No cell phones, just letters. “When you bring your cell phones into basic training they make you put it in a sock and they send it home,” said 17-year-old Mike Kukula.
“They’re going to be really tough on you cause that’s the transition into making you a Marine, so the structure is obviously crazy,” Mike said. “The only form of communication with family and friends is writing letters in basic training.”
On Sunday, April 29, the train rumbled through the tracks beneath the bright blue sky, causing a ruckus at the local Starbucks in Roselle, Ill. Mike was decked out in his Lancers baseball uniform, he had just came from the Roselle Park District where he went to support the children at their Opening Day event for baseball.
As he sat outside and took a sip of his iced lemonade, he shared the process behind his decision to enlist in the U.S. Marines.
Mike is a senior at Lake Park High School in Roselle. He is a pitcher and outfielder for the Lancers varsity baseball team. He said, “I wanted to play baseball at Lake Park because I loved the game and I wanted to make some new friends and really build a brotherhood.”
Baseball has always been a part of his life. He began playing T-ball when he was 4 years old for the Roselle Medinah Softball Baseball Organization where his father, Eric Kukula, is a member of the board of trustees.
Suddenly, his sophomore year of high school, another team caught his eye.
“I wanted to really be a part of something better than myself—a part of an ultimate team. An ultimate brotherhood. There’s really no better team than the Marine Corps,” Mike said. “I’ve always been really competitive and I push myself to be the best in everything I do. I wanted to join the Marines because I wanted to give back to my country and make something of my life.”
Mike’s travel baseball coach, Jim Arey, was surprised by his decision. “After a while, I thought about it and realized it fits his overall mindset,” Arey said. “Mike is a detailed young man with high character and ethic. Integrity, honor, loyalty, selflessness are the core values that drive Mike and it makes sense that he selected the Marine Corps. The Corps personifies those qualities and it is a good fit.”
Mike surprised most of his loved ones when he shared his decision, but his father knew he was interested since sophomore year.
“Hmm, alright! Sell it to your mom first,” Eric said when Mike asked him to sign the waiver for him.
His mother, Vicki Kukula, had some concerns.
“My immediate thought was that he’s going to get killed in action,” Vicki said. “I was very upset when Mike told me he wanted to join the Marines. He is a very good Sax player and I thought he would pursue a career as a musician. I tried to talk him out of the decision and let him know that it is very hard physically and mentally to become a Marine.”
“Baseball tournaments and the saxophone were his two biggest interests growing up. Mike and I have spent a lot of time together with both,” Eric said. “He saw more success playing music than baseball his sophomore year. But, for the reasons that worked best for Mike, he chose baseball. I believe his decision to join the Marines also could work well for him.”
Mike had some concerns of his own about becoming a Marine.
“I guess the thing that really got me is that I’m going to have to grow up a lot faster than a lot of my peers,” he said. “In the marines you’re always away from home so you have to get into it quicker than everybody else, and it’s a job that could really make a difference between life or death in some cases.”
His hesitations didn’t prevent him from enlisting. “I didn’t back down, I still wanted to do it—I was determined. Once you’re 17, you can officially sign the paper with your parents’ support,” he said.
After constantly talking about it to his parents, Mike went to the recruiter’s office the day after he turned 17 and committed on Sept. 29, 2017.
Whether there are concerns or not, Mike has clearly shown his qualification for the job.
“My job in the military is a top secret job,” Mike said. “I signed up for the intelligence field. Infantry and kicking down doors isn’t my route.”
There are different tests that must be taken to determine the qualification to work in the intelligence field. The first test is called the Defense Language Proficiency Test, which is designed for individuals who are already fluent in a foreign language needed by the military.
The second test is called the Defense Language Aptitude Battery, which is for individuals who are not fluent in a foreign language. “So you basically have to decode a made-up language. It’s not really something you study for—either you have it or you don’t,” Mike said. “I passed with flying colors.”
He has the potential to learn Japanese, Mandarin and Thai.
“It seems to me that the military life could be a good fit for him while studying to become part of military intelligence,” Eric said.
He started his pre-workouts last year. Before baseball, every Wednesday he would go to the Marine Corps recruiting office to workout. “Every second Saturday we’ll go on a hike or something to get us ready. They want us to know the general orders and structure so it’s not a surprise when we go into basic training,” he said.
“Something interesting—you can’t say I, me, or my. You have to say ‘this recruit’ or ‘that recruit’ to strip you of your individuality,” Mike said. “So if you don’t speak in third person, you’ll get chewed out by the drill instructor.”
He will fly out to his 13-week basic training in San Diego on Aug. 20 to begin his journey with the ultimate team.
Once he completes that, he will officially be a U.S. Marine.
“I’ll miss my family and friends the most,” Mike said. “It will be weird not having them because usually I could just go to my family with any problem. I’ll probably be a little homesick cause that’s all I’ve known for my entire life.”
Eric said, “Like most parents, I will miss my son sorely.”
In regards to her son leaving, Vicki said, “I have been telling Mike since last year that he is always going to have to watch his back, not everybody is honest or trustworthy.”
“My feelings really have not changed throughout this whole process. I’m still worried,” Vicki said. “I figured I would just give him my blessing and pray a lot. Mike is doing very well this past year in his pre-training. He became a squad leader because his superior was impressed with how he performed.”
Being a Marine requires thinking, discipline, and physical strength. Being in baseball his whole life, Mike had been training towards this path unknowingly.
“Baseball is a thinking man’s game. A game of angles, a game of failure, a game that forces you to step ahead of what might happen. Mike has always had a solid mental approach to the game and this fits the area he will pursue in the Marine Corps. He will use this skill set in a far different capacity to figure out codes and stay a step ahead of the opposition,” said Arey. “He is what I like to call a grinder.”
By Bella Michaels