BUFFALO, N.Y. — Brothers share a unique bond that few without a brother can understand. Though they sometimes experience vastly different paths to adulthood, that bond remains.
Brandon and Justin Willibey share another bond — a bond earned through blood, sweat and perseverance on an island some would describe as hell. And through their three-month test, they have earned their place in a brotherhood that few will ever know. They have earned their place as United States Marines.
Last summer, Brandon, 23, and Justin, 19, left their home in Springville, New York, and their jobs at Ralph Wilson Stadium for Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, South Carolina, to become Marines. They both said they chose the Corps to enrich their lives. The brothers stepped on the “yellow footprints” on Parris Island in June 2015, and they have never looked back.
“Ever since I graduated recruit training, my capacity for patience and attention to detail has been the biggest change,” said Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Justin Willibey. “I’ll spend a lot of time making sure the position of my ribbon on my uniform is straight or checking for neatness. That feeds into the pride I have.”
“My girlfriend notices now how much more organized I am,” said Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Brandon Willibey. “She loves that I have that situational awareness.”
While the Marine Corps way of life left an impression on the Willibeys, the brothers left an impression on the recruiting substation commander, Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Eric Crumley.
“When they came into my office and the delayed entry program, they were already very well-disciplined, well-manned and forward-leaning motivators,” Crumley said. “Sometimes when people go into recruit training, they lack the drive or don’t have the focus, which was not the case with these two. Their upbringing and job responsibilities started them on a good foundation that the Corps was able to build upon.”
Before the Willibeys raised their right hands in swearing service to their country, the two had already worked for years with their father, Jim Willibey, as part of stadium operations at Ralph Wilson Stadium where the Buffalo Bills play. Brandon often worked security, while Justin worked with day-to-day operations and construction.
“They’ve been with me on game day, they’ve helped me straighten goal posts on windy days, hang the dozens of flags and take them down before and after the game,” said the Marines’ father, an operations associate for Ralph Wilson Stadium. “I was already proud of all they did before they joined the Marines — Brandon had a bachelor’s degree, [and] Justin had an associate’s degree.
What a difference it was seeing his sons, the father said, for the first time in three months after they’d graduated from Marine Corps basic training.
“I was beaming with pride. Heck, I still get choked up thinking about how far they’ve come, Jim Willibey said. “I gave them a good start on life, but the Corps was a catapult for their future.”
Brandon and Justin graduated Recruit Training with Platoon 1077, Bravo Company, 1st Recruit Training Battalion, on Sept. 18, leaving the depot with experiences they could share that few others could ever comprehend.
Now that the brothers have earned their place as Marines, they are learning the job skills they will use throughout their time in the Corps. Brandon is training at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, North Carolina, to become an aviation ordnance technician, learning the specifics of fixed-wing aircraft ordnance.
“It feels great to be in training,” he said. “Today, I got to see the insides of some ordnance and learn the ins and outs of such a unique trade. I’m also happy because I’m also doing what I joined to do, and that is travel — see more of the world.”
Meanwhile, Justin is more than 1,000 miles away from his brother, training to be a military policeman at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri.
Brandon said he is considering serving 20 years, while Justin said he is still undecided on his enlistment plans in the next four years. Both Marines said they have careers ahead of them, and that while there may be miles between them, they share a bond of brotherhood strengthened by the eagle, globe and anchor of the Marine Corps emblem.