US Marines find new secret weapon to recruit your child

Parris Island Special Report 2

PARRIS ISLAND, SC (WMBF) - When you send your kids off to school each day, the expectation is they are getting the education they need to prepare them for college, find a career, and earn a living.

However, many of their own teachers and coaches may have a different idea about what's best for your child, and they're getting help from the military.

A program being offered to teachers across South Carolina is designed to give your kids the confidence to take a different path, one you may or may not want them on.

Recruiting the best and brightest into the military has become such a heavy burden, recruiters are desperately looking for any advantage they can find. The Marine Corps thinks it's found that advantage by setting its sites on coaches like Stephen Burris.

The law doesn't allow the Marines to approach high school freshmen, sophomores or juniors. They're considered too young, too impressionable.

But the Marine Corps knows the value of having someone like Coach Burris on their side, and he knows that for many of these low-income, at-risk teens, the military wouldn't be the worst path for them.

Burris is convinced at least 80 percent of his current students could benefit from a tour in the Marines.

Coach Burris is one of those South Carolina educators who command a lot of respect from these 14 to 18-year-olds at Conway High School. They trust him. They listen to him and he takes that responsibility seriously. That's one of the reasons he pulled the trigger on this chance to join his fellow educators at a Marine "Educator's Workshop."

Another reason: he's convinced the overwhelming majority of his students could benefit from what the Marine Corps has to offer.

The staff at the workshop promised a condensed version of what the Corps calls the "Marine Transformation."

"It far exceeded anything I was expecting," Burris says. "When they said they were going to be fully transparent, you say that, but are you really? Because, I mean, there are a lot of things that go on here, and a lot of myths, but I think as transparent as they can be, they have been."

Targeting these teachers with these workshops costs the Marines $1 million a year.

West Florence High career councilor Faith Brown will tell you it's worth it. She went through it last year. She believes whether parents like it or not, for some students, the best chance at a good life is in uniform.

"My job is not to sway either way, but to give them the best information I can give them," Brown says, "and participating in the Educator's Workshop gave me just that."

Joshua Johnson ships out to Parris Island in June. He's convinced having someone like Miss Brown can be important in steering students both to and away from the Marines.

"Having someone there to even tell you how hard the training is, or what you have to do for the training, I think it helps a whole lot," Johnson says, "because you can understand what you have to go through when you actually get there."

Back at Parris Island, the workshop rolls on, and you can already see these teachers beginning to let their guards down even more.

Three days into his education at Parris Island, Coach Burris was asked a familiar question to see if his answer had changed: What percentage of his students would he recommend the Marine Corps to now?

"It's 100," he says. "No doubt about it."

While the Marine Corps is no doubt an admirable path for any young man or woman to take, you might be asking yourself, is talking about military service with students really a teacher's role?

"I don't look at it as an issue," says Burris. "Once you develop that relationship and they feel you have a vested interest in their child, it would be no different than me saying maybe you should go to the University of South Carolina."

The Marine Corps has indeed found a very effective recruitment tool that can reach students in a way they never could before, but it's unclear what kind of impact recent defense spending cuts will have on the Marine's "Educator Workshops".

The commander at Parris Island insists she would be willing to give up a lot of other things before she gives up on that program. Others say the number of teachers invited to Parris Island will likely have to shrink for the program to survive.

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