To hear about and to live a military lifestyle are two very different concepts.

In August 2011, Dexter Bowling Jr. was a first year transfer student at Mason. While taking a full course load and adjusting to a new university, Bowling was preparing for the unknown.

“You hope for the best,” Bowling said, “but you still prepare for the worst.”

As a reserve in the United State Marine Corps, Bowling was saying his final farewells to family and friends before being shipped off to boot camp at Paris Island, S.C.

“You don’t know what you signed up for until you actually get there,” Bowling said. “You only know what everyone has told you.”

Bowling, whose girlfriend Keina Salazar Schweikart is a student at Mason, spent the three months enduring hell on Earth. He had no access to technology and was allotted just one hour a day to write letters home.

After just a few days at Paris Island, Bowling began to contemplate quitting. He heard stories about other Marines who never heard from their families during boot camp, and Bowling missed his family and friends far too much to endure that uncertainty.

“When you see someone all the time, you become accustomed to a lot of things,” Bowling said. “You take a lot of things for granted.”

With the option of giving up on his mind, Bowling was relieved at the sight of his first letter less than one week in to the beginning of his new journey.

Over a span of three months at Paris Island, Bowles received a total of 86 letters from Schweikart, a feat that he says helped him make it through the grueling training in South Carolina.

“More than anything, I could feel the love,” Bowling said.

After his graduation from boot camp, Bowling was allowed ten free days before he was due to report to Marine Combat Training in Camp Lejune, N.C. He spent every possible moment with Schweikart, who was in the midst of studying for midterm exams.

“It was the best ten days of my life,” Bowling said. “It went by so quickly and then it was time to leave again.”

When May 14 arrived, Bowling was again shipped off to training where he had limited access to his cell phone – just one total hour in the 28 days of training. He was not allowed to send or receive letters, so he purchased a journal where he wrote, but could not send, letters to Schweikert.

“I had no clue what was going on back home,” Bowling said. “And nobody knew what was going on here either. But it helped a lot to write stuff down.”

After about eight months of being away from Schweikert and his family, Bowling finally returned home on Thursday, Oct. 11.  His time away has only strengthened his love and appreciation for Schweikert, as she played a significant role in his recent growth with the U.S. Marine Corps.

“I want to show everyone how much I appreciated all the love and support through the most challenging year of my life so far,” Bowling said. “I just want to make sure I make up for as much time as I can.”