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Readiness Enabler for Operational Forces  •
Language skills increase Marine's career flexibility

By Colie Young | | April 26, 2001

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"I'm standing in the middle of Red Square [Russia]. The Kremlin and Lenin's tomb is on one side of me and St. Basil's [the popular Russian Orthodox Basilica] tomb is on the other. For the longest, we [U.S. Marines] trained to defend against the might of the former Soviet Union -- and here I am -- standing in Red Square," said Blount Island Command's Master Sgt. Jorge Garcia, as he reflected his most memorable moment in the Corps.

Based in Jacksonville, Fla., the Guatemala City, Guatemala-born Marine also reflected on the changes his life and career have seen since coming to the states more than two and a half decades ago.

"I lived in Guatemala until the age of 5 when my father sent for me to come to New York City," Garcia said. "I can remember experiencing culture shock once I arrived. I was Guatemalan and not Mexican, Puerto Rican nor Cuban," Garcia said.

"That was when I first experienced the different Spanish dialects and variations in our foods," he said.

Subtle differences to some, but sheer culture shock to a Spanish-speaking 5-year-old new kid on the block. Although he moved to an area filled with other Hispanics, Garcia searched for comfort, something familiar.

Athletic by nature, a young Garcia took to sports to help himself blend in. He played both basketball and baseball -- with his basketball prowess later earning him a scholarship to Saint Raymond's High School -- a parochial prep school for boys. As a teen, his skills improved. He excelled in both sports -- playing organized games in Madison Square Garden [basketball] and at Yankee Stadium [baseball].

But as a high school junior, Garcia's family relationships grew sour.
"My father was strict -- to be honest, we were very distant," Garcia admitted. "Although rigid, my father still taught me to be independent and allowed me freedom to make my own choices. At 16, I wanted to join the Corps."

Garcia's dean authorized him to attend a special summer program that allowed qualified students to graduate high school one year early. Garcia turned 17 on Aug. 8, 1982, completed the program Aug. 15, and ten days later a sneering drill instructor was barking commands in his ears at Parris Island.

Becoming a Marine built upon the discipline Garcia's father had instilled in him. He began to dream and set goals. He wanted to travel, and took full advantage of every opportunity the Marine Corps gave him.

The supply analyst and Marine of 19 years has served tours in Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii; Okinawa, Japan; Budapest, Hungary; Minsk, Belarus; and Bamako, Mali, in West Africa. Garcia was afforded the honor of being the first Marine Security Guard detachment commander in Minsk. He has deployed to Alexandria, Egypt and visited multiple cities throughout eastern and western Europe to include Paris, Venice, Vienna, Prague, Warsaw and St. Petersburg.

"Throughout it all, I would have to say my second most memorable [Marine Corps] moment came during my visit to Berlin where I walked through check point 'charlie' and toured around the Brandenburg Gate. My diplomatic passport was stamped with the East German communist seal," the well-traveled Marine said. "I saw pieces of the Berlin Wall that still remain erect as reminders of the human rights abuses of the former communist regime."

Visiting climes and places all around the world, Garcia was exposed to numerous languages and cultures. While in Africa, Garcia said that although he is of Hispanic decent, he didn't really realize the advantage of his bilingual ability until this tour.

"I communicated in Spanish with some of the locals during my first assignment in Bamako," Garcia said. "Other Americans had to learn French to relate, where I was communicating as soon as I got there. I've found it a tremendous opportunity for both the officers representing the multiple countries in the western hemisphere and U.S. military to exchange doctrine, ideas and basic information. This enhances relationships between countries and helps protect the national interests of the U.S.

"As circumstances would have it," Garcia added, 'my bilingual ability has me translating twice a year [in an official capacity] for the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation and School of Americas' visiting officers. Privately, I translate for my parents all the time."

According to Garcia, learning about his Hispanic heritage and being able to speak the language of his forefathers has enriched his life tremendously. To complement this, he gained a beginner's speaking ability in French, Russian and Hungarian, which makes things quite interesting on the home front.

"My wife Natalia is from Minsk, Belarus, and she speaks Russian, Belarusian and English fluently. If that's not enough, she is currently in college to master Spanish," the husband and father of two said with a smile.

"My son, Elias, learns English from educational television programs while I speak to him in Spanish at home. Elias' first videotape was 'Baby Einstein' which teaches babies to recognize five languages (English, Russian, Spanish, French and Hebrew). As for my daughter Dominique, she became proficient in Spanish during her four-and-a-half-year stay with my parents when I was in the Marine Security Guard program.

"I believe it is important for those of us who have a second language to pass it on to our children, especially with the changes that are occurring in U.S. demographics."

The energetic Garcia, now 36, keeps his aim high. The motivated staff noncommissioned officer has established more educational and career goals for himself.

"When I came in the Corps, I entered with some personal and professional goals. Along the way I've learned that patience and remaining focused are paramount. My greatest personal goal right now is to maintain my 4.00 grade point average and graduate with a 'Summa Cum Lauda' diploma. I am nine courses away. Once I earn by Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration, the door to opportunity will be wide open," he emphasized.

"I have a strong desire to help people, so I've looked into 'troops to teachers,' a JROTC program and other community programs.

"Eventually, I will move from Jacksonville, as my wife will pursue a career with the Foreign Service as a Diplomat," he continued.

"Another goal of mine is to share my experiences with both older and younger Marines to hopefully make a positive impact in their lives," he said.

Garcia concluded with a quote from a former U.S. president.

"I truly believe that Marines are a different breed from members of the other services," Garcia began.

"But President Reagan said it best when he said, "Some people wonder all their lives what they have accomplished in life --Marines do not have that problem.'"

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