Middle Park High School graduate receives prestigious award at Marine Corps graduation

Landon Arriaga and his recruiter, Colton Corstti, holding the "Chesty" Puller award trophy.
Stephine Arriaga/Courtesy photo

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to correct the name of Landon Arriaga’s father.

Less than two months after graduating from Middle Park High School, Landon Arriaga, 18, was on his way to San Diego to start United States Marine Corps boot camp. By the end of boot camp, he was awarded the prestigious “Chesty” Puller Award at graduation for his exemplary performance and leadership skills.

Landon went from graduating high school to graduating again with 600 other Marines. The “Chesty” Puller Award is given to one Marine in each graduating class. Landon’s willingness to lend a hand to his peers caught the eye of the higher-ups.

His boot camp graduation was an emotional time for Landon’s supporters. Stephine Arriaga, Landon’s mother, recalls hardly being able to control herself when she saw him walking with the other new Marines. She ran straight towards Landon and hugged him, overcome with emotions.

Landon’s father, Carlos Arriaga, also felt overwhelmed by the sight of his son. Landon remarked that this was the first time he had seen his father cry.

“I’m just so happy that I made him proud of me,” Landon said through tears to his mother.

Stephine had noticed little differences in Landon’s demeanor after graduation.

“It was just different in the way he carries himself,” Stephine said.

Landon says that his motivation for enlisting was for his future.

However, he said that his mother didn’t always approve of him enlisting. At one point, Stephine had even asked the recruiter who visited Middle Park High School to stop talking to Landon. This didn’t discourage Landon, who continued to chase down the recruiter and ask questions. Landon eventually wore him down and the two sat down and talked about the Marine Corps.

That night, Landon went home and told his mother about how he wanted to enlist. Once Stephine realized that Landon was serious about the Marines, she gave him her full support.

Soon after high school graduation, he was leaving Granby and headed to sunny San Diego.

“I didn’t mind that I didn’t have too much time before getting shipped out right away. Just might as well get things over with it,” Landon said.

Landon soon learned that San Diego is very different from the small town of Granby.

“Before I left, I was like, man, I can’t wait to get out of the mountains. It feels like a fishbowl around me,” Landon said. “But when I was in recruiting, I’m like, mom, can you just send me some pictures of the mountains?”

After graduation, Landon came home to Grand County for a visit.

“We came back over the pass and I’m able to see the mountains again, it just felt like home,” Landon said.

Stephine moved to Grand County from Texas in order to try and raise her children in a slower-paced community. Landon was only in the fifth grade when they arrived to the county.

The family had come up to Grand County for a vacation and that was when Stephine decided it was time for a change scenery.

Landon’s time in boot camp had been the longest the two had been separated.

Landon Arriaga graduated alongside 600 other Marine Corps recruits.
United States Marine Corp/Courtesy photo

Stephine stayed in touch with Landon as much as possible through letters. In one of these letters, Landon had written about a peer who was in his platoon who hadn’t received a single letter during his time in boot camp.

When Stephine read the letter, she began to think of others who might be in the same situation. This was also right before Landon and his platoon were about to take on the Crucible.

The Crucible is a rite of passage for recruits and after its completion, recruits are given their Eagle, Globe and Anchor emblem. This grueling trial takes place over 54 hours. Recruits are carrying around 45 pounds of gear, traveling 48 miles and overcoming other obstacles. All of this while students only get 6 hours of sleep during the trial.

Stephine got working and wrote letters on 85 index cards for recruits to carry with them through the Crucible. She even laminated these letters so they would make it through mud and rain. She worked on these cards for three days before mailing them all out. Landon says that his mom’s words helped push him through the experience.

Landon flew back to San Diego to continue training and once he completes that, he will head to Virginia to start school for security forces.

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