Two Burrton students graduating early to join Marines

Leif Hernandez and Gabe Perkins will shipping out to San Diego on June 7 to start boot camp for the Marines. The two 17-year-olds from Burrton are graduating a year early to do this.

By Jared Janzen

BURRTON—Gabe Perkins and Leif Hernandez weren’t looking for just any challenge. They wanted the highest challenge they could find.

Not only do both of them plan to join the Marines after graduating from Burrton High School this weekend, they’re finishing a year early to do it.

“Basically, we do want to be in the toughest branch in the military,” Perkins said. “We like a challenge.”

Joining the Marines is something Hernandez has wanted to do since seventh grade. Perkins decided in eighth grade that he wanted to join the military but hadn’t picked which branch. The two of them decided a year ago to join the buddy program for the Marines, and they formally enlisted this past January as soon as Hernandez turned 17.

“The reason we wanted to go together is we’ve been friends for a while and pushed each other mentally and physically for a long time,” Hernandez said. “I’ve always wanted to join the military, and why not just join the best branch?”

A year ago, the two of them had been talking with recruiters, and Perkins was the first one to decide to graduate a year early, with Hernandez following suit.

“He disappears from class for a little bit and comes back and tells me he’s graduating early, so I thought, ‘All right, I’ll go do the same thing,’” Hernandez said.

“I figured if I was going to go, why not try to get the person I wanted to go with, because we’ve always wanted to go together,” Perkins said.

Hernandez said he was ready to start his life early and didn’t see a reason to hold himself back by waiting another year.

“I would be getting ready for next football season if it wasn’t for him saying he was going to graduate early,” Hernandez added.

Perkins has a great grandfather who once served in the Marines.

“The Marines is a great way to move on in life if you don’t want to deal with what you have here,” he said. “You can find a job in the Marines.”

To graduate early, the two needed to earn extra credits in English and government, which they did by taking fewer electives this year. Hernandez also needed a fine arts credit, while Perkins had to take two classes of weights, one of which was during zero hour.

“It was still hard getting all the work done, but I got through it,” Hernandez said. He agreed that they’ve had to work harder than their peers to get everything accomplished.

The biggest thing they said they’d miss about skipping their senior year was football season.

“That was the one thing that we both almost changed our minds about,” Hernandez said. “The teams we got beat by in the playoffs this year are all losing their seniors, and we had a chance.”

However, he also acknowledged that with another season of football, he would have risked injury that could have medically disqualified him from joining the Marines.

The two 17-year-olds have already been training in Wichita every Saturday over the past year alongside about 40 other recruits a couple years older than them.

Senior Lucas Leis is also joining the Marines. Together, the three Burrton graduates will go to Oklahoma City on June 6 for a final medical evaluation and then on to San Diego the next day to begin boot camp.

“We all picked different jobs, so we won’t be battle buddies, but we’ll all do training together,” Hernandez said.

“There’s cool things to each job,” Perkins added. “We both chose really cool jobs.”

Hernandez plans to become a Marine Security Guard, which he described as an armed position protecting embassies. For someone who’s never been further away than Texas, this will give him lots of opportunities to see the world.

“Right now, I feel excited and ready to go, but I feel like once I get to the moment, I’m going to be really nervous, maybe even homesick a bit,” he said.

Perkins, meanwhile, wants to join special intel, which he said would entail working with highly classified information.

“You’ve got to be trustworthy, and you’ve got to know what to do with that information,” he said.

Hernandez plans to be in the Marines for 20 years and then retire or possibly get his officer’s degree and stay longer. Perkins wants to use the Marines as an avenue to get free college but plans to be in it for the rest of his life. He said he sees the Marines as a business.

“It’s no different than working for Walmart,” he said. “You start from the bottom and work your way up, and everyone has their own job.”

The two have experienced some doubters along this journey.

“I take it all as motivation,” Hernandez said. “I don’t take it personally.”

“I guess what we do instead of taking it personally is getting other people to try it as well, instead of taking it to a whole different extreme,” Perkins said. “To let them see what it’s like to join the Marines and tell them, ‘If you want to do this, you can do it, too.’”

The two hope they have left a positive impact on their fellow classmates at Burrton.

“As we became leaders, and we got people that I would have never thought would play sports to play sports and like it,” Hernandez said.

“It’s a lot of changing the narrative,” Perkins added.

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