From buddies to brothers: PBL grads complete boot camp together

PAXTON — When Dominic Amore enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps after graduating from Paxton-Buckley-Loda High School last summer, he had no idea his buddy Wyatt Sellek had done the same.

But after Amore had spent a couple of months in the Marine Corps’ delayed-entry program, the two 18-year-olds’ paths crossed. Both were at the recruiting office in Champaign when they spotted each other.

“Out of nowhere Wyatt just showed up one day, and I’m like, ‘What the hell?’” Amore recalled.

“I walked up and he’s like, ‘I didn’t know you signed up,’ and I was like, ‘I didn’t know you signed up,’” Sellek said.

“I was just like, ‘What’s up, man?’” Amore said.

The two 2018 PBL High School graduates had known each other for some 12 years, but they had no idea — until that moment — that they were also both pursuing military service.

It was fitting, too, that the two good friends would end up remaining together for the next several months as they completed the delayed-entry program locally and then completed boot camp in California.

On a Sunday last October, they each headed to the Military Enlistment Processing Station in St. Louis before being shipped to the Marine Corps Recruit Depot (MCRD) in San Diego, Calif. — the place they would call home for the next several weeks.

After their surprise encounter in Champaign, both Amore and Sellek wanted to remain together throughout the process, requesting they be put in the Marine Corps’ “buddy program,” which pairs recruits together.

“But we were in different receiving platoons (when we arrived at the MCRD), so I didn’t think they’d put us in the buddy program,” Amore said. “But then one day we both got switched to Platoon 3267, and I saw Wyatt in there, and I was like, ‘What the heck?’”

The Marine Corps, apparently, had honored their request.

“They switched me over (to Amore’s platoon) on a Thursday evening, the night before our initial strength testing, which was on the first Friday we were there,” Sellek said. 

“We were bunk mates for like the first week (after being placed in their final platoon), and even (after Sellek was moved to different barracks) we were basically together the entire time,” Amore said. “We did pretty much everything together, all the way through boot camp.”

Long days, short nights
Their typical day at boot camp started around 4 or 4:30 a.m., when drill instructors enter the barracks — which are called “squad bays” — and scream “Lights!” and the lights then turn on.

The Marine recruits then are allowed 15 minutes to get out of bed, get dressed, make their bed, clean the squad bay if needed, and then get to the “chow hole” for what is usually a rushed breakfast.

“You’re flying,” Amore said. “When you wake up, you’re fully awake already.”

After breakfast, Amore and Sellek would usually “practice drill, which is where we march and follow the commands” of their drill instructors, Sellek said.

“And then we’d go out and maybe do some training on the training field,” including climbing ropes and moving through obstacle courses, as part of their physical training, Sellek said.

“The days really did fly by,” Sellek said. “They went really quick because they had us so busy.”

“I think the days went quick, but the weeks went slow,” Amore said.

The two Marine recruits would always look forward to Sundays, which they said were basically a day off, with the exception of going to church.

On Sundays, “you could eat chow as slow as you wanted in the morning,” Amore said.

While in San Diego, Amore and Sellek, as well as other recruits, were confined to basically a one-block area they call “The Recruit Highway.”

“Everything is lined up along there, including the barracks, chow hall, church, medical,” Sellek said. “Everything was within like 600 yards of each other.”

Work gained and weight lost
Physical training was done sometimes as much as twice a day, lasting two to three hours each time, Sellek said. However, being a Marine recruit also involved “a lot of classroom work,” as they learned about the history and customs of the Marine Corps and such things as what to wear in public and how to conduct themselves.

“The Marine Corps, it’s very academic. It’s not all about, ‘Kill, kill, kill,’” Amore said.

Of course, the physical training, though, is a big part of becoming a Marine. Both Sellek and Amore lost some weight as a result. Sellek said he arrived at boot camp weighing 211 pounds and left at around 185 pounds. Amore said he arrived weighing about 200 pounds and is now at 176 pounds.

Camp Pendleton
After passing their physical fitness tests in the fourth week they were at MCRD and then passing their combat fitness tests in the sixth week, Amore and Sellek were shipped with the rest of their company’s six platoons to Camp Pendleton, the major West Coast base of the Marine Corps.

“They put us on busses, and it was a very weird moment for us,” said Sellek, noting that it was the first time they had been away from MCRD in weeks.

Located in San Diego County, Camp Pendleton was a highlight of boot camp, they said.

While there, they lived in a “squad base,” consisting of “one big room with racks,” Sellek said.

They also “worked out more there,” Sellek said.

“The first week we were there, we did a three-mile hike with our packs on,” Sellek said, adding that the hikes eventually turned into five-mile hikes, then eight-mile hikes and then 12-mile hikes.

They also underwent training and testing to qualify for marksman, sharpshooter or expert rifleman status. First, they practiced what is known as “The Circles,” where they would “sit with an empty rifle with no rounds and practice looking down your scope to make sure your positions are steady enough to shoot,” Sellek said.

Once they mastered that, they “spent some time in the field and simulated combat environments,” Amore said.

Target practice consisted of long-distance rifle shooting — from 100, 200, 300 and 500 meters away — while “combat shooting” was done at much smaller distances of 25 to 100 feet. They both ended up achieving the status of “expert,” with Sellek even tying for the third-best score among 485 recruits in the company.

Another highlight of Camp Pendleton was “Field Week,” which involved the recruits doing “land navigation” and learning “how to survive,” as Amore put it.

“Land navigation was really fun because we were in the same group together,” Amore said.

The land navigation exercise involved walking around the dessert and searching for the locations of ammo cans attached to poles using only a compass, map and protractor.

“We actually started to freak out because we lost our piece of paper with the coordinates so we kind of had to guess,” Amore said.

“But we ended up doing pretty good on it,” Sellek said. “I think we only missed one, and that was a lot better than a lot of groups did.”

‘The Crucible’
The culminating training event at Camp Pendleton was “The Crucible.”

“It’s to simulate the stress of combat,” Amore said.

“In three days, we hiked 54 kilometers” through the mountains, Sellek said. “We hiked with our gear and our rifle and helmet.”

“And we got only two (or three) MREs (meals ready to eat),” Amore said.

Recruits had to rely on teamwork to complete various obstacle courses, as well. Each obstacle course was based on an actual historical event in combat involving a Medal of Honor recipient.

“Every inch of our body was covered in mud,” Sellek said.

The final test of “The Crucible” was called “The Reaper.” It required recruits to climb up a mountain while wearing their packs and carrying their rifles.

“We beat the record for fastest time,” Amore said.

“The record before (for a platoon) was 35 minutes, and we did it in 18,” Sellek said.

“We ran up it,” Sellek said. “We were ready for it to be over.”

An “eagle, globe and anchor” ceremony was held on top of the mountain at sunrise after the platoon’s recruits all completed that final challenge.

“When you get up there, that’s when your drill instructor first refers to you as a Marine,” Amore said.

“As soon as they shake your hand, they hand you your eagle, globe and anchor, and that’s like crossing the line from recruit to Marine,” Sellek said.

“I cried. It was a very sweet moment.”

One last thing
There was actually one last test to come, though.

What is known as the “Battalion Commander Inspection” was done two days before graduation from boot camp. Both Amore and Sellek passed the inspection, which is “to see if you’re fit enough and mature enough to be a Marine,” Amore said.

“They inspect your weapon, which is like a reflection of who you are as a Marine,” Amore said. “We took our weapon with us on ‘The Crucible’ through all the mud and through everything. So it got filthy; it got rusty. But if you had any filth or rust — any speck of anything — on your weapon, it results in an automatic failure. It had to be spotless. It had to look brand-new. And your uniform had to look perfect, too — no wrinkles.”

The next day was “Family Day,” when Amore and Sellek were able to see their visiting family members for the first time in three months.

“It was the best feeling in the world,” Amore said.

Amore and Sellek then graduated from boot camp the following day — on Jan. 25 — during a ceremony at MCRD.

They then were able to finally go home for what typically is a 10-day leave but in Amore’s and Sellek’s case was an extended leave of 24 days.

Back home in Paxton
The two men returned to their hometown of Paxton, where they spent their time off, as expected, together.

Soon, however, the two friends will be heading in separate directions.

After they return to Camp Pendleton later this month in order to complete military combat training, Amore and Sellek will be going to military occupational specialty (MOS) school at different locations.

Amore will be going to MOS school starting in March to become an aviation electronics technician for the Marines. Amore said his MOS school will be at a Naval base in Pensacola, Fla., and will last a year.

Sellek will be going to MOS school for a combat support position, possibly as a light armored vehicle driver or gunner. Sellek’s MOS school will be at Camp Pendleton.

As for their long-term futures, Amore said he plans to finish his five-year military service contract and then go to college. Sellek said he plans to complete his four-year contract with the military, but his plans after that remain undecided. Sellek said he is still considering pursuing a career in the Marines.

Amore and Sellek said it helped to have each other to lean on during boot camp — and they will forever cherish the memories they share.

“Wyatt’s my brother now,” Amore said. “We’re brothers. We went through so much together.”

Categories (2):News, Living
Location (3):Local, Paxton, Ford County

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