MARINE CORPS RECRUIT DEPOT SAN DIEGO --
For most of his childhood while growing up in Russia, Pvt. Jason Dolan, 18, Platoon 2111, Company E, focused mainly on one thing – survival.
“(My family) never had food around,” said Dolan. “We were always searching for food it seemed. My mindset was always on surviving and taking care of my family.”
Born in Kaliningrad, Russia, a seaport between Poland and Lithuania on the Baltic Sea, Jason grew up living on the streets and living “shelter to shelter” in the city because his parents both suffered from alcohol abuse and couldn’t care for their children. Around the age of four, he would spend most of his day searching for food with his two sisters and younger brother.
Jason got by in the streets until he was seven, when Russian social services put him in an orphanage with his brother. His brother had been sent to the orphanage too, roughly six months before Jason.
He lost contact with his two sisters while in the orphanage.
Randy Dolan and Candis Duke adopted Jason and his brother about six months after Jason had arrived at the orphanage.
“I could tell they weren’t from Russia,” said Jason, remembering the first time he saw his adoptive parents. “I could tell they were a happy family, which is something I hadn’t seen much before. They were people that wanted to love.”
With a new American family, Jason and his brother began living in California. Jason said the shift to an American lifestyle was shocking, but easy to accept.
“I was excited – you could just see the freedom by the way people lived,” Jason says, recalling his first day in America. “Living like that felt like a life you could really enjoy.”
Jason later went to Agape Boarding School, a Christian school in Stockton, Mo. It was at the school Jason had his first contact with a former U.S. Marine, who was a staff member at the school.
“He would tell me stories about his experiences in the Marines,” he said. “He was a sniper in Vietnam. He first sparked my interest in the Marines.”
Eventually, Jason met recruiters who further interested him in becoming a Marine. He first tried to get into the Delayed Entry Program at the age of 16 and then again at 17, but was not able to enlist until 18. The DEP is an enlistment with an agreement to go to boot camp at a later date.
Jason said his family was supportive in his decision to join the U.S. armed forces.
“I always encouraged him to do what was in his heart,” said Randy, a former U.S. Air Force fighter pilot. “I’m really happy to see him realize he can do anything he sets his mind to.”
Jason enlisted with a friend, Pvt. Jacob D. Kirby, Platoon 2111, through the buddy program, a guarantee to be able to attend basic training together.
“He’s like a brother,” Jason said. “I’ve known him for five years. He had also been through a rough childhood. We helped each other through hard times and could always rely on each other.”
Jason also found inspiration in Staff Sgt. Jose Umana, his senior drill instructor.
“I have a lot of respect for him,” Jason said. “He is a role model for me. He’s been through a lot, is responsible and very disciplined.”
Umana said that Jason left an impression on him despite being one of the quieter recruits.
“He is a pretty quiet individual,” Umana said. “But when it’s time to get something done, he’d get it done no matter what. You can really identify the recruits who have had a tougher life. He wasn’t scared about what was going to happen. I can tell he has no fear.”
Jason, who enlisted for four years as a combat control electrician, reflected back on his experience through boot camp and said there where a few moments where he surprised himself. “I found myself saying, ‘I can’t believe I did this.’”
During the Crucible, a field training event that lasts 54 hours and includes a 9.7-mile hike with a 700-foot tall mountain, named the Reaper; he had one of those moments.
“We were climbing (the Reaper) in the dark,” he said. “It felt like the hike would never end. I was hurting, but I was proud I had made it through and to the top. Standing at the top of the Reaper, looking out over the landscape, I thought after all the pain and struggle – it was worth it.”