RAWAH, Iraq --
Before Lance Cpl. Allan Desruisseaux could become a Marine, he had to become a big loser.
Weighing in at more than 300 pounds, Desruisseaux lost more than 100 pounds between his first visit to a Marine Corps recruiting substation and the day he graduated Marine recruit training in April 2007.
“It was one of those 180 degree turn-arounds in life,” said Desruisseaux, 21, a telephone systems and personal computer repair technician with Provisional Rifle Platoon 3, Regimental Combat Team 5, from Mesa, Ariz.
At 326 pounds, Desruisseaux was turned down by the recruiters at Recruiting Substation Chandler, Ariz., when life events aligned to lead him to want to enlist in the Marine Corps. After being turned away by the Marine recruiters, Desruisseaux’s ex-girlfriend, who had just left him with their infant son, told him he could not make it through boot camp anyways.
Lesser men may have believed the people around them and given up, but Desruisseaux used the doubters as motivation. His determination led him to drop 100 pounds in six months, joining the delayed entry program at 226 pounds.
“I took that as a challenge, and I wanted to prove them all wrong,” said Desruisseaux with a smile. “I was told it would be impossible for me to join, so I said ‘I’ll show you then!’”
A steady regimen of cardio exercise and diet, and a grim focus on his goal of joining the Marines as soon as possible, pushed him harder than anyone, including Desruisseaux, could have hoped for.
Desruisseaux returned to the recruiting substation five months after his first visit and watched the Marines’ jaws drop below their blood stripes.
“Everyone in there freaked out and couldn’t believe it was me,” Desruisseaux said. “I had to show my ID, but once I could prove who I was, they were happy to start the enlistment paperwork.”
Despite losing the weight, Desruisseaux still faced challenges. He had to overcome his physical training abilities. When he originally tried to enlist, he could not complete one dead hang pull-up, and his time in the 1 1/2 mile run was greater than the required 12 minutes. Desruisseaux continued to work hard and when he graduated boot camp: he did 7 pull-ups, completed three miles in about 21:30 and weighed just 189, which at his height of over 6’1” is well under his maximum allowed weight of 208.
Since dropping all the weight, Desruisseaux could have put the weight back on in an unhealthy way, but instead, he’s maintained his love of working out, and has greater upper body strength.
“He’s not the biggest guy, but he’s pretty (strong),” said Sgt. David Lara, 30, a squad leader with PRP-3, and as a non-commissioned officer in the communications repair shop. “When you use to be over 300 pounds like he was, and now you can regularly crank out 17 pull ups, that’s strong.”
“Every time I go home, I shock my family and friends,” Desruisseaux said, noting that he’s changed his training focus since being in Iraq. “In the States, I do a lot of cardio because it’s running and burning fat, and it’s easy to find the time and place to run. On this deployment, though, I’m trying to gain as much muscle and get as big as possible so people will see the improvement. It’s a great feeling when people from home see me and say ‘you look completely different.’”
Though his appearance is significantly different from just two years ago, perhaps his friends and family shouldn’t be surprised. Desruisseaux has displayed determination before.
After attending the three classes required of him during his senior year of high school, Desruisseaux worked four jobs to earn money to pay for a home for his girlfriend and son. On the weekends, Desruisseaux and his father built that house themselves.
Though his plans for the family didn’t work out, Desruisseaux has brought his self-discipline and determination with him to the Marine Corps.
“I was really impressed with his work ethic right away,” Lara said. “He does what a new Marine should: strict obedience to orders. He’s pretty much the workhorse of the tech shop.”
Desruisseaux is responsible for repairing laptop computers and printers with RCT-5, but when he heard he’d be serving as a basic rifleman with PRP-3, Desruisseaux’s excitement grew.
“He’s a good Marine; he does what he’s asked and he really knows his stuff,” said Cpl. Jordan Carranza, 22, a fire team leader with PRP-3. “He quickly retains the knowledge and utilizes it.”
Without formal training in infantry skills beyond Marine Combat Training, Desruisseaux has become an asset to PRP-3.
“I trust him to cover my back in a firefight, even if he isn’t an (infantryman)’” said Carranza. “He’s performed better than my expectations; for him being a new Marine, you wouldn’t guess it, the way he’s dedicated and does what he’s supposed to.”
Desruisseaux has embraced his role in the Marine Corps and is proud of his accomplishments so far.
“The Marine Corps has given me a lot of good memories and the opportunity to get my life back on track,” Desruisseaux said.
Desruisseaux plans to take advantage of tuition assistance and take college courses toward a degree in American history -he plans to teach- while in the Marine Corps, but all of his goals are coupled with the intention of making a better life for his son, Michael, who just turned 3.
“I love him very much,” Desruisseaux said. “It’s hard to be away from him, but it’s worth it, the time spent away, because by being in the Marine Corps I can help provide for him. He’s the only one on my mind right now.”
The last step in the Desruisseaux improvement plan is to get an abdominoplasty – the surgery to remove the loose skin left over from his heavy days – an operation his mother, Lorri, had more than five years ago after she underwent a similar drastic reduction in weight.
“When I lost the weight, it made me feel good because I knew my mom was proud,” said Desruisseaux, further inspired by his mother’s support during the weight-loss process.
“I feel great. The fact I accomplished this just shows that hard work pays off,” Desruisseaux said. “It’s nice to have the help of others, but just because you don’t doesn’t mean you give up. Anybody can change their life.”