Parris Island frequently hosts visits from Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps groups from around the country. However, the March 21 visit from the JROTC from Topeka High School, Topeka, Kan., had a surprise in store for the Depot.
Cadet Sgt. Maj. Arias Thomas, guide, Topeka High School JROTC, decided to enlist in the Marine Corps during his visit to the Depot last week.
"I joined because I enjoy the freedom we have in the United States and I want to maintain that freedom," explained Thomas.
Although Thomas will be attending recruit training at MCRD San Diego, he jumped at the opportunity to enlist here.
After Thomas earns his Eagle, Globe and Anchor, he has plans to one day become a drill instructor and train young men like himself to be Marines.
"He is the total package," said Curtis Kelley, retired chief warrant officer 3 and senior Marine instructor, Topeka High School JROTC, and Thomas' mentor. "He's sound academically, spiritually and socially. He's the type of kid who will adapt to his environment. He's going to be the one who is an expert at the range. When he takes his [physical fitness test], he's going to be the one with a first class. He's going to be the guide or one of the squad leaders in his platoon."
Thomas has been a member of the JROTC program for two years and said he was interested in the Marine Corps before he joined. He started becoming serious about the decision after meeting Kelley.
"He came to us from another school in the county by his own admission," said Kelley. "If you were to ask [Thomas] then what he needed, he would have told you he needed more discipline, structure and confidence."
Since joining the JROTC, Thomas has risen as a natural leader and team player, said Kelley.
"He's a self-starter and a front-runner," explained Kelley. "He can look ahead and see a problem developing and already get started on getting it squared away."
Thomas obtained his current billet as the platoon's guide because of his devotion to becoming a Marine and the respect he earned from his fellow cadets.
"I usually like the senior [cadet] officer to be the guide," explained Kelley. "But the student [commanding officer] asked if he and Thomas could switch because Thomas was joining the Marine Corps and he wasn't.
"A lot of times, kids are led by fear, but these kids follow him because they respect him. He's one of the team. I'd even go so far as to say he's the heart of this team."