AL ASAD, Iraq -- Almost four years ago, in early 2003, three young adults rushed from a bus to the famous yellow footprints at Marine Corps Recruit Depot, San Diego. On that day, these individuals met their ferocious drill instructors and became a part of Platoon 3069, beginning their struggles to become Marines.
Present day, these three hardened Marines are serving at Al Asad, Iraq, with Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 363 and with one of the first Marines they ever met: their drill instructor.
Sgt. William J. Drips, Sgt. David A. Dillinger Jr., and Cpl. Ernesto Cazares, all three former recruits from Platoon 3069, deployed to Iraq in late August with one of their drill instructors, Staff Sgt. Jason A. Politte.
"The coincidence that we are all here is definitely unusual," said Politte, administration chief and squadron gunnery sergeant of HMH-363, Marine Aircraft Group 16 (Reinforced), 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing (Forward). "It's good to see them out here, especially going from recruit training, because two of them were squad leaders. A lot of my buddies said they have seen their recruits out in the fleet, but seeing three of the Marines I trained in the same squadron … you don't see that too often."
Having stuck by one another since recruit training, Dillinger Jr. and Cazares, both flight line mechanics with HMH-363, went through all of their training after boot camp together, as well as to the same squadron upon reaching the fleet.
"We've been stationed together for almost four years now," said Dillinger Jr., a 23-year-old Anderson, Calif., native. "We'll be together until we get out. It makes it easier for us because we work in the same military occupational specialty."
Politte followed his two recruits to the squadron in late 2005, according to Cazares, a 25-year-old native of Chicago.
"I think he planned it to pick on us," joked Cazares, a high school graduate of Farragut High School.
"We both got our email gestures when he came to Hawaii," said Dillinger Jr., an Anderson High School graduate. "'Every where you go there is a drill instructor,' it said."
Following Politte by only a few months, Drips, who had been stationed at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Calif., received orders to HMH-363 at Marine Corps Base Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii, in early 2006.
"I actually got an email from (Politte) before I checked into the squadron, and it said, 'Oh, so you think you're going to 363, huh?'" said Drips, a flight equipment technician and aerial observer with HMH-363. "It was a little unexpected for me. I didn't think I would see these guys again. Then, my orders just popped up, and I was going to Hawaii."
The irony of the three Marines serving in the same squadron on the same deployment wasn't passed on any of them, according to Drips, a 23-year-old Davis, Calif., native.
"It's kind of funny, not only that we were all in boot camp together, but me and Dillinger were rack mates together, because we were squad leaders," said the Davis Senior High School graduate. "Cazares stood right across the hall from us. It is kind of funny because we are rack mates again now."
Although almost four years have passed since these three stepped on the yellow footprints, what was instilled in them at recruit training is still evident in their actions today.
"You can definitely tell that the intimidation factor is still there, which I think is natural between any Marine and their drill instructors, but there is a sense of respect, both from me to them and from them to me," said Politte, a 28-year-old native of Papillion, Neb. "They've gained that trust and respect. It's funny looking at them sometimes, especially when they hear me yelling. I talk to them now, as they are Marines. I teach them things, and they teach me, too."
Serving with the Marines he helped train, Politte says it gives him a sense of accomplishment as the drill instructor of Platoon 3069, the honor platoon of Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion.
"Seeing them as corporals and sergeants in Iraq makes me feel that I was more successful down there," concluded Politte, a graduate from Papillion Lavista High School. "It's a great experience to go down and train recruits to become Marines at the depot, and it is definitely worth the long hours and time away from family and friends that we spend there."