MARINE CORPS RECRUIT DEPOT SAN DIEGO --
When Company C Marines leave Shepherd Memorial Drill Field today, many of them will head straight home. However, one graduate feels he is already there now that he is back with Marines.
Pfc. Lawrence Santos, Platoon 1053, developed close relationships with the Marines he served with when he was a line company corpsman for 3rd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment and 3rd Light Armored
Reconnaissance Battalion at Marine Air Ground Combat Training Center, Twentynine Palms, Calif., during a prior military service enlistment.
“My Marines were the only family I had,” said the 27-year-old Stockton, Calif., native.
Growing up in Southern California, Santos struggled to find a reliable job and his relationship with his biological family was falling apart. He met a former service member who suggested that the military may be a
good fit for him.
Becoming a Marine has always been on Santos’ mind for as long as he could remember. When he decided to pursue his goal of becoming a Marine, he was led in another direction.
“I was thinking about joining the Marine Corps at first,” said Santos. When he visited the Marine recruiter’s office they were holding a physical training function for the poolees. So he ended up next door at the Navy
He developed a relationship with the recruiter and was later convinced that the Navy was right for him. He enlisted with an open contract and was selected to become a corpsman. His destiny soon put him with
“I had no clue that corpsmen served with Marines” said Santos.
When Santos attended the Basic Hospital Corps School at Naval Station Great Lakes, Grand Rapids, Ill., to become a corpsman, Marine instructors trained him in Marine Corps traditions, customs and
courtesies. Santos said the training benefited him when he checked into his first unit.
“When I checked in to my first unit I was treated like any new Marine, except that I was a corpsman so I already had two strikes against me (for not being a Marine),” said Santos. “Because of my Marine
instructors (at the Basic Hospital Corps School), I was able to adapt easily. I knew what to expect and what was expected from me.”
He was required to keep up on long hikes, be knowledgeable in weapons maintenance and survive “mindless gear inspections,” said Santos. Despite the demanding operational tempo, Santos kept his motivation
and admiration for Marines grew.
As a corpsman, Santos said he had the freedom to be at the Battalion Aid Station or in the field with the Marines. He said he often chose to be with his Marines even when he was not required.
As Santos adapted to the Marine Corps lifestyle, the Marines began to accept him as one of them. He earned their respect and developed close relationships with the Marines in his unit.
In January 2003, Santos’ unit was called to Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
“My biggest fear was that I would not be able to do my job in combat,” said Santos. “I had no idea how I got through some of the things that I did.”
Santos served in two deployments to Iraq. During his combat service, 19 of his close friends gave their lives in support of the Global War on Terrorism.
After returning from his last deployment, he received orders to Naval Medical Center San Diego to care for the wounded warriors with Marine Medical Rehabilitation Platoon.
Santos said he had trouble adapting to the “blue corpsman” lifestyle, rather than the “green corpsman” lifestyle working alongside Marines in the field.
Santos requested to return to his old unit so he could deploy again. His request was denied but he was offered the chance to work as a company corpsman at the depot’s medical center.
Santos accepted the offer and was transferred here where he worked with Company H. Several drill instructors with whom he worked were Marines he served with in Iraq.
“He was totally excited to work around Marines again (when he came to the depot),” said Petty Officer 3rd Class Charles Conant, who worked with Santos at the depot medical clinic. “He walked and talked like a
Marine. It wasn’t a shock to any of us when he decided to become one.”
After he finished his seven-year service in the Navy, Santos decided to pursue his original goal to join the Corps.
“I feel like the Marine Corps is where I’m supposed to be whether as a corpsman or Marine,” said Santos. “Going back to the Marine Corps is like going home for me.”
Santos soon found himself around his Marine family again as he shipped to boot camp three months ago and picked up with Company C.
During training, drill instructors looked to Santos for medical advice on several occasions. Santos said he even looked after sick and injured recruits.
“Santos was an asset to our company,” said Staff Sgt. Anthony Molnar, drill instructor, Platoon 1053. “I could always count on him for his medical expertise. He screened (sick or injured) recruits to see if they
needed to go to medical or not. Recruits from other companies even came to see him.”
Molnar also said that Santos has the ability to help bring out the leadership potential in recruits. Santos coached other recruits who were having trouble when placed into leadership positions for the first time.
“Everything Santos did (he did) without asking for recognition,” said Molnar. “It seemed like he held back in boot camp, but when other recruits needed help he knew how to help them because of his past
When Company C moved to Edson Range, Camp Pendleton, Calif., for field training, Santos knew some of the field and marksmanship instructors because he served with them in Iraq.
“The Marine Corps is not all polished brass and creases, is it doc,” his platoon sergeant said. Santos did not answer his platoon sergeant.
Santos said that if he could answer that question today, he would say no.
“The Marine Corps is more than that,” said Santos. “That’s why I’m here, and that’s why the title of Marine means more to me than some could understand.”