Sweet Dreams;How M&M's helped a Panamanian boy become a Marine
By Staff Sgt. Will Price
| | August 30, 2004
OCALA, Fla. --
On a dusty street in Panama City, Panama, 10-year-old Jahir Jimenez and his friends watched silently as a squad of U.S. Marines patrolled past them.
The year was 1989, and Operation JUST CAUSE was under way with two objectives: the capture of ruthless dictator Manuel Noriega, and the establishment of a democratic government in Panama.
As one Marine passed by Jimenez, he tossed the boy a small bag of M&Ms from an MRE. It was a moment the young Panamanian would never forget -- a simple act of kindness that would set the course for the 10-year-olds' entire life.
"Those M&Ms were the sweetest candy I ever tasted," recalls Jimenez. "At that moment, I knew I wanted to be just like those Marines. That was my dream."
Five years later, as fate would have it, Jahir's mother took a nursing job with the U.S. government, and the Jimenez family moved to the United States to live in Ocala, Fla. Jahir was one step closer to living his dream.
As soon as he graduated high school, Jimenez raced to the Marine recruiters of Recruiting Substation Gainesville in Ocala, Fla. Jimenez was an ideal candidate, physically, but English was a second language for him, making the grammar and reading sections of the ASVAB test very difficult.
"I did pretty well on the math, but the English sections killed me," admitted Jimenez. "After failing the ASVAB twice, I was pretty depressed. I considered giving up."
With six months to wait between each test, Jimenez had plenty of time to sulk, reconsider, and give up on his dream. Instead, he referred seven others to join and did everything he could to overcome his deficiencies in English. Recruiters helped by tutoring him every night, and soon he was ready to try again, taking the ASVAB for the third time.
For Jimenez, three times really was the charm. Scoring a 45 on the test, Jimenez cleared the final hurdle towards achieving his "sweet" dream.
On June 29, 1999, one and a half years after walking into the Marine Corps recruiting office, and a full decade after a Marine in Panama gave him a bag of M&M's, Jimenez, at long last, found himself on the famed yellow footprints of Parris Island, S.C.
"I signed up as a Motor Transport operator, but I didn't really care what my job would be," admits Jimenez. "Becoming a Marine, and wearing the Eagle, Globe and Anchor, was all I cared about."
Ironically, Jimenez, 24, is currently a canvassing recruiter for RS Jacksonville's PCS Ocala -- the same "one-man fighting hole" where he originally joined the Corps. "When life gives you lemons, you make lemonade," says Gunnery Sgt. Johnny Anderson, RSS Gainseville Staff Noncommissioned officer-in-charge. "Jimenez' strength of character reflects the positive attitude he brings to the job as a recruiter."
Jimenez' attitude is indeed reflecting well with the young men and women who he meets today. In just three months of production, he has already enlisted nine others to join the ranks of the Few and the Proud.
"I appreciate the chance to give kids the same opportunities I was given," Jimenez said. "I am deeply grateful for everything life has given me -- as a recruiter, and as a United States Marine."