The Marine meets the Marines
It was a muggy, rainy, buggy day on a rural island of South Carolina's Lowcountry coast when WWE Superstar John Cena was put to the ultimate test by some of the United States' greatest heroes -- the Marines.
"I got my ass whipped," Cena admitted.
As the star of the upcoming WWE Films release, "The Marine," Cena wanted to get a taste of what the brave young men and women who enlist as Marines must endure at boot camp at the United States Marine Corps Recruit Depot Eastern Recruiting Division at Parris Island, S.C., and WWE.com was there with Cena for the intense day.
"I am here to learn a little about what these men and women go through and hopefully try to kick a little ass," Cena said. "I play a Marine in the movies. This right here, this is the real sh*t. This is where it goes down. These are the men and women keeping it together."
Cena started his day at Parris Island during the late morning meeting Marines personnel and chatting with a few Marines at the base's newspaper, The Boot. Cena changed into a Marines uniform, complete with boots and a USMC T-shirt, and was whisked away for an autograph signing at a chow hall on the base. Several hundred WWE fans, including Marines and their families, waited in a long line to see the Superstar. Cena posed for photos; signed 8-by-10s, "The Marine" posters and copies of WWE Magazine; hugged a few female WWE fans; put a few male WWE fans in headlocks and even picked up an excited youngster and lifted him in his signature FU pose. During the autograph signing, WWE.com caught up with some of the Marines who were overjoyed to meet Cena.
"It means a lot that John Cena is here today. It helps motivate all the Marines and keep them focused that there's people out there who respect them and appreciate what they're doing. And for him to take the time out to come and share that with us, especially after starring in ‘The Marine,' representing us, it shows a lot of love to us," said Sgt. Stephen Mitchell.
At Parris Island, a recruit endures 13 weeks of training before graduating to become a Marine. During the fiscal year 2003, 16,831 Marines graduated from Parris Island. It's the only training facility for female recruits and all males east of the Mississippi River. Training began on the island in 1915, and more than half of its 8,095-acres is covered in salt marshes. The island is also home to a Marines Drill Instructor school and an average of 600 Drill Instructors or "hats."
After signing autographs, Cena was off to the firing range. The Superstar attended a short weapons conditions training class and shot several rounds of a 9mm pistol with Drill Instructors as many Marines looked on. Then Cena learned how to shoot a M16 A2 service rifle at unknown distance targets while lying on the ground behind sandbags. The M16's great force even rocked the 240-pound body of Cena. It was obvious that Cena was genuinely curious about how the rifle works, as he shot off 200 rounds with a Marine by his side. After visiting the firing range, the WWE Superstar was pumped, and ready for a tougher challenge from the Marines. He had no idea what he was in for next.
During a Marine recruit's 13-week stay on Parris Island, he or she must complete the Crucible, which is a rite of passage for all Marines. During the 54-hour event, the recruits travel 42 miles on foot, complete 29 problem-solving stations, carry 50-pound ammunition cans, 100-pound dummies, gear and a M16 A2 service rifle, all while eating only three meals and just a few hours of sleep. Due to time constraints, Cena was only able to complete two of the tough exercises of the Crucible -- the Combat Assault Resupply and the Bayonet Assault Course -- and it's during those events when Cena experienced just a taste of the harsh realities the Marines face.
"They are physically exhausted when they're doing this. They're tired by the time they get here. It's very physically demanding," WWE.com's host for the day, Maj. Canedo, said.
The Combat Assault Resuppply course is a one-hour event in which teams resupply water, ammunition and MREs. Along with three Drill Instructors (two males, Sgt. Campbell and Staff Sgt. Davis; and one female, Sgt. Richardson), John ran through the woods while carrying heavy ammunition boxes and a M16. He navigated through large concrete pipes, over wooden walls and most treacherous of all, under barbed wire, all while ear-piercingly loud mock gunfire, combat noise, five Drill Instructors' barking encouraging orders and smoke filled the stagnant air. A determined Cena pushed through the harsh course with the help of his team. When one of the soldiers became a mock casualty, Cena dragged his lifeless body through the sand and under the barbed wire that was cutting his hands. The scene was deafening, intense, graphic and scary, and after the course, Cena was sweaty, sandy and bloody.
"My body is numb. My hands aren't even up, I'm holding them in my pockets. I've got the fatigue lean going on here with the one strong leg and the one leg I can't feel. I'm cut a few times. I'm covered in sand. But all in all, I'm still proud to be here. It's a very good day for me," Cena said. "The hardest part was just keeping going. You reach a point of failure. Your body just shuts off. For a second you take a deep breath and you're not moving, then you keep moving, and that's what keeps you going."
Cena soldiered on to the Bayonet Assault Course, where he ran over hills and logs, while carrying a M16 through the thick, muggy afternoon air. Drill Instructors continued to yell at him to push harder and dig deeper, and Cena showed tough determination throughout the grueling course. By the end, the WWE Superstar was drenched in sweat and thoroughly exhausted.
Cena acknowledged that if it wasn't for the Drill Instructors who completed the courses with him, he wouldn't have been able to endure. The Marines work as a team, and no solider is ever left behind.
"I swear to you, if it wasn't for these guys, I wouldn't have gotten through it. This very, very much emphasizes teamwork, whereas in the WWE scenario -- all eyes are on you, and you have to show intensity, but it is nothing, absolutely nothing that compares to being out there. Only the people next to you get you through it," Cena said.
With less than an hour left at Parris Island, Cena chose to tackle his fear of heights by rappelling off a 47-foot tower. Cena was given a helmet, thick gloves and was tied and wrapped in tight ropes for rappelling. Like the true Superstar he is, Cena overcame his fear of heights and his exhaustion from the previous exercises, and despite receiving rope burns on the way down, Cena completed the rappel tower.
"It's on fire -- my hips, my hands, everything -- they're on fire. It is fun, but I'm scared of heights. But everything burns. I wasn't even afraid. Once it started burning, I just wanted the Tabasco to go away," Cena joked.
"Today I have been the most fatigued that I have ever been. [In the past,] I've been covered in my own blood, I've been stuck in cages, I've been put through every object that you could imagine, but in a matter of a 45 minutes [with the Marines], I am at zero. I have nothing left. So that says a lot about every person that gets to wear these colors," the WWE Superstar admitted.
Before his day at Parris Island was over, Cena took a few moments to sign more autographs and thank the Marines for being his host and more importantly, for all they do to protect the citizens of the United States and other places around the world.
"This is a message to all the recruits and servicemen and women involved in the United States Marine Corps: I, John Cena, want to thank you for the opportunity to have a portion of the respect that it is to be a Marine. Being in the WWE Films movie, ‘The Marine,' is an honor. Coming to Parris Island is a privilege. Even seeing the sign, walking in, it gets you hungry. I'm the type of guy who likes to get out there, get after it. It was an honor and privilege to be here among the men and women who are sweating it out and earn it right here on Parris Island. We love you," he said.
So what did the Marines think of Cena? Who better to ask than the Drill Instructors who spent the day with the WWE Superstar.
"John, just the way you see him on TV, he's an intense ball of fire. The whole way through the course he never quit, he never gave up, and that says a lot about a person," Staff Sgt. Davis said. "I think John's happy playing a Marine and I think the Marines here are happy that John's playing a Marine because he came down here and tested his mettle with things that Marines do. And you don't get that very often."
Photos of Cena at Parris Island
Video: The Marine trailer
The Marine web site
Merchandise: The Marine T-shirt