« From Marine to corpsman: Brooklyn, N.Y., native strives to serve | Main | 24th MEU gears up for deployment »

Iraq vet finds focus on field, in classroom

CRESCENT SPRINGS - At 22-years-old, Greg Dixon has his whole life in front of him. But already, the Iraq war veteran has achieved two life goals: He served his country as a U.S. Marine and is now playing college football at Thomas More College.


Tuesday, February 5, 2008

He's now working on the next life goal: Graduating from college and becoming a college football coach.

After graduating from Covington Catholic High School in 2003, Dixon said he immediately knew what he wanted to do.

"Personally, I wasn't ready for school at the time. I was immature, I guess. I was still 18 and I realized that I wanted to do something different with my life," he said. "Joining the Marines was something I always wanted to do."

During his first semester at Thomas More, Dixon earned a 3.4 grade point average. He's currently majoring in Sociology.

"Right now, where I am in my life, is exactly where I wanted to be when I was a senior in high school," he said.

Only three years ago, in early 2004, Dixon found himself a green Marine fresh out of Boot Camp working as a radio operator and machine gunner in the Iraqi city of Husaybah, near the Syrian border.

Soon thereafter, Dixon experienced his first combat action when an improvised explosive device (IED) went off while on patrol. One Marine in the front took the brunt of the explosion, suffering brain damage and losing vision in his right eye as shrapnel went through his skull just between his Kevlar vest and helmet.

"Clear spinal fluid was coming out of his nose. He was messed up pretty bad," said Dixon.

Briefly, he admits, there was a time when he questioned his decision to choose military service over college.

"Once you get there, you really start seeing stuff, and being around it, and you think, 'I don't know if this was the greatest decision,'" he said.

But even if he had a chance to do it all over again, Dixon wouldn't change a thing -- despite the danger, he believed in what he was doing.

"I can't even tell you how many days we were engaged. Maybe everyday for nine months," he said.

While he never got "used to" the violence and the constant threat of danger, Dixon said he and the other troops did become desensitized in a way. It's only natural when everyday you hear about friends and fellow Marines getting injured or killed.

"You just never knew, especially in Husaybah. We were on foot the whole time. You never knew when something was going to happen. You sort of make a peace with yourself, I'd say. You had to realize that if it was time, it was time," he said.

Since trading in his desert fatigues and M249 machine gun for blue jeans and a school backpack, Dixon said it's been an adjustment sitting in class with 18-year-old freshman

He's found a camaraderie with his teammates on the football field and confidence through his four years in the Marines to know that he can accomplish more of his life's goals.

"Now I'm just want to try and live a normal life," he said.