Story by LCpl Carlin Warren on 04/28/2018PARRIS ISLAND, S.C. -- As Ethan Pier entered into his new home he had sweat dripping down his face and a voice yelled at his platoon to move faster. Ethan had a feeling of familiarity as he looked at the aligned bunk beds; neatly-folded sheets; and cold, gray floors. Memories stirred of when his oldest brother, Lance Cpl. Noah Pier, guided their family through the squad bay he called home during his time at boot camp 11 years prior. Although Noah wasn't here to tell him everything would be okay, his closest brother, Jacob, was by his side, reassuring him they were both where they were meant to be. Both brothers would become Marines, just like their oldest brother.
Not too long after the bright-eyed Ethan turned 17, on Dec. 26, 2017, he and Jacob, joined the Marines and were scheduled to go through recruit training together on Marine Corps Recruit Depot, Parris Island, S.C., on Jan. 29, 2018.
"We both grew up wanting to join the Marines," recalled Jacob, a 19 year
old native of Charlotte, N.C.
"It was something we always wanted to do, so why not do it together," added Ethan, the youngest of 10 siblings.
What it means to be a Marine was something introduced early in the brothers' lives. In addition to their older brother serving in the Marine Corps, their grandfather, Cpl. Burnice Herring had also called Parris Island home, in pursuit of earning the title. Not only did they both serve their country and Corps, they also served as role models that Ethan and Jacob looked up to.
"We grew up knowing Marines; our grandfather was a Marine, and our brother was soon to be a Marine," said Jacob. "We would play outside, grab the cammies, grab the face-paint and our toy-guns, and run around like we were Marines."
"We had some trees laying across our backyard and our boys used them as an obstacle course," said the boys' father, Mark Pier. "They were weaving their way through them in one of the photos we have. The boys were always running around dressed up camo."
"I loved watching the boys play outside. Every time Noah, and all the boys, had the neighborhood kids over they would want to play in the woods," laughed the boys' mother, Vikki Pier. "The boys would challenge everyone to find them in the woods, they never could."
Noah's accomplishments motivated his younger brothers to succeed and persevere through the challenges of recruit training to earn the same title he had, which would prove to be bittersweet. Noah Pier was killed in action on Feb. 16, 2010, in support of combat operations in Helmand Province, Afghanistan, while serving as a machine gunner with 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, 3rd Marine Division, III Marine Expeditionary Force, Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii.
"We were really young," said Jacob. "I would have been 11, and being that young age, having Marines come to the door and tell us -- It didn't seem real. I was still expecting [Noah] to come home. I had a sense of, that will never happen to my brother, he will come home.' They told us he was on patrol and stepped on a pressure plate I.E.D. -- That was it."
Breaking the news
It wasn't until Ethan, who was 16 at the time, asked Jacob about joining the Marines that they both started the process.
"While we were talking to the recruiter we found out that they still do the Buddy Program," said Jacob, who was the platoon's highest shooter. "So we said let's go together, and that led from one step to another."
The "Buddy Program" allows two men or women who have decided they both want to become Marines to go to recruit training together and train in the same platoon. The Pier brothers told their recruiter before they swore in that they wanted to train together.
The two youngest of Vikki Pier's children got a different reaction than expected when they brought up joining the Marines to their mother. After spending so much time with her homeschooling them, they thought it would be harder to convince her.
"We took our time, we didn't just go to the recruiter's office without telling her," said Jacob, who grew up as the family's quiet trouble maker. "We thought about it for about two weeks and when we told her Yes we really want to do this,' she just had this peace of mind thinking my boys were meant to do this.' I mean, she is going to take it hard because one of our brothers [Noah] was killed in action, and now the two of us joined [as infantry] and the same could happen to us; but she knew we were meant to do this."
"I was proud, I wasn't afraid," said Vikki. "It wasn't a surprise, but we never pushed any of the boys to join. They did talk to my dad a lot, they were enthralled with his life. When it came time to see them off to boot camp I knew they were meant to go, but in the end I didn't want the small possibility that I might lose them too. I had to be strong, I didn't let them know, but I got sick to my stomach thinking about losing them. I cannot, they cannot focus on that. I am so proud of our Marine Corps, but it is very emotional to see my boys join."
"It was emotional," said Mark. "Remembering watching Noah, our oldest son, leave for [the School of Infantry] and we didn't really see him much after that, then he was gone. Now the two youngest boys, we have ten kids, who we thought would be around for a little longer than that, joined up. After they joined it was MEPS, bootcamp, now ten days home, on to SOI and then they are gone."
"We wouldn't stop them even with all of that," said Vikki.
"Our wants don't outweigh them serving," said Mark.
The Pier brothers swore into the military and as they were walking out of the room their mom grabbed hold of them and hugged each one, remembered Ethan. As they hugged their family their mom just kept stealing hugs from them.
"It was really good to see that we had family that cares," said Ethan.
A Brothers' Connection
After being woken up each morning at 4 a.m., to the sound of "Lights! Lights! Lights!," the roughly 6-foot tall brothers marched from their Fox Company barracks to the chow hall, passing by where their older brother lived in the Golf Company barracks. Training in the same battalion, in the same style barracks, and to the same tough standards that the Marines are known for, served as a connection to their brothers that they had not expected.
"That last hike of the Crucible and going under the "We Make Marines" sign hit me really hard," admitted Jacob. "I realized that Noah and Grandad, and thousands of other Marines graduated here standing on this holy ground. It was heartwarming and just it was great. Ever since earning the E.G.A. and coming through boot camp, I feel like I know what he was doing and the brotherhood is stronger now."
It wasn't just the brotherhood that they had noticed strengthen during training and the Crucible. Throughout bootcamp Ethan and Jacob built their mental courage and learned to endure any hardships, just as Noah had when he went through training.
"It was three miles of almost jogging with the ammo-cans," said Ethan. "Jacob and I would switch on and off with the big ammo-can and the regular one. It was one of the toughest events in the Crucible for us. It tested our mental strength as well as how much teamwork you could put into it. Sometimes we would have two ammo-cans to carry as we traded them around. Our platoon wasn't that great at teamwork, that played a part of building the pride we felt, it was because we actually started to work as a team. The last strip of Page Field, you could see the lights in the distance, I wanted to quit so bad. It would have been easy to quit. In my life I've usually just quit, but I didn't. -- It helped that Drill Instructor Sgt. Scott was right beside me during that last quarter-mile and refused to let me quit. He pushed me and kept motivating me saying you've got this,' you came here for a reason.' He reminded me why I came to boot camp. Jacob and I nailed it, we each took a side of the large ammo-can and had a regular one in our other hands and started walking faster to just get it over with. From there on out I looked at it that way; at some point and time the Crucible is going to be over."
Realizing the Dream
The morning dew glimmered as the sun came up while Mark and Vikki Pier waited with their family to see their two youngest children for the first time in three months. The whole family had driven 4 hours to see Ethan and Jacob run during the "Motivational Run" and spend time with them during "Family Day."
"I'm so proud of my boys!" exclaimed Mark. "I cant even explain it, if they had gone through eight years of college I couldn't be more proud of them then, than I am now. They have gone through bootcamp and the Crucible and they have come out glorious! I know they will be excellent Marines."
As soon as their senior drill instructor said Dismissed!,' the families and friends of Fox and Oscar Companies roared with excitement. Ethan and Jacob Pier ran to their parents, Mark and Vikki, who welcomed their newest Marines with open arms and huge smiles on their faces. The Pier brothers would have the next few hours to spend with their family to show them where they trained and earned their newfound title.
Ethan and Jacob rushed around their empty squadbay grabbing bags off bunk-beds, uniforms off the walls, and their small amount of personal possessions from their footlockers preparing to leave the next day. It wasn't until their mother tried to corral them to take a few photos that they slowed down and a smile returned to their faces.
"It still feels like another training day," said Jacob, as he hesitantly looked for a drill instructor to walk in the squad bay.
The two youngest Pier's posed with their family for a picture and held up a picture of their eldest brother Noah. Even though they had a picture of Noah it wasn't the same as having him there.
"It almost felt like he was here with us, but it's still bittersweet," said Jacob. "I wish he was actually here with us, but it's a great feeling to join him, as well as the rest of the Marines that came before us."
After spending the day laughing and enjoying time with their family, the two sun-tanned brothers went back to the Fox Company squad bays. Their last night on Parris Island would be spent preparing for graduation the next day with the rest of Platoon 2032.
Ethan and Jacob graduated Marine Corps recruit training on April 27, 2018, just over ten years after their oldest brother Noah graduated from the same battalion.
Just like their oldest brother Noah did just ten years before them Ethan and Jacob stood tall and marched across the parade deck toward graduation. The next step would be 10 days at home with their family and then to Infantry Training Battalion at the School of Infantry where they would learn what Marines do.