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Which Marine Corps boot camp is tougher? This Marine experienced both

Semper Fi.
Jeff Schogol Avatar
Marine boot camp
Lance Cpl. Kylie Hathaway broke her leg near the end of boot camp at San Diego. She spent three months recovering and then picked up recruit training with a new platoon at Parris Island. (Lance Cpl. Michelle Brudnicki/Marine Corps)

Lance Cpl. Kylie Hathaway is one of the few Marines who has hiked San Diego’s hills and battled Parris Island’s sand fleas to earn her Eagle, Globe, and Anchor.

Hathaway, 19, began recruit training last October at Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego, where she served as the guide for her platoon. She was just two weeks away from becoming a Marine when she fractured the tibia bone in one of her legs — threatening to derail all that she had worked so hard for.

“Honestly, for me, it was really, really demotivating,” Hathaway said. “I had felt like I had gotten so close. When I got dropped, they had given me two options: It was to go home that day, basically; or go to Parris Island. And, I wanted to be a Marine, so I opted to continue my recovery and go to Parris Island — but it was honestly very hard: I’d traveled so far from home to get here, and I had to travel so far again just to continue.”

Hathaway talked to Task & Purpose on Thursday, just one day after she was promoted to lance corporal. It was also her last day at the School of Infantry-West at Camp Pendleton, California. She is now expected to begin training to become a Cyber Operations Marine.

She said she wanted to be a Marine long before she arrived at boot camp. When she was 17, she tried to enlist but her parents refused to grant her permission to do so because they felt it was a decision she needed to make on her own. So, she enlisted two days after her 18th birthday.

Women who are injured during recruit training in San Diego can join the Marine Corps’ sole Female Recovery Platoon at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, South Carolina, according to a Marine Corps news story about Hathaway.

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At the time of her injury, Hathaway felt as if she were so close to the finish line that she could practically touch it. “Then I got thrown so far back,” she said. “There were times when I wanted to quit. But I had to remember: That’s not why I came in the first place. I didn’t come to give up.”

As she began to recover from her injury, Hathaway’s greatest concern was that her leg wouldn’t heal, or she would break it again, forcing her to go home. Fortunately, she was cleared to go to Parris Island, where she spent three months in the Female Recovery Platoon.

One of her drill instructors was Sgt. Cheyenna L. Natonabah, who was instrumental in helping her to overcome the difficulties she faced.

“The biggest thing with Sgt. Natonabah was: She still treated me like a normal recruit when I was in STC [Special Training Company],” Hathaway said. “I hated when any instructors or any recruits would treat me, personally, as if I was broken — even though I was. I hated being treated like I couldn’t do certain things because my leg had fractured or I wasn’t going to heal. But Sgt. Natonabah never, ever treated me like that. She never treated me like I was broken beyond repair.”

In April, Hathaway resumed boot camp at Parris Island on the 30th day of the training cycle. One of the most daunting challenges she faced was adapting to her new platoon — and learning to not keep comparing them with the recruits in her old platoon, with whom she had bonded.

It was a struggle to learn how to work with these unfamiliar recruits. She initially closed herself off from the rest of her platoon. Her goal was simply to get through The Crucible and graduate as quickly as possible, she said.

But when her senior drill instructor made Hathaway the guide for her new platoon, she was forced to take charge and be a leader.

“I needed my platoon in order to do that,” Hathaway said. “I had to remember the things that my senior drill instructor from San Diego would tell me: ‘Good leaders know their Marines. It’s not just: you’re there, you tell them what to do. You get to know them personally so you can work with them better.’”

So, Hathaway got to know her fellow recruits better and on May 14, her mentor, Sgt. Natonabah, was there at the end of the Crucible to give Hathaway her Eagle, Globe, and Anchor. But the reality of her accomplishment didn’t really sink in until she met her family at graduation. It was the first time she had seen them in eight months.

Hathaway said she had been at Boot Camp for so long that she would sometimes refer to herself in the third person as “this recruit” while talking to family members. Once, she even asked her mother for permission to make a head call.

“It felt so surreal,” Hathaway said. “It didn’t quite feel real, like I was going to wake up and still be in STC.”

After going through boot camp at the Marine Corps’ East and West Coast training depots, Hathaway is in the unique position of experiencing what life is like for a recruit at both San Diego and Parris Island.

Some differences between the two are subtle, such as the different terms used at the two depots for cleaning. 

“In San Diego, we called it ‘scuzzing the deck,’” Hathaway said. “But in Parris Island, we called it ‘tiny bubbling.’ So, I got really confused with different names of things like that. Our drill instructors would tell us to do something and I could kind of wait and see what the platoon did before anything because I had no idea what was going on at first.”

Of course, one major difference between the two training depots is that recruits at San Diego climb a lot of hills. That part of boot camp became especially difficult for Hathaway, whose leg started to fracture while hiking those hills.

But Parris Island has two things that San Diego lacks: Humidity and sand fleas, she said.

“Bug spray was your best friend in that situation,” Hathaway said.

Since the dawn of time, Marines have opined on which recruit training depot is tougher: San Diego or Parris Island. For Hathaway, it’s a split decision. 

“I feel like San Diego pushes you more physically while Parris Island tries to push you more mentally,” Hathaway said.”

Hathaway explained that she began recruit training at San Diego and immediately had to deal with the hills and the other physical challenges of boot camp. She was also completely new to the Marine Corps, so she was learning as she went.

By the time Hathaway arrived at Parris Island, she had a better idea of what boot camp involved. Even though she had to finish recruit training with an injury that slowed her down a little, dealing with an entirely new environment and new people proved to be her main challenge.

“I personally don’t really think that one is harder than the other,” Hathaway said. “I think it just depends on how you want to look at it: Physically vs. mentally.”

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