MARINE CORPS AIR STATION YUMA, Ariz. --
Discipline, precision and dedication to Corps and country are attributes found in all members of the Silent Drill Platoon.
Lance Cpl. Steven Akarim, infantryman and now one of the newest member of the SDP, has given blood, sweat and tears during countless hours of training in order to become a member of one of the most prestigious drill platoons in the world.
"It is a tremendous accomplishment," said Akarim. "A lot of people don't know the amount of work put into this, so it's hard to understand how it feels when you actually make it into the platoon."
Akarim, a 25-year-old native of Los Angeles, Calif., finished first in his class here on Feb. 15, 2011, earning him the title of "New Dog."
"He's excelled above the rest," said Lance Cpl. Wesley Johnson, SDP member and Akarim's team leader. "He helped other students through hard times. He is very knowledgeable and has a leadership quality to him, which alone makes him a great attribute to the platoon."
Akarim arrived at the Marine Barracks Washington in D.C., the home of the SDP, in November 2009, missing his chance to attend Silent Drill School because the class had already started. Thus, he started ceremonial drill school and became a ceremonial marcher, which handle hundreds of ceremonial commitments throughout the nation's capital region each year including Marine funerals at Arlington National Cemetery, sunset parades held at the Marine Corps War Memorial and evening parades at Marine Barracks Washington.
Akarim, also had the privilege of participating in the Firing Party, which perform the iconic rifle salute at military burials. He was also part of the Dover Team, which receives the bodies of those killed in action when they are brought back to the states.
"It was a tremendous honor to be able to receive our fallen brothers," said Akarim. "The Dover Team and Firing Party are very humbling experiences that I was very fortunate to have had the privilege of doing."
After serving his time as a ceremonial marcher, Akarim then had the opportunity to attend Silent Drill School, a grueling, four-month-long school that teaches Marines a form of drill known as slide drill.
Slide drill uses no verbal commands and modifies common drill maneuvers, such as port arms, to best fit the platoon's style and varying formations.
"This school instills a lot of discipline," said Akarim. "It gave me self confidence and it reminded me of why I joined, who I am and what I'm capable of doing."
The last month of training is held in Yuma, at which time the final cuts are made in order to determine the final members.
This day, known as challenge day, is held at a time and place unknown to anyone but the drill master. It is the day the students put forth all they have learned throughout their schooling and compete for a spot during a thorough performance evaluation that tests their abilities to perform the several techniques unique to the SDP.
This year, challenge day was held Feb. 15, 2011.
"No one knows when challenge day is," said Akarim. "So when they announced it Tuesday it was a total shock, but I was ready and excited to show what I have learned. I was confident that with all the training I received from my instructors I would succeed, and I did."
After completing challenge day, the six newest members received their first pair of white leather gloves, symbolizing their membership in the SDP. Marines wore cotton gloves during training, which offer little protection and are meant to help teach the students to execute their drill movements to perfection, since they offer a better feel of the rifle.
"The day I received those gloves I had an overwhelming sense of pride," said Akarim. "It was like receiving my eagle, globe and anchor all over again."
Throughout his training Akarim faced several hurdles.
"Every single move we learned throughout training was a struggle," said Akarim. "Learning the discipline was strenuous in itself. It breaks your body and you have to be able to keep pushing through that every single day. We took the vow of discipline. It is the fundamental tool that makes Marines."
Although he faced struggles every day, Akarim did not let that stop him. "What kept me going was the thought of my family and wife," he added, "knowing that the Marine to the left and right of me are going through the same pain. I did it for them. I held my rifle up higher to motivate them."
Akarim made it to what is known as, The Marching 24, meaning he is part of the two dozen active members of the SDP who perform across the globe.
The SDP is scheduled to perform at 10:30 a.m. March 3, 2011, on the parade field and later that evening at 7 p.m. at Kofa High School. They will also perform at 7 p.m. on March 4, 2011, at the Veterans Memorial Stadium near Gila Ridge High School and Arizona Western College.