After four years in the Army, Nicolas Brooklier wasn’t sure what to do next.

Brooklier, who had served as a transportation and logistics officer and attained the rank of captain, mulled getting his master’s degree in criminal justice or joining the civilian workforce.

He instead chose to make a return to the military. Just not as an officer.

Brooklier, 29, enlisted in the Marine Corps in January, chasing a lifelong dream of earning the eagle, globe and anchor.

The cut in pay from captain to private first class — from more than $6,806 a month to $2,261, according to the military’s pay tables — didn’t throw him off.

“For me, it’s just about the experience,” he told Marine Corps Times in an interview Wednesday, two days before his boot camp graduation. “You only live once.”

As a kid growing up in Los Angeles, Brooklier felt inspired by the Marine Corps’ “Semper Fidelis” motto.

But Brooklier pursued Army ROTC at Washington State University, and received his Army commission after graduating in 2018. After more than four years on active duty, he decided it was time to start fresh.

Enlisting appealed to Brooklier more than pursuing a commission for two main reasons, he said.

First of all, he wanted to do the Crucible, the grueling, 54-hour-long exercise that caps off the enlisted-only boot camp.

Second, should he ever receive his commission in the Corps, he felt he would be a better leader of Marines for having been an enlisted Marine himself, he said.

Brooklier went through the Marine Corps enlistment process with a recruiter in Killeen, Texas: Staff Sgt. Lafayette Halmon.

“I respected his high-level of commitment and conviction,” Halmon said in a news release. “It was a slow process, but he was willing to step backwards, basically from scratch, to move forward and earn his way into the Marine Corps. It motivated me in a way to put in the work for him and give him the opportunity to earn his title.”

When Brooklier stepped off the bus at Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego in the winter, it was a “shockwave,” but a good shockwave, he said. He was no longer an individual: For the next few months, he would be a part of a platoon.

In the 35-minute interview with Marine Corps Times, Brooklier didn’t complain once about boot camp.

“I knew it was going to be very hard, but just the title of becoming a Marine was all I stuck onto,” he said, adding, “I came here for a reason.”

Brooklier said he wasn’t sure what his drill instructors made of him. They didn’t treat him differently from the other recruits, he said, though they did encourage him to share with the rest what he had learned from his time in the Army, including the ethos that even small tasks serve a broader mission.

The biggest difference between his Army ROTC training and Marine boot camp was that Brooklier was around his fellow recruits 24/7, living with them for three months straight, he said.

Another difference was the emphasis on details, like squared-away uniforms, according to Brooklier. As a budding Army officer, he had been trained to focus on the bigger picture.

Toward the end of boot camp, Brooklier finally got to do the Crucible. And it was indeed challenging, both physically and mentally — especially during the nighttime hikes, he said, when attention to details like proper gear and lighting was critical.

When Brooklier finally received the eagle, globe and anchor insignia signifying he had earned the title of Marine, he teared up, he said.

During the interview with Marine Corps Times, a few days before graduation, he said he was looking forward to putting on his service uniform and marking how far his platoon had come.

His plan for his post-boot-camp leave? Return to Los Angeles. Check in with his family. Sleep. Recover from training. Eat some sushi. Keep up his fitness.

After that, Brooklier will head to the School of Infantry-West at Camp Pendleton, California, to train as an infantryman.

And maybe one day he will pursue a commission, again, and become a Marine officer.

“Only time will tell,” he said.

Irene Loewenson is a staff reporter for Marine Corps Times. She joined Military Times as an editorial fellow in August 2022. She is a graduate of Williams College, where she was the editor-in-chief of the student newspaper.

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