Marine from Weddington dies in pool during training exercise

by: Paige Hansen Updated:

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WEDDINGTON, N.C. —

A Union County Marine, who earned his rank as Private First Class on Jan. 1, died this week during a training exercise on his first day at Camp Pendleton in California.

Josh Islam, 18, graduated from Weddington High School in June 2013. The local Marine and recent high school graduate is being remembered as a warrior who was admired by his classmates and baseball teammates.

Military officials confirm Islam died during an "initial screening test for the Marines Awaiting Reconnaissance Training, school of Infantry-west, Camp Pendleton, CA," Col. Sean Gibson, a public affairs officer with the Marine Corps Combat Development Command, said in an emailed statement to Channel 9, "The test involved treading water for 30 minutes in a swimming pool at Camp Las Pulgas. The incident is currently under investigation."

"He wasn't going to quit," said Travis Poole, who coached Islam on Weddington's baseball team for four years. "I don't know what happened, but he wasn't going to tap out."

Poole said Islam was resilient, loyal, passionate and quiet. Poole said he has no kids of his own, but "I have 31 every year," he said of his team. "They grow on you, they really do."

Poole said Josh was always the player with the most heart.

"He had no mediocrity," Poole said. "He wasn't going to do anything mediocre. He was going to do it the best he could possibly do it. That is a lesson that all the kids need to learn."

Poole says Islam helped the team win two state championships his last years in high school and with that kind of dedication, Poole says he was not surprised Islam wanted to be a U.S. Marine.

After Islam finished boot camp last year, he came back to Weddington in October 2013 for a visit. It would be the last time Poole, and many others, would see him.

"We talked and he was excited," Poole said. "He was ready to move on to his next chapter. He graduated boot camp and now his next chapter was as he would say, to be the best of the best."

Poole called Islam's mother during the interview with Channel 9. She confirmed to him that her son died just after 4 p.m. Monday, about an hour-and-a-half before the first day of training would be complete. Poole also said a celebration of life ceremony will be held in Union county, but his funeral will be held in Florida, which is where Josh's family now lives.

"I wish to extend our heartfelt prayers and condolences to the family of Private First Class Islam," Gibson said. "Our first priority is to provide his family with the support they need during this difficult time."