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'Ready to go'

Lake Oswego High School senior Pat Barry to leave student body for Marine Corps boot camp
by: Vern Uyetake, Pat Barry relaxes at his Lake Oswego home before the Laker’s first game of the season against West Salem. Barry decided to stay in high school to play football, but he will graduate early to join the U.S. Marines Corps in February. Later that evening, Barry kicks off the game against West Salem. At the game’s end, Barry kicked the decisive extra point to give the Lakers a 29-28 victory.

As a child, Pat Barry always looked up to his older brother Justin.

When Justin left the house to shoot pool at a local bar, Pat asked repeatedly if he could go along, without much success.

And when Justin decided to join the U.S. Marine Corps, Pat decided he should join right then, too.

'When he shipped off, I remember being so mad at him,' Pat recalled.

That was when Pat was in 8th grade. At an even younger age, Pat filled out hundreds of recruiter contact forms and sent them in, hoping the Marines would accept him.

'Finally, they sent me a letter that said 'Sorry, but you're too young. Call us when you're 18,'' Pat said with a laugh. 'I wanted to be a Marine so badly.'

After this semester at Lake Oswego High School, he will get the chance to say 'Oorah!' in the most official way. Pat will graduate early and leave home in February for three months of Marine Corps boot camp in San Diego. He's already been sworn in.

Pat will be one of only 22 students to graduate early from the district in the past decade. He is also one of a handful of students in the district who chose to leave high school early to pursue a career in the military.

Pat acknowledges the decision is a bit of a rare one at LOHS, where more than 90 percent of his classmates plan to go on to a 4-year or 2-year college. Classmates have been asking 'Why?' and telling him 'Don't go,' but Pat pretty much laughs them off.

'I'll be a Marine before they graduate,' he said, adding that he might be able to come back to attend prom in his dress blues.

A lot of people take different routes after high school and miliary service is only one of them, said Dave Lovelin, LOHS vice principal and former athletic director. Lovelin, for example, was set to join the Marines after graduation but a football scholarship steered him toward a career as an educator.

'It takes a lot to go against the grain,' Lovelin said. 'It's hard for other students to see that side, why someone would do that. To me, it's selflessness. It's doing something that's ultimately better for the country.'

Pat, who is the LOHS football team's kicker, originally thought he might get an athletic scholarship and go to college, too. It soon became clear, however, that it wasn't the best path for him.

'If I went to college I would probably get bad grades and probably drop out,' Pat said.

Plus, the Marines were always on his mind. One memory of watching five platoons move in unison during his brother's graduation at Camp Pendleton prominently stands out.

'They did everything right and looked so sharp,' Pat recalled. 'I was so impressed. I always thought they were so hardcore ... the best.'

Before his senior year, Pat decided the best option was to stay for one final football and wrestling season and take enough classes to be eligible to play. He figures, compared to others in his recruiting class, he will be in tip-top shape for boot camp because of that decision.

It was also important that he graduate instead of earn a G.E.D. To do so, he must pass all of his required classes this fall, which will allow him to earn a state standard diploma (The Marines require recruits to complete high school). In addition, Pat will take three elective classes at Portland Community College.

Typically, a student must submit an early graduation request their sophomore year, but the school board waived that requirement in Pat's case and unanimously approved his request.

So did Pat's parents, Kevin and Gayle Barry - even though Gayle likes to joke that she tried to bribe Pat to stay put.

'Pat has wanted this for so long and he has such a passion for it,' Gayle said. 'If he chooses to take advantage of this situation, he could paint a great picture for himself. We couldn't be prouder of him ... he's made some good choices.'

The Barrys - who own Dynamic Photography in Lake Oswego - don't really consider themselves a military family, though they do have ties to service. Both of Pat's grandfathers served in World War II. Justin became a Marine and then went on to college.

'I was quite surprised that two of my boys wanted to be Marines,' Gayle said.

Like any mother, Gayle worries about the safety of her youngest child. She finds comfort in talking with Marines who served Iraq and returned home safely.

Pat assumes he will eventually be deployed to the Middle East and feels good about the work Marines are doing there.

'I only listen to someone's opinion if they've been there,' he said.

First, however, he must complete boot camp to attain the rank of private first class. Then, he'll go through three weeks to three months of Marine Combat Training then 60 days of training to become an infantry rifleman followed by primary school for his specialized job.

Pat's ultimate goal is to join the Marine Corps' reconnaissance units, special-purposes units similar in rank to the Navy SEALs, Air Force Air Commandos or U.S. Army Special Forces.

They are widely recognized as the 'special operations forces' of the Marine Corps and perform highly specialized, small scale and high-risk operations.

Justin, a 24-year-old reservist now living in Portland, says Pat is 'bred for' the Marines. It didn't surprise him when his brother enlisted.

'It's different than the commericals,' Justin said. 'He'll figure that out. I'm not worried about him at all. He'll take care of himself.

'He'll probably end up putting in 20 years and retiring, he's that into it,' Justin added.

After four years of active service time, Pat hopes to work overseas for a civilian contractor, such as Blackwater USA, a private military company and security firm.

He believes the Marines will give him the motivation, discipline and direction to succeed. Its hard for him to fathom that he will get paid to live his dream, he said.

'I'm so ready to go,' Pat said.

Lovelin said he's excited for Pat - and respects him.

'For a student to make that decision is a very mature decision. It's something they've put a lot of thought into, so they're doing it for the right reasons,' Lovelin said. 'It's a choice and he's passionate about fighting for his country, and there's not a whole lot you can say against that.'