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What’s meant to be will be
It may sound cliché, but I can honestly feel like being a Marine is what I was meant to do.
In the summer of 2004 I was 17, getting ready to start my senior year of high school. I hadn’t the faintest idea what I wanted to do with my life – see it does sound cliché.
One night I was home babysitting and for some odd reason my mother decided to check the mail on her way in at 1 a.m. I heard her come in and I tried to go back to sleep. A few minutes later I heard her yelling. I jumped out of bed and found her in the kitchen with tears in her eyes yelling “B.G.’s in Iraq!”
B.G. is my cousin. He had moved away when I was a baby and we hadn’t seen or heard from him for 12 years. I don’t quite know how his mom finally found us, but she wrote because B.G., who was now 20-years-old, was a Marine on his way home from his first deployment.
My mother could not contain her happiness; she was elated to finally hear from her nephew. She called his mother immediately and we made it a point to stay in touch.
“La sangre llama” – Blood calls
After the war began more than a year prior, I was constantly drawn to the news. There was something about living history that drew me in. Once we found out my cousin was there it all made sense to my mom.
“La sangre llama (blood calls),” she said. “Your blood was calling you. You didn’t know it, but you sensed a part of you was there.”
In December, Gene, who no longer goes by B.G., was scheduled to deploy on his second tour. My mom sent me to San Diego to spend time with him and the family before he left. Neither of us realized the difference this would make in my life.
I don’t know why I was nervous about seeing him for the first time. The whole flight I thought of the last time I saw him at my grandparents’ house. I was really close to the cousins I grew up with in New York, so I was anxious to see how Gene and I would get along now that we were grown.
His mother and grandmother had kept the fact that I was coming a secret. He met us at the hotel and the first thing I noticed was the resemblance between us. We look more like siblings than first cousins and we got along as if there hadn’t been a 12-year detachment.
Far from home
This trip was the furthest I had ever been from home and the first I took alone. I had a great time getting to know Gene, his mom, grandma and fiancé. They showed me around San Diego and I thought I would look into going to college there when I graduated.
Gene took me aboard the aircraft carrier that would soon take him a world away. As the visit progressed my “I would never join the military” attitude began to sway.
My first glimpse into the Corps was at Camp Horno, home of the 1st Marine Regiment on Camp Pendleton. I knew very little about Marines, so I didn’t understand why there were no female “heads” in the area or why Gene kept me at his side the whole time we were there. Now that I know Marines firsthand, I think its pretty funny.
There was something about Gene’s demeanor and that of the Marines around him the day they left that stayed with me. Their camaraderie, confidence and poise, inspired me. While intangible, their faith in each other resonated throughout the staging area. They were sons, brothers, fathers and husbands, all going to war outwardly unfazed.
Shores of Camp Pendleton
That day, on Red beach, hours before his departure, I told Gene I wanted to be a Marine. “Join the Air Force,” he told me half joking, but totally serious. His efforts to protect me were fruitless. I was in Parris Island six months later, and in 2008 I reenlisted on the same beach.
In my first enlistment, Gene and I were both stationed at Camp Pendleton. We saw each other sporadically between his rigorous training schedules. He introduced me to the nightlife in Tijuana, and bought me my first legal drink. I visited him up at the School of Infantry and he was one of the first to come see my son when he was born.
The entire country is between us now, but there isn’t a day I don’t think of Gene. We’re both up for reassignment soon and I’m hoping we are fortunate enough to serve near each other again. Hopefully, because there is no one I’d want to pin on my rocker besides him.