CAMP LEATHERNECK, Afghanistan --
Loaded down with personal protective equipment, an M-4 carbine and tucked behind the steering wheel of a Marine Corps “7-Ton” Medium Tactical Vehicle Replacement, Lance Cpl. Clifton Perkins appeared to be right at home. This was only the second convoy the motor transportation operator had participated in since touching down in country as a member of Combat Logistics Battalion 6, 1st Marine Logistics Group (Forward), but as he gazed attentively upon the rugged terrain ahead, he spoke like a seasoned professional as he quizzed his vehicle commander on improvised explosive devise indicators and various other convoy routines and procedures.
Though his current duties involve using heavy equipment to transport Marines and gear across rural highways and almost non-existent dirt roads in a combat zone, it isn’t all that different from working back on local farms as a teenager in his native Glasgow, Ky.
The biggest difference is admittedly Perkins himself. When speaking in terms of physical fitness and appearance, three years ago he was about as far away from a combat zone - and Marine Corps standards - as he could get.
Weighing in at 310 pounds, the six-foot-one inch-tall Perkins was set in his ways. He had a big appetite and was content with life. At one point during his junior year of high school; however, a friend’s return from Marine Corps recruit training got him thinking.
“I was a pretty big guy,” said Perkins, now hovering near the two-year mark in the Corps. “And it was his goal in life to get me to join while he was home on leave, to lose some weight, if nothing else.”
Perkins flirted with the idea for several months wondering if he could even do it. During his senior year, he decided to put a plan in motion. Losing weight sounded good and doing it with the intent of becoming a Marine, which no one believed he could do, was an even bigger motivation.
“I knew the weight would be an issue right away to a recruiter, but I made the call anyways to see what would happen,” said Perkins.
He called the local recruiting station in Bowling Green, Ky., and arranged to have a recruiter meet him at school a few days later. The meeting went just as Perkins figured it would.
“He poked his head in to class and said he was looking for Clifton Perkins and I raised my hand and said ‘I’m Clifton Perkins,’” he explained. “The recruiter said, ‘Yeah, right. Seriously, I’m looking for Clifton Perkins.’”
Once the Marine realized the chunky prospect was serious, they exchanged a few words in the hallway outside of the room full of bewildered classmates.
“He told me I was 100 pounds overweight and that was pretty much it, he was done with me,” said Perkins. “At that point, I wanted to go through with it even more just to prove him wrong.”
Perkins began to put his body through an intense fat-burning assault. Running and lifting weights became an everyday routine. At times, he’d spend five to six hours a day away knocking off the unwanted weight. His diet also changed. Though he was eating several meals a day, the key he noted, was timing and portion control.
It was all about proving people wrong, and within just a couple short weeks, people began to notice the “impossible” was happening. However, the initial reaction was one he was not expecting.
“People thought I was doing drugs,” Perkins said with a laugh. “I’ve never touched the stuff in my life, but they began seeing results so fast they thought that had to be it. They didn’t believe I was actually putting in the work to lose weight.”
It was at that point Perkins let his family and friends in on his ultimate goal of making it as a Marine. They were quite surprised by the news, but supportive none-the-less. After he lost 50 pounds, he gave the Marine Corps recruiter another call.
“I told him I was losing the weight and if he wouldn’t help me out, I was talking to a National Guard recruiter that would,” said Perkins.
That got his attention and after a little more work Perkins raised his right hand and became a member of the Delayed Entry Program on May 1, 2008. In the end, it took him just six months to shed the weight. He hit the famous yellow footprints aboard Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, S.C., in July 2008 at a respectable 190 pounds - a day after his 19th birthday.
He still maintains this weight nearly two years later.
As the 20-year-old continued navigating his vehicle through the rolling hills of Helmand province, he couldn’t help but laugh. There was almost a point in time where he began to re-think his decision to enlist. He was about to embark upon a journey far greater than just a means to lose weight and his family and friends where there to put this in perspective for him.
“My dad convinced me otherwise though; he said I had worked too hard to stop and that got me going again, said Perkins.
“The idea of being a Marine got me through everything and here I am.”