HARLINGEN — Keagan Murphy’s family huddled around him, words of praise and congratulations filling the air.
Keagan, 15, had been on the rebound from a trying year, yet he’d met the challenges at the Marine Military Academy All Boys Summer Camp.
“It feels great,” said Keagan after the graduation ceremony yesterday. He was one of almost 400 boys ages 12 to 18 to graduate.
“All the obstacle courses and stuff we did every day gave me confidence,” he said, holding his certification of completion.
In fact, the one course he enjoyed most was the Confidence Course, which included a towering structure resembling a giant ladder. It’s called the “Stairway to Heaven.”
Did he have to overcome any fear of heights? He shook his head. He wasn’t afraid of heights.
The only thing Keagan didn’t like was all the marching, but it had been part of his routine for four weeks. That routine began each day at 6 a.m. He and the other campers would bail out of bed and begin a day of running, showering, making their beds, eating a quick breakfast and cleaning their rooms — not necessarily in that order.
They’d spend the rest of the day in hard physical training — in the boiling South Texas heat.
Zicora Arachie, 14, had come all the way from Nigeria for the camp. He’d found it online and it looked like a great experience. Yesterday morning he was obviously happy about his decision.
“It really taught me discipline and some other things,” he said. “It was hard sometimes climbing the rope but I eventually got it. It took a lot of time.”
The graduation ceremony yesterday began with a parade. Afterwards, drill instructors marched the six companies to the barracks where they assembled in formation to receive their certificates of completion.
“Left, right, left, right,” called out Sgt. Albert Charles, assistant drill instructor. Boots thump-thump-thumped on hot asphalt in rhythm to the drill instructor’s cadence.
“Company, halt,” Charles said as they arrived at the appointed place. Many families had gathered in folding chairs in front of the companies. Others stood in the shade near the barracks.
Karen Byler of Ballenger, Texas, had come to see her son Jett, 16, graduate.
“He sent us letters and told us how things were going,” she said. “He was enjoying it after the first couple of weeks.”
Initially, it wasn’t his decision to attend the camp and he resisted.
“He needed a little structure in his life and he’s got it,” she said with satisfaction.
U.S. Army Col. James Erbach waited for his son to graduate.
“This is amazing,” said Erbach, an active duty officer from Kansas. He and the rest of the family have seen an enormous amount of growth in their 16-year-old son. That growth has spread through the whole family.
“We have all learned from this,” said Erbach, standing in the shade with two boxers on leashes. A third dog was a boxer/Labrador mix.
Erbach said the biggest change they can see is greater confidence.
His son, also named James, asked to attend the camp for the challenge. Those challenges included the Confidence Course and the Obstacle Course. In the high ropes, campers climbed a high pole and then jumped to tap a small jug dangling from a line.
James didn’t come to the camp to address any issues. He’s interested in joining the Marine Corps and he saw the camp as a way of familiarizing himself with the life.
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