Dyersburg, Tennessee --
The Fields family of Dyersburg, Tennessee is awaiting baby number nine, bringing them just shy of a full-sized Marine Corps rifle squad. This family of almost 11 has provided at least two of those children with the foundation of leadership and teamwork that is inherent among Marines. Much like the close-quarters living that many junior Marines experience, living with so many people under one roof can often be fun, frustrating, noisy, and chaotic, but the bonds it creates among them are unbreakable.
Jaquan and Alexia Fields, the second and third children in the Fields' family lineup, learned to overcome their year-long discourse to travel a path together in hopes of becoming the best versions of themselves. Just a few months ago they never imagined they would be traveling the path together.
Alexia, an athlete and naturally competitive person, began to heavily weigh her life options when she was a junior at Dyer County High School. In January of 2019, a friend of hers, who happened to be a part of the Marine Corps pool program, asked her if she wanted to exercise with him. Being an avid track and field participant in school, she agreed and he brought her to a physical training session at Permanent Contact Station (PCS) Dyersburg, Marine Corps Recruiting Substation Jackson in Dyersburg, Tenn. After that first pool function, she was hooked and continued to attend the physical training and pool functions with dedicated regularity. She said she felt as though the recruiters, the newly returning Marines, and the other poolees who she met at the functions were quickly becoming another part of her extended family.
"I've been (coming) here for about a year and a few weeks, and I've already got family here," said Alexia, the 17-year-old Dyer County High School student. "I'm not even in the Marine Corps yet, and they are already making me feel like family."
Officially joining the pool was such a priority for her that she made it a point to join at the earliest available opportunity. She was attending pool functions as a guest since January of 2019, and this year on her 17th birthday she swore into the delayed entry program.
At the time she became interested in the Marine Corps, she and her older brother Jaquan were not on regular speaking terms, despite being close in age and having similar personalities and interests. As they grew through their teenage years, their disagreements became an overwhelming obstacle that overshadowed their close friendship.
"Neither of us could humble ourselves to apologize to the other person because we both felt the other person was in the wrong," Alexia recalled with distant eyes and a sad tone. "He became a stranger to me. I know that is weird, and maybe I shouldn't think like that, but that is how it felt. I hadn't talked to him in a year."
Yet, because the Fields' family ties were as strong as they were, she said she felt a sense of obligation to share this rewarding experience with her older brother whom she had drifted apart from. She felt some apprehension about bringing him to the pool event simply because she did not know how their interactions would be. She didn't want it to be awkward for them or the others around them, but something told her to set aside her pride and invite him. Due to their similar personalities, she felt that he actually might be as enthusiastic about the Marine Corps experience as she was.
"I've always seen the Marine Corps spirit in him. He likes to exercise and is very talkative and so I invited him to the pool function," Alexia reflected on why she thought it would be a great idea for him to join her at the event.
Her feelings proved to be right.
"My sister Alexia would be the main one I would turn to and depend on, before our falling out," Jaquan said. The loss of their close relationship was noticeably absent. He described the air between them as uncomfortable and somewhat hostile to the point where they could not be in the same room or attend family functions together.
Each of them yearned to make amends, but their identical stubbornness prevented the reconciliation that could have ended the friction weeks or months sooner.
"One day there was a serious family issue that we needed to discuss. So I made the decision to throw my stubbornness away and told her that I think we should really talk about this and put our differences aside," recalled Jaquan about the moment that he decided that things could no longer continue down this hostile path with his sister Alexia. They spoke, but after such a long time of silence, things didn't automatically return to what would have been considered normal about a year and a half prior.
The following day Alexia reached out to Jaquan and invited him to a cookout with some of her friends. He was surprised by the invitation, so he told her that he would consider it.
He called Alexia the day of the cookout to inquire about the time. The call was timely as she told him they were already on their way to the event. Eager to continue the path of making amends, she and her friends decided to turn around and picked him up.
He describes the car ride to the event as feeling awkward. Neither he nor his sister were quite sure how to interact at that point, and there were others in the car, increasing the somewhat awkward feeling between them.
It wasn't until they arrived that he realized it was a Marine Corps pool function. She hadn't told him specifically where they were going. Caught completely by surprise, he said he was actually interested in learning and participating in the event. Even though he was interested, he still felt hesitant.
"She was more confident than I was," said Jaquan about his interactions with his sister during the event. "I tried not to mess it up. But she seemed somewhat carefree toward me. She seemed confident. And if she wasn't, she did a darn good job at portraying it!"
Because Alexia interacted so naturally with her brother so quickly after their initial reconciliation, he felt more engaged at the function and got a feel for what his sister had been doing over the past year and a half.
Staff Sgt. Brylon N. Shockley, a canvassing recruiter, PCS Dyersburg, RSS Jackson, Recruiting Station Nashville, recalls that the first time he met Jaquan was not at that pool function, rather it was about a year prior when he was at the high school and Jaquan stopped by his table.
"He wanted some of the swag, I think a water bottle or something, so I told him only if he could do 50 push-ups. He dropped down and knocked them out with no problem," said Shockley who has been recruiting with PCS Dyersburg since December 2018. "After talking with him I realized Alexia was his sister."
Shockley went on to invite Jaquan to a physical training session, but he never came. Not to be deterred, he regularly spoke with Alexia about inviting Jaquan to the PT sessions or pool functions.
That first interaction with Shockley planted the seed of the Marine Corps in Jaquan's mind. After going to the event and observing his sister in the competitive yet supportive environment, just as she knew, he also knew that it was the right place for him to be.
He did not wait long to officially join the delayed entry program, and just like his sister, his dedication and love of competition keeps him motivated to attend and excel at every PT session, and to participate in all of the pool functions.
Shockley, the Spencer, Tennessee native, describes Alexia and Jaquan in much the same way. He said they both exude a "quiet confidence. They can be kind of shy and quiet at first, but they are dedicated and work very hard.”
He went on to say that Alexia has improved since she has been attending the pool functions and she is gaining even more confidence as time goes on. He also noted how well she absorbs the Marine Corps knowledge and is always eager to learn more.
Alexia credits herself for bringing her brother to the Corps and loves the constant friendly competition that exists between them, bringing out the best in each other. They are each other's strength, and they rediscovered their special sibling bond through a simple Marine Corps recruiting station cookout. The siblings are quick to crack jokes, each making claims about their own superiority in various areas from PT to leadership and everything in between, but the love and encouragement they give to each other is unmistakable. They overcame their own battles and continue to seek out the next challenges to overcome. If they have their way, they will take their competition as far as the Marine Corps will allow, which, to their mother's shock, includes the far reaches of Japan.
Jaquan is slated to attend Marine Corps recruit training toward the end of 2020. Alexia is eagerly awaiting the completion of high school before she can attend recruit training.