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DHS grad shows will, determination in Marines

Katelen Van Aken testing her skills. Photo courtesy Parris Island Photography

By Rebecca Hughes

When most people hear Katelen Van Aken’s name, they think of the quiet girl who graduated from Dover High School last year, but she is more than that.

Private First Class Van Aken graduated the Marine Corps boot camp on Parris Island, South Carolina January 13th and has continued onto her next adventure: Marine Combat Training school, Camp Geiger, North Carolina.

Like many of the females who attended boot camp with Van Aken, she was fighting for an infantry contract, the first female Marines able to get infantry. This is a new option for female Marines as it was traditionally reserved for men. “I didn’t end up getting the contract,” said Van Aken, “it was because of my combat fitness test score, I got a 288.”

A CFT consists of a timed 880 yard sprint, lifting a 30 pound ammunition can overhead from shoulder height for two minutes, and perform a maneuver under fire event, which is a timed 300 yard shuttle run where Marines are paired by size and perform a series of combat related tasks. Van Aken instead got a contract for communications, a position she is still excited about despite her desire to be in the infantry.

Before she left for boot camp she spoke to Commander Thomas Gamble about what she would experience, the physical, mental and emotional aspect of it all. When he heard she didn’t get infantry, he was shocked, “Even though she didn’t get the contract, that door is still open I believe, and I’m sure she’ll try for it again.”

“Boot camp wasn’t as hard as the recruiters make it seem,” she said explaining it to the Delayed Entree Program poolees- potential recruits who have yet to make the trip to Parris Island. “I was expecting it to be a lot worse.” There were aspects that were harder than others, “you don’t get a lot of sleep and it starts to wear on you.” She recounted how she lost ten pounds from the running around, but after the first few weeks things calmed down. The recruiters told her the first few weeks would be the hardest because she would be home sick.

Coming home for Van Aken was bittersweet. She knew she would only be home for a week to see her family and the DEP office poolees and recruiters who are a large portion of her life. The Thursday she was home and at the office she helped train the poolees as Marines had done for her. After training the recruiters had her speak to the portion of about 40 poolees who are in the DEP about training and her experiences. Van Aken went from a high school student who touched the lives of few, to an outstanding Marine who touched the lives of many. The positive impact she has had has spread to the poolees at the recruit office and to her younger brother Brennan. Speaking to those close to her, they acknowledge their pride in her and continue to drive her to succeed and do better. Van Aken hopes to reapply for the infantry contract and to improve her CFT performance.

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