Bowdoin Marine called to active duty
While most Bowdoin students' personal connection to the war in Iraq is minimal, Alex Cornell du Houx '06 has taken a semester off from Bowdoin after he was called to active duty by the Marines. Three days after his first year at Bowdoin, Cornell flew to South Carolina to participate in 13 weeks of boot camp and recruit training.
Upon completion of the boot camp, Cornell received another surprise, he had been called to go to Camp Legune in North Carolina to attend the School of Infantry. All residents of Maine who join the Marine Corps are automatically assigned to infantry because of Maine's contribution to the total marines. Cornell expects to be back at Bowdoin by January, but in the meantime his life will be drastically different from those of his fellow students.
Everyday Cornell wakes up between 3:00 a.m. and 5:00 a.m. and eats a "meal, ready to eat." He then goes to the fields, where the Marines cover a specific topic that changes weekly.
This week, Cornell finished learning about platoon formations and patrolling. Next week, he will explore the various aspects of land navigation.
Often, the rigor of a day in the field is not enough for Marines, and they will finish the day with a ten-mile nature walk in which they must carry their 80-pound packs on their backs.
Each day spent in the field is followed by an eight-hour day in the classroom where the Marines learn everything from first aid to weapontry.
"The academics are not easy," Cornell said. He pointed to the fact that one-third of the class failed the last examination.
Every Marine has a specific specialization. Cornell's job concentrates on rocket launchers and assault. If called to battle, he will have to work with explosives to target tanks. In North Carolina, Cornell will spend eight weeks mastering his job.
Cornell understands that his job as a Marine is to protect and serve the United States, and he tries not to let his own political opinions get in the way of his responsibilities.
"I disagree with the way we went into Iraq," Cornell said. He thinks that if the US had tried to form more alliances before going in, there would not have been as many lives lost."
"My job, as a marine, is to go when they call me. I do my job 100 percent no matter what," he said. About one-third of the platoon is college students and Cornell considers himself in the minority when it comes criticizing the Iraq policy.
Cornell wanted to be part of the Army, Navy, or Marines since he was a child. His parents were not at all surprised at his fascination with the Marines. He was always very athletic and involved with politics.
Ramona Cornell du Houx, Alex's mother, said, "We support Alex in all his endeavors. I am worried about Alex's safety, as a mother should be, but I know the Marines are the best trained force that we have. So they and Alex, know what they are doing."
The ROTC programs interested Cornell, but Bowdoin was his first priority and being in the ROTC would require Cornell to find transportation to Orono. Cornell considers the Marines the most challenging branch and thinks it will get him in the best shape if he is ever in the position to go into combat. Because there is a Marine base in Thompson, Maine, the branch was also relatively easy to be involved with while attending Bowdoin.
After calling a recruiter in California, Cornell headed to Portland for a series of intense physical screenings. He is now on a six-by-two-year contract that helps with his college payments. His contract calls for him to be a reservist for six years, which requires one weekend a month and two weeks a year.
During the required weekends, the Marines drill, train, and practice in the rifle range. The two weeks a year are spent learning more specific war tactics like urban warfare and scuba diving.
"The stuff we learn here, you can't learn anywhere else. It's an amazing experience," Cornell said.
After six years in the Reserves, Cornell must spend two years on call. Although he's not sure exactly what he wants to do with his future, he is considering spending a couple of extra years with the Marines and could be promoted to second lieutenant soon after his contract ends.
At Bowdoin, Cornell was involved in numerous extracurricular activities. He was part of the Bowdoin Democrats and the Maine State Democrats. As a first year, he was the head of the Baxter Buddy Tutoring Program and Habitat for Humanity. He is also very involved in Bowdoin's track team and Outing Club.
Cornell is leaning towards a government major and thinks he will be able
to use the skills and values he learns from his experience in the Marines
later in life. Cornell says that he isn't really scared about being called
to go abroad because he is confident that he'll do his assignment well
after the training he has been given. "I miss Bowdoin, though,"
he said. "I'd like to get back as soon as possible."