Growing up, my absolute favorite brand of toys to play with were G.I. Joes; as innocent as the idea of a toy may be, the constant exposure for my imagination sparked something that led to my decision to enlist in The Marine Corps. They exemplified traits I wanted- things my childhood heroes had. I figured maybe I could try on the uniform and see how it fits.
During school I was proud to do the Pledge of Allegiance every morning even though I had lived in an area where most of the children lived below the poverty line. I had never seen a soldier, and police only came to arrest “bad guys.” I knew I wanted to be good, and I knew nobody messed with the Marines. Honor, Courage, and Commitment, a hallmark slogan of the United States Marine Corps.
As a child I always had two parents though at times they separated. My mother was abusive, and my father was working much of the time. As I got older, I learned to forgive them for the past. Though traumatic, had I not been through it Boot Camp would not have been so easy for me. My parents were a young couple who grew up in poverty. My father had a broken home growing up with no father of his own, and my mom had a family history of selling drugs to the point where the Federal Government got involved.
My identity growing up was something of a mystery to me. I had gone to elementary schools in South Sacramento- both of which were 88-89% low income and notably diverse. Charles Mack has a high Latin American group with the two other majorities being African American and Asian American. I was bilingual but lost my ability to speak Spanish by the 3rd grade. Between ESL classes and my family insisting I speak English, it faded away.
By that time, I moved to John Reith Elementary. Situated near a high school, a community college, and a middle school, the chances of encountering someone who is not fond of you were high. The boys would form groups and label themselves a gang, and education was something parents in this area had no time to invest in. As an adult I would later become an after-school supervisor at the same school where I had seen this first-hand a decade and perhaps a generation later.
Dealing with racial inequality and bias, has unfortunately been a factor in the experiences that have shaped my understanding of my own identity and reality of the world that we live in. The area known as Valley Hi/Laguna has a presence of gangs that are factors in the socio-economic reality, and the chances of success for those who grew up here are low.
My Time in the Corps
I graduated from High School in 2014 with the intention of leaving the following year to pursue a career in the military. I was filled with anxiety when I arrived at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot: San Diego (MCRDSD). My dad had kicked me out of his house for joining the Marines, insisting that if I wouldn’t take his advice, there was no need for me to be under his care.
I left feeling like I had lost the connection with my father, and my mother and I never had a strong connection to begin with. The idea of loneliness was not new to me, but the idea of leaving the nest was. Nevertheless, I had been told by my recruiter, “Come back a Marine, or don’t come back at all.” There was no other option but to proceed with the consequences of my actions, good or bad.
I started my contract and training in April 2015. I had never been big or strong, but the Marine Corps gave me a title worth defending and a country that I love- whatever that meant to me at the given time. I found out I am Native American and processed the pain from the atrocities inflicted by the United States to indigenous people during the formation of this country. I questioned what I would be fighting for had I ever gone to fight. Marines are all created equally, and so we see each other as our equal.
The end of recruit training is called The Crucible. The Crucible in MCRDSD was a hike up a mountain called The Reaper. At the top of this 700-foot mountain is a plateau where the ceremony of the Eagle, Globe, and Anchor is given to the new Marines by their Instructors. I remember seeing the faces of those around me, and how happy everyone was to have this title. There are no words to express the sorrow it required for me to commit to the death of all that I know. Every boy that day became a man, and that day we all recognized this transformation. Our identities were sealed as was our fate to become United States Marines.
My rack mate for the better part of a year was an Okie by the name of Kenneth Micheal Pickens. We would spend nights and evenings with everyone else as usual but had a meaningful and reflective communication that is typically reserved for those of kin. He was my brother, and I was his. He took his own life- as some others have.
Was there something Pickens knew that I did not? He did not just leave, the only way I can see him is when I close my eyes and think hard enough. Did he not think people would do that for him? Did he not think I would miss my little brother? I am constrained by the idea of selfishness. I want him here, but he made his decision. Could nothing have been done?
During a 2017 training exercise my company, Combat Logistics Battalion -23, had orders to conduct an 18-hour long convoy to display how successful our training can be. Unfortunately, during the exercise, I passed out behind the wheel in the parking lot of the Motor Pool. After an extensive sleep study, I was diagnosed with Arnold Chiari Type 2, a condition where brain tissue extends past the skull and into the spinal canal.
This brought my military service to a halt. I needed treatment for my condition and I received an Honorary discharge. During my two years of service, I had the blessing to work with individuals who I can call my brothers and sisters. Hate it or Love it, the Marine Corps is an experience only a Marine will have.
A Hard Return to Civilian Life
Later that year, I was assaulted by two individuals who tried to take my life. I woke up to a bloody scene, with no recollection of anything. My head had been stomped on using the foot rail of my car as a curb. I would eventually recover but not before falling victim to the Opioid Crisis. For a period of 12 weeks, I was bedridden with prescribed narcotics and lost touch with reality and myself.
I had been prescribed narcotics to help ease my pain. When the swelling decreased to the point where I looked normal again, I was told by my physicians that I had made a full recovery. It was a hard reset once the dependency of the opiates had riddled away into anxiety and frustration with the world around me. I would look for ways to ease my pain and ventured into street drugs to self-medicate. My doctors had made me feel the same way I felt when I had picked myself off that street- alone and afraid of the world around me.
I would eventually learn to grow as the plants do- the view of the body being a sort of temple spoke to me, on a level that was beyond what the words or the sounds can mean. When I looked into the mirror, I witnessed creation discovering itself. The fact that we are in this perfectly habitable zone with these perfect conditions is enough evidence for me that this is my home and where I belong.
After years of feeling as though reality is some sort of cruel joke where pain is necessary- the journey of being a Marine is mine, and my own. It is one of acceptance, no matter how bittersweet or painful it may be; but honor, courage, and commitment are a definitive hallmark of my person.
These experiences and the people have helped guide and shape me and I am forever thankful to be a part of this world. On this little rock, orbiting a star, floating through the universe where we can see the future, but can’t at the same time.
Written by Ferdnando Christian Pimentel | Photos provided by Author
Written by Ferdnando Christian Pimentel | Photos provided by Author