MARINE CORPS RECRUIT DEPOT SAN DIEGO --
Private First Class Yevgeniy Kulgeko’s first memories of the military take him back to his hometown of Tashkent, Uzbekistan, where his grandfather, an officer in the Soviet Army, would give him rides around the neighborhood in an armored vehicle.
During this time, Uzbekistan was living under the shadow of the Cold War and was an enemy of the United States. On Dec. 21, 1991, the Soviet Union fell and Uzbekistan became a fully independent country.
In 1999, the Islamic movement of Uzbekistan began and the country was thrown into battle against militant Islamic groups, according to www.infoplease.com. In fear for their family’s safety, Kulgeko’s parents decided to migrate to America as Jewish refugees.
“(Kulgeko) came to San Diego knowing very little English and had a hard time adjusting, but after attending school for six months and getting private English lessons, he learned the language,” said Olesya Kulgeko, his mother.
His mother said that Kulgeko’s grandfather was his role model and although he was no longer in the Soviet Army, he continued to encourage him to join the military.
When Kulgeko was a child his grandfather told him war stories about when he fought in the Soviet Army, which captivated him and kept his interest in the military alive. After listening to the stories, Kulgeko let his imagination take him to that war-zone as he turned sticks into rifles, shooting at invisible enemies in his makeshift battlefield, his front yard.
Kulgeko spent the remainder of his school years as an athlete, but he said he always knew that fate would lead him to the military.
While in high school, Kulgeko researched each service extensively and attended some of the physical training functions at his local Marine Corps recruiting station. After only a few meetings, Kulgeko decided to enlist in the Marine Corps because of the high physical demands and challenges that it offered.
Kulgeko left home to tackle recruit training on July 23, and picked up with Platoon 3265, Company M.
The harsh reality of his decision became evident on Black Friday, the first day the platoon met their drill instructors. Kulgeko said he was taken out of his comfort zone and placed in the most stressful environment he could imagine.
After he got over the initial shock and progressed through training, his natural athletic abilities did not go unnoticed.
“Kulgeko always led from the front and never had problems with the physical aspects of training,” said Staff Sgt. Michael Hamilton, senior drill instructor of Platoon 3265. “He holds the company’s record of 58 pull-ups, and he constantly motivated the platoon to push themselves during the physical training sessions.”
Hamilton said that Kulgeko’s biggest challenge during training was drill because he lacked coordination, but his leadership shined through once his platoon moved north to Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Calif., for field training and to complete the Crucible.
“While we were in the field, our platoon’s bond became a lot tighter and we rarely argued,” said Kulgeko. “The field exercises taught me how vital teamwork is in order to complete a mission, and by the time field training was over, we had become a band of brothers.”
Other than the teamwork aspect, Kulgeko liked the adrenaline rush he got from firing the weapons, which made him eager to start his career as an infantryman.
Having overcome the many demands and challenges of boot camp, Kulgeko will return home to enjoy 10 days of leave before continuing his training at the School of Infantry, Camp Pendleton.
“Eventually I would like to become an officer like my grandfather,” said Kulgeko. “I went the enlisted route because I want to gain experience in the Marine Corps before becoming a leader.”
Although the foundation of his military dream originated from the Soviet Army, Kulgeko has realized his military dream in the United States Marine Corps.