Latter-day Saint Life

How a priesthood blessing before a 54-hour combat simulation led to a marine’s baptism

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Kamden Young and Jhett Geer’s time at MCRD San Diego would prove life changing.
Photos courtesy of Kamden Young and Jhett Geer.

Kamden Young wasn’t going down without a fight. He’d been training at the Marine Corps Recruiting Depot in San Diego for 10 out of the 13 required weeks to become a US Marine. The last outcome he wanted in the world was to have to throw it all away and go home now.

One of Young’s lungs had collapsed. He was so determined to finish his training, however, that he delayed getting help and had broken ribs from coughing so aggressively by the time he was admitted to the hospital. This wasn’t first time he’d been on the sick bed: multiple bouts of pneumonia during training had weakened his lung and had required him to step out of the action for a few days. But now that the lung had collapsed, the situation was more serious.

Despite his requests to rejoin his platoon and make it through the last three weeks of training, military medical personnel declared that because of his collapsed lung and broken ribs they had no choice but to send him home. And to make matters worse, the doctors also said they didn’t think it was possible for Young to ever return to boot camp and try again; the damage to his lung was too great for him to meet the steep physical requirements of a marine.

For some, this set of circumstances would have been more than enough cause to give up on his dream. But Young didn’t see it that way.

In addition to the physical and mental transformation Young had undergone at boot camp, spiritual changes had also taken place. As a child, he’d been baptized a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints but hadn’t been actively attending prior to reporting to the base. Upon arrival, however, he decided to check out the small Latter-day Saint branch and found it to be a place of relief from the pressures of basic training. Without the distractions of a cell phone and the busyness of civilian life, Young began to see that maybe there was something to the religion after all.

“I could see what the Church is all about at its core level, and I connected with it a lot more and got to know a lot more about it. And with my health situation, I prayed more than I ever had in my life,” Young says. When the news came that he was being sent home, Young says his growing faith led him to believe that it was meant to be this way and that there was a plan in the disappointment. So despite feeling “the most down I’ve ever felt in my life,” Young’s first phone call from the airport was to his military recruiter—he wanted to know what he’d have to do to have another shot at boot camp and becoming a marine.

The following two years would not be easy. In fact, Young’s goal looked impossible at times. But that spiritual feeling he’d had telling him this was part of a plan proved true in more ways than one. A temple marriage, the baptism of a fellow recruit, and military honors awaited his fierce determination and deepening testimony.

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Young (right) at a recruitment training in Plain City, Utah.
Marine Corps Recruiting Ogden, Utah, Facebook page

A Temple Wedding

Young hit the ground running when he arrived home to Brigham City, Utah after his aborted training. His goal was to obtain a military wavier stating that despite the condition of his lung, he was eligible to train to be a marine. In order to get the waiver, Young visited around 20 medical specialists looking for a way to heal his lung, paying for the appointments out of his own pocket. He also worked hard to get in top physical shape and prove that his damaged lung wouldn’t burst when running long distances. His military recruiting officer, Paul Middaugh, helped him set up meetings with high-ranking Marine Corps officers to discuss his case. Young even sat down with a Utah congressman to tell him his story and get a letter of recommendation.

“There were times when I felt like, ‘Dang, I'm never going to make it back.’ But at the end of the day, the feeling to just keep putting in the work and push through always outweighed the negativity,” Young says.

Young stayed busy earning an advanced EMT license, a real estate agent license, and a security license. But those weren’t the only things holding his attention. There was also the matter of Lindy Price.

Young and Price had met in high school when they joined the same competitive engine-building team. The two dated but decided to call off the relationship after high school—before Young shipped to boot camp in October of 2019. But when he returned earlier than expected, they began dating again and made the decision to be married in the Brigham City Utah Temple on March 18, 2021.

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Brandi, Young’s mom, was delighted about their decision to be married in the temple and to have Lindy join the family.

“I saw his struggle with Church before he left [to boot camp], and … when he came back his testimony was stronger. Religion and the values of the Marine Corps work well together,” she says. “And when you have a person like [my son] who finds that conviction and holds on to it, there’s a lot of promise in using them together. We’re very proud of him.”

Young credits Lindy’s and his family’s support to helping him push through the over 100 rejections he received before finally being granted a waiver to return and try boot camp again.

“When he started the journey, he was a high school kid,” Young’s father, Sean Young, says. “We watched him develop into a man through all the challenges.”

And so only seven months after getting married, Young was on a plane back to San Diego, where he would have to repeat the 11 grueling weeks of basic training he’d done before and then finish the remaining two.

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Young at his wedding with his recruiting officer Paul Middaugh (right) and other Marines.

More spiritual growth also awaited him in California: a new recruit named Jhett Geer would soon arrive on base, and he had spiritual questions Young was ready to answer. And when a difficult moment near the end of training came, Geer sat on a camp chair while Young laid his hands on his head and pronounced a blessing that would touch both of their hearts in a significant way.

Geer

“That very first Sunday of boot camp could not come soon enough,” recalls Jhett Geer of Federal Heights, Colorado. Although he wasn't a member of the Church, Geer was really looking forward to attending the Latter-day Saint branch on base.

The past few years had been difficult ones for Geer’s family. His grandfather had suffered from severe heart problems and prostate cancer, and the situation weighed on Geer. Back home, he’d expressed to a friend how much he was struggling. She promised to pray for his family and also gave him a Book of Mormon.

“She had highlighted six or seven different excerpts from it, and I just started reading from there. I had so much going on with my family ... but I kept reading and reading,” Geer says.

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Jhett Geer at the Marine Corps Recruiting Depot in San Diego.

About a month before boot camp, Geer went to a Latter-day Saint sacrament meeting. A busy work schedule and his grandfather’s health struggles, however, made it difficult to find time to return. But that changed when he arrived at boot camp. Similar to Young’s experience, having the option to go to church built into a strict schedule allowed Geer to attend every week and provided the mental space he needed to focus on spirituality. But he says if it weren’t for the encouragement from Young and another Latter-day Saint recruit, Brian Abel, he wouldn’t have ultimately made the choice to be baptized.

“If I didn’t have Abel and Young, I would have gone to church, but I don’t feel like I would have had the same development. I didn’t go out of my way to talk with the elders, but Abel really gave me the push I needed,” Geer says. “I can remember points in time when I stayed longer than them [at church]. I was late getting back because of it, but it really helped. And I knew that it was something I wanted.”

While Geer enjoyed attending services and meeting with missionaries, it was a priesthood blessing in a time of stress that solidified his desire to baptized.

Near the end of training, all the recruits traveled an hour north to spend four weeks at Camp Pendleton near Oceanside, California. Here they would fire on the rifle range, conduct field training, and undergo the infamous Crucible, a 54-hour combat simulation experience known for causing intense mental and physical distress.

Noticing that Geer was really struggling one day at Camp Pendleton, Young explained that he and Abel held the priesthood and asked if Geer would like a blessing. Geer eagerly agreed, so at the end of the day when they were allowed a few minutes of free time, the three young men went outside with a military-issued camp stool to find a quiet place. Young invited Geer to sit on the stool, then he and Abel laid their hands on his head.

“That was the moment that I really wanted to get baptized,” Geer says. “I genuinely felt like someone was grabbing me by the hand and telling me, ‘This is what you need to be doing. This is what’s right.’”

After that blessing, Geer was able to finish the required training at Camp Pendleton. The platoon then returned to San Diego for the last two weeks of training, and Geer was feeling the Spirit more than ever before.

“I’ve dealt with anxiety, and I always had a weird, painful heaviness in my chest, but every time I went to church after the blessing it was like that was lifted off my chest. … It was like all the worries that I had were taken away and the Spirit was let in. I could relax for a second and think about all the sacrifices that were made for me; sacrifices that I won’t be able to pay back but I want to work to be holy because of,” Geer says.

And so, the last Sunday before graduation, Young baptized Geer a member of the Church on January 9, 2022. Young and Abel stood in the circle as Elder Santiago Alonzo Lopez of the California San Diego Mission acted as voice for Geer’s confirmation.

“I had a very big-brother relationship with most of the platoon where they would talk to me about just about everything,” Young says. “So [baptizing] Geer was a really cool experience.”

Geer describes that the baptism was performed in a large chest on wheels that was filled with water and wheeled just outside of where church is held on base. Before coming to boot camp, Geer had to give up drugs, smoking, and alcohol. But he saw his baptism as the welcome motivation he needed to not go back to previous habits once training was over.

“[Now] I had a reason. I had Christ as a role model to look up to. I’m the type of person that if someone does something for me, I always want to pay them back,” Geer says. “So the ultimate way that I saw for myself to be able to pay our Lord and Savior back was to [live] the best I can. … And from now on I'll be able to renew my covenant every single week.”

“Semper Fidelis”

The Friday after Geer’s baptism, he, Young, and Abel joined the 434 other new marines for their long-awaited graduation ceremony. All of the new marines proudly marched in formation in front of their families, but only Young’s name was read out to the crowd. His determination was recognized with the Chesty Puller Award, given to the most outstanding and dedicated marine. In addition to the dedication he demonstrated to get back to boot camp, Young had also earned the award through his work as the “guide” for his platoon of 82 recruits. The guide is a recruit appointed to act as the liaison between the drill instructor and the platoon. Young’s leadership led his men to outperform the other training groups, ultimately earning them the title of honor platoon.

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Young (center) with drill instructors at graduation.

Following graduation, Young, Geer, and Abel will attend additional combat training together before parting ways for training in various military careers. Young will head to the Marine School of Infantry, Geer will go to Fort Lee in Virginia to become a small arms repair technician, and Abel will go to the Naval School of Music in Virginia Beach. But their ties as marines and Latter-day Saints will remain.

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Young with his niece.

“The Marine Corps is just one big family. Once you earn that title, any marine from anywhere in the world become like brothers and sisters. Having that extra connection is really cool,” Young says.

The marine motto is the Latin phrase Semper Fidelis, or “always faithful”—a conviction Geer plans to carry not only into his future military career but into his future faith.

“Now that I have more free time than I did in boot camp, I am trying to teach myself everything I need to know about the Church and strive to live by it more and more every day,” Geer says. “We humans are imperfect, but our Lord and Savior is perfect. The greatest thing we can do is model ourselves after Him.”

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Geer (left) on graduation day.

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