News: New Yorker, Citizen, Marine: Servicemember reveals journey to the Corps
Story by Cpl. Paul Peterson
CAMP DWYER, Afghanistan -He’s been to Afghanistan three times in four years.
From the Sangin District in the north of Helmand province to the wind-swept desert around Camp Dwyer to the south, it’s been an eventful early career for Cpl. Juan C. Mejia, a water support technician with Combat Logistics Regiment 2, Regional Command (Southwest).
“I wasn’t married, had no kids, and really had no commitments,” said the Tarrytown, N.Y., native, who joined the Marine Corps in May 2009. “I felt I could do something with myself … I actually get that fulfillment every time I deploy.”
Unlike most of his peers in the Marines, he also pursued a path toward U.S. citizenship.
“I came to this country from Ecuador when I was four years old,” said Mejia, who worked for his citizenship alongside his parents. “We were actually going hand-in-hand, learning the oaths, questionnaires, and the whole citizen process they were.”
At age 16, Mejia became a citizen.
Although born in another country, he spent most of his life with his family in Tarrytown, north of New York City.
“It’s a nice quiet town,” he reminisced. “I like the fact that you’re able to walk out to the store. You don’t have to get in the car to do everything. Everybody knows each other … My high school graduating class was only about 120 people.”
Mejia spent three years studying finance before enlisting in the Marine Corps. This made him older than most Marines who join just after high school, and he brought his own cultural experiences as an immigrant with him.
He took part in a humanitarian mission to Haiti after a devastating earthquake. It was his first opportunity as a Marine to provide aid directly to people in need. More recently, Mejia took part in the relief efforts for Hurricane Sandy, and he’s seen a change in Afghanistan as well.
“I try to talk to a lot of the local people,” said Mejia. “I’ve been to these third-world countries, and it’s similar to my home country. Everybody you meet is [someone] different, but you’re always going to see something familiar… a friendly face, a friendly thought. When you work with the people, it makes you feel better.”
“I spoke with some of the workers here, who are local nationals,” said Mejia during an interview at Camp Dwyer. “They enjoy the presence of the Marine Corps and the work they are doing here. [The local nationals] work their hearts out.”
Mejia and his peers helped teach the Afghan National Army basic electrician techniques in addition to his regular duties during his last deployment.
“I’ve been here three times,” Mejia continued. “Honestly, from my first round [until] now it’s gotten calmer. More or less weather-wise, it’s the same,” he joked.
This will likely be Mejia’s last deployment to Afghanistan as the process of transition takes hold. He’s already seen huge changes at Camp Dwyer, where he currently supports Marine infantry units and the base’s medical facilities.