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Third Time's a Charm; Marine Triumphs Over Hardships
by Lance Cpl. Jennifer Brofer
Marine Corps News
July 1, 2003

MCRD/ERR PARRIS ISLAND, S.C. -- Just four days before William J. Schenck reached the euphoric state of accomplishment felt at Marine Corps Recruit Graduation, doctors at the Branch Medical Clinic told him he had a rare muscle disorder that would keep him from graduating with his platoon. Schenck was devastated.

Most people would have given up had they been faced with the same adversity. Instead, he stayed strong, knowing it was only a matter of time before he would earn the title, "U.S. Marine." He didn't know then the obstacles he would have to face in the months leading up to graduation.

Private First Class Schenck ended up having to go through three Crucibles, three platoons, countless drill instructors and more than nine-and-a-half months on the island before he earned his Eagle, Globe and Anchor. Then, he had to spend three more months in Basic Marine Platoon recuperating from a broken ankle before he was finally declared medically fit to return to full duty.

After being released from BMP, the Milleville, New Jersey, native finally packed his bags Monday, and said goodbye to Parris Island- this time for good.

He was just like any other recruit, waiting for Family Day to come, anticipating his graduation from boot camp, when he first heard the bad news.

Schenck was at the Branch Medical Clinic waiting for the results of a blood test conducted to monitor heat patients, and hoping for good news so he could get back to finishing the Crucible with his platoon. The doctors were so baffled by their initial results they said, "we think our machine is messed up, so we have to take your blood again," Schenck explained.

What the doctors later discovered were dangerously high levels of Creatine PhosphoKinase (CPK), an enzyme that is released by the body after working out, to break down muscle tissue in preparation for building it back up. If CPK amounts rise to a certain level, they can be deadly. Schenck's blood had ten times the safe amount.

"They weren't legally permitted to let me finish," said Schenck. "I felt perfectly fine, but my first sergeant said 'Son, you're not finishing the Crucible.' When I first heard the news I just stared at him and he looked at me like I was the dumbest person."

Schenck said since he was so close to finishing his training, it took all he had to keep from breaking down in front of his first sergeant and two other recruits, who were crying themselves after hearing the bad news of their own. "I wasn't going to let myself cry, especially in front of my first sergeant," he said.

His drill instructors fought to keep him from being dropped so he could graduate on time with his platoon, Platoon 1074, Bravo Co, 1st RTBn.

"My drill instructors told me I motivated them," he said.

Unfortunately, they lost that battle and he was dropped to Platoon 2082, Fox Co., 2nd RTBn., which meant he would have to do the Crucible all over again. After having almost completed the Crucible the second time around, Schenck was dropped again for the same reason. This time he was dropped to Medical Rehabilitation Platoon (MRP), a non-training platoon specifically for injured recruits.

"At MRP I was on bed rest for a month, then strict no duty for four months- I couldn't even march," Schenck explained.

Even then, his determination never wavered.

"Everyone expects to come here and three months later be a Marine. I came here just saying, 'I'm going to be a Marine.' It didn't matter if it took more than three months. I refused to let down my friends and family by coming home a failure," he said.

His unfailing motivation hadn't gone unnoticed by his drill instructors, so he was eventually named the Guide of MRP, the head recruit in charge of making sure the platoon is "squared away."

"He was a good guide," said Staff Sgt. Dustin J. Conrad, senior drill instructor, MRP. "Whenever the drill instructors told him to make sure something got done, he made sure it was done. He was my favorite guide-I couldn't have asked for more out of a guide."

After nearly six months in MRP, Schenck was finally released back into training. Schenck was on the Crucible for the third time when, without warning, he came across another obstacle.

While on the five-mile night hike, Schenck felt pain in his left ankle, but said nothing to his drill instructors for fear of being dropped to MRP again.

Then, in the middle of the hike, Schenck's ankle snapped.

"The pain just ripped through my whole body, but I just kept going and going and going," he said. "I actually motivated my drill instructors by sticking through it."

Getting dropped again to MRP seemed inevitable, but even his series commander fought for him this time.

A glimmer of hope came when Schenck's drill instructors said, "Schenck, I think we won, but it's not guaranteed yet, but the good news is if you do get dropped you won't have to do the Crucible again."

However, that hope quickly faded the day before the Battalion Commander's inspection when they told him, "I don't know how to tell you this, but you've been dropped to MRP," explained Schenck.

The 20-year-old then called his mother and father from MRP to tell them the bad news, yet again.

"My mom took the news well, but my pops took it bad," explained Schenck.

One of the worst parts, Schenck said, was that his mother had arranged for all of his family, whom he hadn't seen in a long time, to fly down to see him for his graduation. All hope seemed lost. Then the next day, out of nowhere, his drill instructors came in and told him to pack his bags because he would be graduating after all.

The excited Schenck then called his parents-this time telling them unexpected, good news.

"I called my mom and said, 'mom, get in the car now because my Family Day is tomorrow,' and my mom just screamed 'oh my god!!'"

When asked how he felt about receiving his Eagle, Globe and Anchor during the Family Day ceremony the next day, he fell silent for a moment, straining to find the right answer.

"I don't even know how to describe how I felt when I got it ... I just about died," he said earnestly. "When I got my EGA they told me, 'looks like all those Crucibles finally paid off.'"

His family was more than thrilled about seeing their son for the first time in months.

"We were so excited when we saw him for the first time, I was in tears," said Susan Shropshire, Schenck's mother. "If he hadn't been on crutches, I would've jumped right into his arms."

He graduated the next day with Platoon 3028, India Co., 3rd RTBn., on April 4, 2003, after months of struggling through all the hardships that had been thrown his way.

Some say "bad things come in three," but in Schenck's case, the third time was a charm.

His mother could sense the transformation that had taken place during his time on the island.

"He just glowed. You could tell by his smile from ear to ear," said his mother. "We have another son who's in the Marines too, so we know that glow when we see it. It's been a long, hard road for all of us, but I think he succeeded because he has the heart of a real winner."

Though Schenck knew he would be back on the island after his 10 days of leave, he knew the hardest part was already behind him. That made him enjoy his new-found freedom even more. Schenck said being on the island so long made him realize what he had taken for granted.

"It was a real culture shock for me when I got home. Even the littlest things amazed me," he said.

After his leave ended, he returned to Parris Island for three more months to recover from his broken ankle. After long weeks of physical therapy, he slowly, but surely, pulled through and was finally declared medically fit to leave Parris Island June 20.

It goes to show that with the right amount of determination, anything can be accomplished. One Marine also proved that while he may be considered a "Basic Marine," his actions showed that he is anything but "basic."

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