Marine resilient despite adversity

LCpl Ryan Nicolai, Platoon 2151, Company G, 2nd Recruit Training Battalion, demonstrated resilience and overcame adversity during his time in recruit training aboard Marine Corps Depot San Diego. Despite his hardships, Nicolai stood out above the other recruits in his company and graduated as the company honor man. Photo by Cpl Liz Gleason.

MARINE CORPS RECRUIT DEPOT SAN DIEGO (February 22, 2013) - Since LCpl Ryan Nicolai was young he felt it was his calling to serve his country as a United States Marine. However, before he could follow his dream, he knew his duty was to take care of his parents. In the years before he left for recruit training, Nicolai, gained the life experience that would propel him through the hard times yet to come.

In 2011, Nicolai lost his father, a retired Marine, to Lou Gehrig's disease. Months before the loss of his father, his mother was diagnosed with cancer. Shortly after, what he thought to be a turning point in his mother's illness, Nicolai decided to enlist in the Marine Corps and follow in his father's footsteps.

Nicolai joined the Delayed Entry Program (DEP), a program that allows individuals to enlist in the military and specify a future reporting date for entry. As his mother's condition worsened, Nicolai postponed his ship date until he was no longer able to and shipped out to Recruit Training Nov. 26, 2012. There he joined Platoon 2151, Company G, 2nd Recruit Training Battalion.

Three weeks after his arrival to Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego, drill instructors escorted Nicolai to the company office.

"They told me that the Red Cross called and my mom had died," said Nicolai, a 22-year-old. "Losing my dad was the only thing that helped prepare me a little bit for losing my mom."

His mom passed away the day before initial drill, an evaluation that tests recruits on their drill knowledge and skills, but he stayed and completed it before flying home to be with his family, according to GySgt Enrique Lopez, senior drill instructor, Plt. 2151, Co. G, 2nd RTBn.

Just as fast as he left to be with his family, Nicolai was soon on an airplane headed back to the depot to finish his training.

"Coming to Recruit Training the first time was hard, but it was harder coming back the second time," said Nicolai, a Medina, Ohio native. "When I got back I was losing focus and I was always frustrated. I didn't want to get up anymore. I wasn't the same."

With the firm, yet caring, guidance of his drill instructors he realized that although he was struggling, he had to push through and continue. Through the hardship, Nicolai kept his position as guide that he earned early on in Recruit Training.

"I'm pretty sure he still thinks about it, but he doesn't let it get in his way of being guide," said Lopez. "He motivates the other recruits because they saw him stay strong through what he was going through; he set the example for them."

Through his loss, Nicolai gained a new perspective on life that helped him finish recruit training.

"I was sitting at medical and had a realization that I defined myself by what I gave up for my parents. Taking care of my parents is who I was, it's what I did. When my mom died, that part of my life was over," said Nicolai. "I didn't know what I was going to do. I was at Recruit Training trying to become a Marine but I hadn't made it what defined me. All of a sudden I knew where I wanted to be and what I wanted to do, I want to lead and take care of Marines."

Through it all, Nicolai's drive, knowledge, spirit and perseverance not only earned him the title Marine, he is also graduating as the company honor man, the recruit who demonstrated the highest level of leadership throughout recruit training.

Nicolai's motivation and knowledge of the Marine Corps and life showed throughout training and set the example for all recruits, according to Lopez.

"I am who I am today because of my parents," said Nicolai. "If it wasn't for my parents who were loving, strict and iron-willed, I wouldn't be where I am now." is the official website of the United States Marine Corps and is maintained by the Marine Corps' Division of Public Affairs.