PARRIS ISLAND, S.C. – With war looming in Iraq, 32-year-old Nicole Kyger and her 30-year-old husband quit their motorcycle shop jobs, went through rigorous basic training with recruits years younger, and became Marines.
The Denver couple say they were motivated by the opportunities and challenges of the Marines -- and wanted to join the war on terror.
"Terrorism is a horrible thing," said Robert Kyger, an Albuquerque, N.M., native. "Not being able to go out in the morning with a cup of coffee and a newspaper and being comfortable on my front porch -- it would be a whole lot different if you weren't able to do that."
His wife, born in Toronto and raised in Denver, was also attracted by job security, travel, and the mystique of the corps.
"I knew they were pretty tough with the training and I wasn't too sure about it at first," she said. "But then there was the thinking: 'They are the elite of the military forces."'
It's unusual for married couples to undergo basic training at the same time, and even more rare for those as old as the Kygers, who needed age waivers to enlist. Recruits between 28 and 34, the maximum age for new Marines, must have such waivers.
For 13 weeks, the couple endured training at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot on Parris Island, where male and females train separately. For 13 weeks, they couldn't speak to each other as they left their old lives behind.
The Parris Island depot trains all female Marine recruits as well as male recruits from east of the Mississippi River -- in all more than 17,000 a year. Married couples occasionally pass through at the same time.
"It's definitely not a common, everyday occurrence," said Lt. Tammy Megow, a spokeswoman for the depot.
How did the Kygers keep in touch during the rigors of basic training?
"A lot of letter-writing," Nicole Kyger said. "It took three days. (The letter) would go to Charleston or Savannah before it came back."
"I knew it was going to be hard for me and it was going to be hard for Nicole," said her husband, who needed a second Marine waiver to train at Parris Island rather than on the West Coast. "I got a little bit of comfort knowing Nicole was just across the island on the rough days."
The couple, married three years, worked out together before reporting for basic in December.
"Once I got it in my head that I had a chance, it was stand up and go," Robert Kyger said.
Nicole Kyger said the other recruits looked to her "like a mother" and one of the youngest sought her out as a bunk mate because she was older.
Her age, she said, was not a problem physically.
"She was a pretty good recruit," said Staff Sgt. Lecia Tienda, who was Nicole Kyger's drill instructor. "She was one of our better runners. She was a little slow in the squad bay, I'm not going to deny that. She doesn't move fast."
And she said the older recruit got no consideration because of her age.
"It doesn't matter to me. I train them all the same. I could care less if they are 18 or 50," Tienda said.
Advanced infantry training is next for Robert Kyger. His wife plans to get advanced training in meteorology.
He said there's a good chance he could be sent to Iraq if the United States goes to war, but that didn't discourage him from enlisting.
"Marines are always going some place all the time," he said. "That's what happens."
For the future, he's thinking of perhaps working at an embassy or teaching in the Corps. Would he want to become a drill instructor at Parris Island?
"Quite possibly. I'm not going to rule that out," he said. "They are strong, hard men and women, and hopefully I would have that as an option."
His wife, fresh out of basic, grimaced.
"I just couldn't do it," she said.