AIKEN COUNTY, S.C. (WJBF) — Students and staff are pushing their limits in the High School Marine fitness challenge. The event brought together athleticism, teamwork, and a touch of military flair.
“It’s a real test of not just your physical strength but your mental strength,” Augusta Marine Corps Recruiting Station Commander USMC SSgt. Christopher Williams said.
Teams took on a series of physical challenges that tested their endurance, strength, and teamwork. The challenges included relay races, navigating cone patterns, carrying teammates across the field, and even doing push-ups with ammo cans.
“The hardest part. Oh, all of it. It’s all so difficult,” South Aiken High School senior Keira Tallent shared. “I think the hardest part might be picking people up and still running with it.”
“Ooh, definitely the hardest part was the marine fitness part,” South Aiken High sophomore Jayden Broughton added. “But you know, with your teammates cheering you on, it’s definitely, definitely motivating, and it’s what pushed me all the way through,”
It’s a smaller version of the Marine combat test, but the exhaustion on the students’ faces showed the intensity of the experience. “But, the reason that we’re out here today is not directly recruiting,” South Aiken High School Senior Naval Science Instructor, Colonel (Ret.) Claude Davis said. “It’s all about getting youngsters together, doing something positive, and helping them to grow and be better citizens.”
The Dillon family added a poignant touch, presenting a trophy in memory of Cpl. Matthew Dillon, a Marine who paid the ultimate sacrifice in Iraq. “We look forward to this event every year for two reasons. One, because they’re honoring our son, of course. But more importantly, we look at these young people here. We see that they’re going in their way in life the way they should be. It just gives us hope that the younger generation will be fine. Don’t worry about ’em, they’ll be fine,” the father of Cpl Matthew Dillon, Neil Dillon, added. “I’m proud of ’em, and I’m proud of all their instructors, the JROTC units, and the recruiters that come and help, promote these kids, and make them know that there’s something better than themselves,” mother, Lucy added.
Cpl. Matthew “Matt” Dillon was remarkable, embodying the spirit of service and dedication. “He enjoyed doing things that most kids like to do, but as he got older, he realized that he needed to do something more than go to school and work,” his father, Neil, said.
He began his journey by serving as a National Guardsman and later joined the United States Marine Corps. Matthew’s commitment to his country led him to Iraq on multiple tours, where he demonstrated exceptional bravery, even continuing his duties after being wounded by shrapnel. “He decided he didn’t want to come home and take it out of his arm and shoulder. So he stayed with his unit and finished that tour,” he added.
As a military police officer, Matthew’s dedication and sense of duty were evident in his 37 combat missions. Tragically, he lost his life during his service, leaving behind a legacy of selflessness and sacrifice. His father, Neil, shared that he was a machine gunner on a Humvee and was involved in an incident where they came under small arms fire, and Matt returned fire, killing two enemies. However, during the same incident, they were hit by a high-explosive IED, resulting in casualties, including Matt’s death. “Matt was doing what he wanted to do. He loved what he was doing. And if he could speak to us today, he would say, ‘I’m sorry I’ve left your mom and dad, but I know I was doing what I wanted to do,'” he added.
His mom, Lucy, remembers his character, attitude toward people, and his positive impact on others: “He would give somebody a dollar for lunch that he didn’t have, or he would give him a ride or give them pencils,” she recalled. “I had students, I had teachers, I had people of professional business all come and tell us all the little stories of what he did for these. And for somebody that was only 25 years old, he lived a whole full life, and he left us a lot of memories.”
Meanwhile, the Marine Fitness Challenge at South Aiken High School is a tribute to Matthew Dillon’s memory. As part of the event, the Dylan family actively participated. They contribute to the presentation of awards, including a trophy named in Matt’s honor and a $1,000 scholarship awarded annually. This scholarship is a meaningful way to commemorate Matthew’s life and contributions to the Marine Corps.
The Marine Fitness Challenge goes beyond a mere physical competition; it is a heartfelt tribute to a fallen hero and a testament to the enduring impact of individuals like Cpl. Dillon, who dedicated their lives to serving their country.