Saturday morning I was pulling out of Ace Hardware's parking lot when I noticed a couple of dozen people in blue T-shirts doing something unusual on the empty lot across the street. Curious, I crossed Washington Boulevard with camera in hand.
As I approached the group, I began taking photos of a young woman doing chin-ups on a bar set up in the field. She finished her set strong and was barely winded as she walked to the end of the line where I followed. Kayla Kahoalii told me she was from Eureka, where she had attended College of the Redwoods. At 20, she decided to join the Marines.
A handsome young man with a friendly smile came over and introduced himself as Staff Sgt. Alan Inchaurregui (a Basque name, he offered), the local Marine Corps recruiter whose office was next door.
He explained that he was in charge of the area between Gold Beach and the northern part of Eureka. He and his two counterparts from the south had arranged this day of training exercises to help prepare their 20 soon-to-be-Marines (and 10 guests) for what lies ahead in basic training.
The recruits were from Hoopa, Fortuna, McKinleyville, Eureka, Arcata, Brookings and Gold Beach, and seven were from Del Norte County.
The staff sergeant explained that Saturday's program of physical challenges and exposure to military protocol was designed to help them overcome any fears they might have about upcoming boot camp.
He spoke with enthusiasm about the Marines, his recruits and the recruiter position he's held here for 14 months. Together we watched the next challenger up to the bar, Lakota Hatcher, 17, of Brookings. She too completed her chin-ups looking strong and confident.
Before I left, Staff Sgt. Inchaurregui asked me to take a group shot. I can't tell you the number of school team photos I've taken over the years, but this one was obviously different. As I looked through my camera's viewfinder at the bright young faces of this team, I knew it was headed to a different kind of playing field - a global and potentially lethal one.
The players seemed barely beyond childhood, yet they were responding to a call to service with incredible mental and physical commitment.
Kayla Kahoalii will leave home for boot camp at Parris Island, S.C., on June 3. Lakota Hatcher follows July 22.
Although I spent just a few Saturday morning moments with them, I know I'llthink about these future Marines and, yes, worry about them. I wish each of them safe travels as they begin the journey toward the destiny they have chosen, or the destiny that has chosen them.
Reach Michele Grgas Postal, the Del Norte Triplicate's publisher, firstname.lastname@example.org, 464-2141, or stop by 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. weekdays.