ack in my high school days, I didn’t associate myself with friends that aspired to go to college. What I did have was friends that had already joined the Marine Corps and friends that were about to join. Although my mom insisted that I go to college, her pleas fell on deaf ears because nothing was going to change my mind at that point. By then, I already knew two things. One, I had no ambition, whatsoever, of going to college. Two, I was going to become a Marine.

On April 20, 2001, my recruiter took me to the L.A. MEPS station. It was there, one month shy of turning 18, that I signed my life over to the Marine Corps and swore an oath to this country, that “I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.” Today, although with different tools and a new profession, I continue to live by that oath.

When I joined, I enlisted into the Delayed Entry Program and scheduled to begin bootcamp in January 2002. The morning of September 11, 2001, I got a call from a friend. When I answered he told me, “Dude, you are going to war!” I was still half asleep and told him that I would call him back later. Maybe ten minutes later, that same friend called again and said, “Seriously, you are going to war. Turn on the TV!” So I turned on the TV and told him, “Shit, it looks like I am going to war.” Although I was disgusted at the events that unfolded that morning, a part of me was honored knowing that I would be serving this great country during a time of war.

Early Negotiation Skills

On November 13, 2001, my car had broken down. Because my recruiter told me to call him if I ever had any problems, I tried to call him. Just my luck, he didn’t answer. I then walked to the recruiter station to ask for help with my car. When I walked in, my recruiter, Sergeant Brown, was there with his bosses; Staff Sergeant Mejia and the Master Sergeant (“Top”). I looked at Sgt. Brown and said, “I’ve been trying to get a hold of you.” They all looked at me and replied, “We’ve been trying to get a hold of you!”

As it turns out, a potential recruit punked out of joining the day that he was supposed to leave to bootcamp. Although I didn’t ask, I highly suspect that 9/11 had something to do with it. As I continued to talk with the recruiters, Top asked if I wanted to leave to bootcamp the next morning. I replied, “No way. I’m already scheduled to leave in January.” Top offered me a contract Private First Class (“PFC”) slot. I told Top that I was already a contract PFC. Top then offered to make me a Lance Corporal once I finished bootcamp. It was at that point that I realized the bargaining power I possessed and attempted to leverage it for as much as possible.

After offering me Lance Coolie right out of bootcamp, Top asked if I was ready to leave to bootcamp the next day. I replied, “I don’t know, Top.” Top then asked me what would it take. I then explained to him that I heard about the Marine Corps College Fund and that I was interested in it. Top got on the phone, spoke to someone to allegedly verify whether the Corps had any MCCF slots to offer, he got off the phone and said, “Done. Are you ready to leave tomorrow?” I again replied, “I don’t know, Top.” Top raised his voice a bit and said, “What is it?”

I then explained that I was very interested in F.A.S.T. Company (Fleet Anti-terrorism Security Team). Again, Top got on the phone, allegedly verified whether the Corps had any slots for F.A.S.T. Company, there were no slots, then Top spoke to someone higher, a slot was supposedly created for me, Top got off the phone and said, “Done. Are you leaving tomorrow?” I started to reply, “I don’t kn–.” Top then screamed, “What?” I then began to explain that I heard that the F.A.S.T. Company slot came with a signing bonus. Top then looked at me as if I was crazy and said, “Are you leaving tomorrow or not?” Knowing that I had stretched my bargaining power as much as I could, I replied, “Yes.” I then left to bootcamp the next morning and soon I was at M.C.R.D., San Diego with 3rd Recruit Battalion, Mike Company, Platoon 3039.