Missouri Marine shares military experiences

Rebecca Haines

Taking each new experience like the next obstacle course, Riley Tatum is enjoying his time in military training.

The 2006 Carthage graduate joined the Marine Corps after a year at Crowder College.

"I couldn't envision myself completing all the work I had to do, so I tried to think of something I could do without being a loser," he said.

Tatum's brother, Ryan, a 2003 Carthage graduate, joined the Marines after high school, which contributed to Riley's decision. After Ryan left for his training, Riley started hanging out with his brother’s friend David Walbridge, another 2003 graduate.

"I was his backup Ryan," Riley said with a laugh.

When Riley made his decision to pursue a military life, he said he was well supported on the home front. He said he was surprised with the amount of letters from home he received. He would read letters twice a week from his mother alone, and Walbridge sent him some words of encouragement too.

"Those are the main source of motivation," Riley said.

While in San Diego at the Marine Corp Recruit Depot (MCRD), Riley befriended majority of his fellow trainees. 

"We've fought, argued and helped each other like brothers," he said. "We either hated or loved each other."

One friend who stood out in Riley's mind was squad leader Joseph Heath. These two became close in sharing a mutual faith in God.

"We prayed a lot, and went to church every Sunday," Riley said. "We were in a prayer group together too. It kept us motivated."

Riley said there were times when soldiers cried, and weren't ashamed of it.

"It's such a release from the stresses, and it opens your mind," he said. "If Christ could take all the beating he did, we thought we could carry a little pack."

Joining the military to Riley has developed a deeper meaning than just a career. This realization became clear to him during an exercise where the men had to hold their weapon straight out from their bodies for an extended period of time.

"I just kept pushing myself," Riley said. "I wanted to prove to them and to myself that I could do it. I would say 95 percent of all boot camp was mental, and everything is really hurry up and wait."

After basics, Riley went to Camp Pendleton in California, where he completed rifle, field and the final three-day Crucible. The last stages of training were intense, especially when the men had to crawl through water in conditions, which Riley described to be "less than favorable." His squad had to go through the course twice, but Tatum said this was alright with him.

"I was pretty excited, because we stuck it out," he said. "My legs were numb ... I didn't know what to do except push myself harder."

Another obstacle course, which remains a vivid memory with Riley, is "The Tough One." Riley said he doesn't have a fear of heights, but this one pushed the limit.

"I was so scared because I didn't want to get hurt and sent home," he said. "I didn't let anything get to me, though, and I gave it my all."

Riley recently came home from MCT, which was combat training. His next training will be in Virginia for three months, which he said is something he's excited for.

"I'm happy with where I am now," he said. "I enjoy a good challenge, and I've made good friends. It is well worth it ...I think I've learned more in three weeks than I did in four years in high school. You earn everything."

Carthage Press