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Marine recruits pay tribute to heroic veterans
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Staff Sergeant Bryan Mayorga gives a demonstration to Marine recruits prior to their participation in the Medal of Honor Challenge held Saturday at Summerfaire Park in Turlock. - photo by ANGELINA MARTIN/The Journal

Future members of the United States Marine Corps got a firsthand look Saturday at what life in boot camp will be like, participating in a series of workouts which paid homage to three Marines who went above and beyond during their time in service.

The Medal of Honor Challenge saw nearly 40 Marine recruits complete rigorous training at Turlock’s Summerfaire Park, including fireman carries, sprints and crawls as part of an agility and endurance course meant to revere three specific Marines who were awarded the Medal of Honor. Each individual workout was inspired by the experiences that the medal recipients underwent in order to earn the prestigious recognition.

“This is one of the best ways we can teach these guys that being a Marine is more than just a job – it’s about honor, it’s about courage, it’s about the team and the individuals to the left and right of you,” said Staff Sergeant Bryan Mayorga. “That’s the reason why you fight.”

Two of the Marines that the workouts were meant to honor, Corporal Jason Dunham and Lance Corporal Lester Weber, received the Medal of Honor posthumously after outstanding displays of heroism while at war. Dunham deliberately covered an enemy grenade to save nearby Marines during the Iraq War, while Weber bravely rushed into enemy fire, overwhelming the enemy before being fatally wounded in the Vietnam War. The third, Major Jay Vargas, is a retired US Marine who received the Medal of Honor for leading an expert attack while wounded during the Vietnam War.

“Through these workouts, the recruits can see the kind of work these guys put in in order to earn that Medal of Honor,” said Mayorga.

The Marine recruits, who fall between the ages of 17 and 19, travelled to Turlock from surrounding areas including Patterson, Atwater, Delhi, Livingston, Los Banos, Dos Palos, Hilmar, Newman, Merced and Mariposa. According to Mayorga, though the Medal of Honor Challenge is only held twice a year, the group of recruits meet up monthly for bonding workouts such as hiking.

“We do different events to bring us all together and build that camaraderie with each other,” said Mayorga.

For some of the Marine recruits, the Medal of Honor Challenge was their first true Marine Corps experience. Others, however, have been in the recruit program for as long as eight months, waiting their turn to be admitted into recruit training. Mayorga explained that the Medal of Honor Challenge is much more difficult than anything the recruits will face during training.

“They’re going to be in for some work today and earn their sleep,” said Mayorga, who said that the Marine Corps boasts the toughest boot camp out of all the military branches. “We only want to send the best Marines out to recruit training, so we make sure they can handle what we throw at them out here.”

Local residents who think they’ve got what it takes to be a Marine are encouraged to visit for more information, or contact a local recruiter at 209-351-1602. Mayorga pointed out that it takes a special kind of person to be a Marine.

“What makes a good Marine is someone who’s disciplined, whether it’s looking after your brother or doing a job – you have to have discipline to do any of that.”