Adam Martinez was awed by the 21 ½ foot long, 8 ¾ foot high war machine, but surprised by the cramped space of the all-terrain, all-weather vehicle designed to transport Marines into battle.
“I’m just a short 18-year-old! Imagine all these big dudes in there,” he said.
Martinez, a senior at Marie Curie High School, was joined by several hundred classmates to experience several of the Marine Corps’ warfighting vehicles as part of the inaugural Marine Week Chicago, a weeklong event which includes static displays of Marine Corps vehicles and weaponry such as the one here May 11.
“Established to recognize the contributions of local Marine heroes, their families and the cities from which they came, Marine Week also showcases the rich history and traditions of our beloved Corps,” said Gen. James T. Conway, commandant of the Marine Corps, in an official statement regarding Marine Week Chicago. “This is the first of many celebrations honoring country and Corps in cities across the nation.”
The students had the opportunity to man the turret and climb in and around the light armored vehicle, which is capable of maxing out a land speed of 62.2 miles per hour. The armored personnel carrier can also provide firepower for Marines in combat, with the M242 25 mm machine gun as its primary weapon.
The LAV came from the Program Manager’s Office for LAV, based out of Warren, Mich. An accompanying 7-ton truck and Humvee came from Marine Wing Control Squadron 48, Marine Air Control Group 48, based out of Great Lakes, Ill. The reserve unit is responsible for providing communication for the aviation combat element of a Marine expeditionary force.
Chicago’s vibrant atmosphere and rich diversity made the city the Corps’ top choice for launching Marine Week.
Joining the students was their principal, Phillip Perry, who was instrumental in making one of the first events of Marine Week Chicago possible.
“I thought it was a good concept. There’s a task of being able to get a positive image of the Marines out there, and one way to do that is through the displays of various equipment,” Perry said.
The information provided by the Marines can help students make an informed decision on their future, whether they attend college or enter military service, Perry said.
“We’d like all of our students to go to college, but the reality is that not all students go to college immediately. Today provides an opportunity for students to ask questions about the Marine Corps as a post-secondary option,” Perry said.
Perry, a 1971 graduate of what is now known as Simeon Career Academy, couldn’t imagine a Marine Week possible during his teenage years.
“As a country, we are very different now than we were during the Vietnam era. There were many things going on socially and politically,” Perry said.
Marine recruiters from the local recruiting substation, Recruiting Substation Chicago Lawn, Marine Corps Recruiting Station Chicago, were also on hand to answer any questions the students had about opportunities in the Marine Corps.
“Having different kinds of Marines here helps open the doors for the Marine Corps to explain that there are more jobs available than just infantry,” said Gunnery Sgt. Mardo Caceres, the noncommissioned officer-in-charge of RSS Chicago Lawn, RS Chicago.
Marie Curie High School, located on the intersection of Archer Avenue and 49th Street on Chicago’s South Side, is the second largest high school in Chicago, with about 3,460 students matriculated. The student population is 75 percent Hispanic, 15 percent African-American with a small Asian and Caucasian student body.
Nearly half of the Marie Curie High School student body is currently enrolled in its Marine Corps Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps program, Caceres said.
The JROTC is a federal program sponsored by the United States Armed Forces in high schools across the United States. Chicago currently boasts the nation’s largest JROTC program in terms of the amount of cadets enrolled and total programs.
Eight students from Marie Curie High School are currently in the Marine Corps Delayed Entry Program, keeping their physical fitness and level of Marine Corps knowledge up as they prepare to ship to Marine Corps recruit training at Marine Corps Recruit Depot, San Diego, for males, and Marine Corps Recruit Depot, Parris Island, S.C., for females.
As the students wandered throughout the parking lot and shared their backgrounds with the Marines, some Marines were surprised at the contrasting lifestyles between themselves and the high school students.
“Everyone comes from different walks of life. I was born and raised in the country,” said Sgt. Jared B. Waddle, a 25-year-old ground communication and electronic repairman from Rockwell, Texas. “Seeing how these kids grew up in the city life, it’s almost night and day.”
No matter the spoken language, music preference or clothing style of choice, the students still appeared to be in awe of the United States Marine.
“It’s nice to know that there are people defending our country,” Martinez said.
For more information on Marine Week Chicago, visit www.marines.mil/marineweek, or contact your local Marine Corps recruiting office.