PARRIS ISLAND, S.C. -- After 13 tough weeks at boot camp, new Marines are finally ready to reunite with their family and friends and graduate. FOX 17 was able to attend graduation for three young men from West Michigan who have earned the title of United States Marine at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island.
It's an exciting and emotional day for the new Marines and their families. Graduations happen about 40 weeks out of the year at Parris Island. It's two days of events that FOX 17 was able to witness.
It's been more than three months since they said good bye.
"I'm excited, emotional. Very proud," said Meme Cook, whose son Travis is graduating from Parris Island.
"We're excited and ready to take him home," said Teri Sutton. Her son Kyler was graduating as well.
Families are seeing their sons and daughters for the first time as they run underneath the sign that says 'We Make Marines' at Parris Island. It's a four-mile motivational run with loved ones holding signs, wearing shirts and waving flags to cheer them on.
"There's no words that can describe how he looks, but we're proud," said Edwin Perez, whose younger brother Henry is graduating.
From here, it's over to the liberty brief, where the new Marines are introduced with their platoons and then finally reunited with their loved ones.
They get a few hours of liberty and then say goodbye until graduation the next day.
Three months ago, they were recruits fresh off the bus. Now, they walk across the parade deck as Marines.
Private Isaiah White-Slaton is one of three new Marines graduating from West Michigan.
"I'm feeling great," said White-Slaton, a graduate of Holland High School. "It was full of discipline and full of stress, but good stress."
"When I first saw him I thought 'Wow he gained some weight and got a lot of muscle!' But his smile stayed the same and his eyes are the same," said Lateena White, Isaiah's mother. "I think that was the biggest change I noticed, just visually as soon as I saw him."
Also graduating from Holland is Private Lincoln Mulder.
"I'm very excited to be done and going home," said Mulder. "I'm just excited to get back to Holland."
"It's indescribable," said Dawn Mulder, Lincoln's mother. "It's such joy and pride in Lincoln and all of the new Marines and what they've sacrificed to get to this point. I'm just so excited for their future."
"They've been thrown in the fire and then they make it through that," said Todd Mulder, Lincoln's father. "They get that confidence and I think you can see that in their faces."
Also graduating is Private Kevin Duong from Grand Rapids.
"I wouldn't have made it without my platoon," said Duong. "I was with White-Slaton from the beginning and people like him were there to help me all the time."
"I'm so happy I can't believe it," said Han Duong, Kevin's mother. "Finally, he made it and we are all happy for him and we are proud of him too."
All three shared their boot camp experiences with FOX 17, including the toughest moments and how they kept going.
"My family is my motivation," said White-Slaton. "When I was struggling, all I thought about was how I'm not doing this for me, I'm doing this for my family."
"I was thinking of just graduating, going back home, seeing my family again and just getting the eagle, globe and anchor," said Mulder. "It was just a big sigh of relief because a lot of the time I wasn't really sure if I was actually going to make it, but to finally actually get my E.G.A. placed in my hand was a good feeling."
"Sometimes I'd think about my family, that would keep me going," said Duong. "I think another thing that really kept me going was my local recruiting station down in Grand Rapids."
The new Marines say they're excited to get back to West Michigan.
"We're going to Chick Fil A on the way to the airport and then Red Lobster on the way home," said Mulder.
"I'm going to sleep and probably eat," said White-Slaton.
"I'm ready to take him home," said White. "I'm happy, proud, he knows I'm proud of him, just proud of him even though I was a little nervous when he first told me, but I was very proud. He's the first Marine in our family."
FOX 17 attended a week of boot camp on Parris Island, South Carolina along with a group of educators from Michigan. Tune in Saturday night to learn more about the educator workshop and watch them go through a mini boot camp.