just to get here.
To become a Marine, 20-year-old Pvt. Christopher Stephens from Phenix City, Ala., had a lot to lose – more than 175 pounds to be exact.
Stephens carried 359 pounds on his 5-foot-7-inch frame during his senior year at Smiths Station High School in Smiths Station, Ala. He knew he could be doing something better with his life. The military was always in the back of his mind, but he knew his weight would prevent him from joining.
Stephens grew up in a very military-friendly family. His brother and both of his grandfathers were Marines. The three years in the Marine Corps Junior ROTC program during high school increased his interest to enlist.
“I wasn’t really going anywhere else with my life, and I didn’t do the best in high school,” said Stephens. “I either knew I had to lose weight and join the Marine Corps or I may not have a good future at all.”
Stephens’ mother, Darrie Stephens, said after local children continually teased her son about his weight and told him he would never be able to become a Marine, he began to change. She noticed how serious he was about joining and how he was dedicated to proving it to those who doubted him.
Afraid of being denied, Stephens waited to speak to a recruiter until he began losing weight. He started a liquid protein diet and dramatically cut his calorie intake.
When Stephens walked in the recruiter’s office, he weighed 275 pounds, 84 pounds less than what he weighed his senior year. Stephens told the recruiter he understood the amount of work it would take to ship to boot camp, but he wanted to show his dedication.
The recruiter explained the Marine Corps has strict height and weight standards for those who want to join, and Stephens needed to lose an additional 80 pounds before he would even consider enlisting him. Then, the recruiter showed him the door.
Eighteen months later, Stephens returned to the recruiting office – weighing 195 pounds. He was ready to enlist.
He spent four months in the Delayed Entry Program, working with his recruiter every Tuesday and Saturday to get in better shape. Throughout that time he was able to get his weight down to 180 pounds, four pounds under his maximum shipping weight and literally half the man he was in high school.
“Stephens is by far the most dedicated poolee I have ever worked with,” said Staff Sgt. Byron Bacon, the recruiter who worked with Stephens every week in Montgomery, Ala.
Bacon said that when Stephens joined the Delayed Entry Program he was running 1.5 miles in approximately 15 minutes, and doing zero pullups and 58 crunches. Four months later, when Stephens shipped to boot camp, he had cut his run time by three minutes and improved to six pullups and 75 crunches.
On Parris Island, Stephens trained in Platoon 2073, Hotel Company, 2nd Recruit Training Battalion. During this time he endured hikes, intensive physical training and the Crucible, boot camp’s 54-hour final test. He said there were times when he thought it was too challenging to be able to finish, but he knew he didn’t come all this way to give up.
Staff Sgt. Jonathan Sypole, Stephens’ senior drill instructor, described him as “a motivated recruit who has made it clear that he can accomplish any goals he sets for himself.”
Even with the praise from his family and friends, Stephens can’t believe how far he has come. He went from weighing 359 pounds in high school to 160 pounds as a United States Marine.
“I feel like this is all a dream,” said Stephens. “I never thought I would have made it coming from my heaviest weight to where I am now.”
Stephens said he understands that what he has gone through was challenging, but he wants to assure those in similar circumstances it’s worth it.
“I hope I maybe inspire at least one or two people to do what they want to do even if they have to lose a lot of weight,” said Stephens. “It’s not impossible. If you really want it, you can do it.”