'Marines...gave me a focus' Honor: A private from Baltimore is the top graduate of his boot camp company -- and he's returned home to tell high school students about his new life in the Corps.

February 03, 1997|By Ernest F. Imhoff | Ernest F. Imhoff,SUN STAFF

Semper fidelis. Being ever faithful -- the Marine Corps motto -- motivates recruiters, too.

Thomas N. Nyangani, 19, undecided about his future after two years of college, stopped at the Army recruiting office at Mondawmin Mall in September, but the office was closed for lunch.

Nearby, the Marine Corps recruiter, Sgt. Darian G. Patterson, noticed him inspecting brochures and began talking up the Corps.

Nyangani liked what he heard, passed the screening tests and enlisted. Four months later, he has become the top honor graduate among 388 Marines of C Company, 1st Battalion, at boot camp at Parris Island, S.C.

'A real big deal'

Nyangani, a private first class, is believed to be the first Marine from Baltimore to win the honor in many years, said Gunnery Sgt. James Ruffin, in charge of city recruiting. The private came back to Baltimore last week, assigned to speak for a month to public high school students about the Marines.

"This honor is a real big deal," said Ruffin, a 14-year Marine who grew up in Baltimore. "We all take great pride in having him here."

He said Nyangani has been accompanying recruits who have yet to leave for boot camp "on runs around Lake Montebello. They hover around him -- 'How did you do it? What's it like?' "

Patterson, who attended Nyangani's graduation at Parris Island, said of his catch at the mall, "I was just following the first general order: 'Observe everything within sight and hearing.' There he was. He was smart, talked well, good family."

Entering the armed services is no cinch these days. Screening is more rigorous because of the downsizing of the military.

Patterson said that of any 10 candidates he screens, five may pass the required tests; of those, three may be rejected because of criminal or substance-abuse backgrounds, leaving only two chosen for boot camp.

Ruffin said he and his recruiters have sent 41 city recruits to Parris Island since October, when he took over here.

'Without goals'

Nyangani is the son of Jean Packard of Northwood and Paul ZTC Nyangani of Massachusetts. He attended Roland Park elementary and middle schools and graduated in 1994 from Friends School. (His brother, Patrick, is a City College senior.)

He majored in mechanical engineering the next two years at the University of Maryland College Park. "I had fun in college, but I was just wandering around, without goals," he said.

He signed up for a five-year Marine enlistment, a year more than the usual term, because of the advanced electronics he will study. It's uncertain whether he would have signed up for the Army had the office been open.

During his 12-week boot camp, from Oct. 21 to Jan. 17, Nyangani took off.

He excelled in marksmanship, earning an Expert Rifleman Badge. He handled all paperwork as platoon scribe and did well in fitness, conduct and other skills. But he stood out in leadership, Ruffin said.

"We had our eyes on him," said his drill instructor, Sgt. Gerard Dempster, who had almost daily contact with him at Parris Island.

"He did a fantastic job as the leader of 60 recruits" during a rigorous team-building week away from the base. "He ran the show for a week. Later, he was a squad leader. He helped recruits who were behind."

'I may make a career'

Nyangani's training included some recent changes at Parris Island, including an extra week; a 54-hour endurance course called "the Crucible"; and exercises in teamwork, self-awareness and substance-abuse prevention.

"The Marines in Charlie Company gave me a focus," Nyangani said. "In the mental testing as well as the physical, I found self-discipline, and I began to set long-term goals. I may make a career out of this."

At the end of the month, he will begin combat training at Camp Geiger, N.C., and attend technical school to study electronics.

Pub Date: 2/03/97

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