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Face of Defense: Air Force Photographer Becomes Marine Infantryman

KOREAN VILLAGE, Iraq, April 28, 2008 – A hard-fought transition brought one Marine from shooting photos to shooting rifles.


By Marine Corps Cpl. Ryan Tomlinson
Special to American Forces Press Service

Cpl. Andrew M. Oquendo, a scout with Company D, 2nd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, Regimental Combat Team 5, went from photographer with the U.S. Air Force to infantryman in the U.S. Marine Corps.

The 22-year-old infantryman from Paterson, N.J., joined the Air Force after struggling to make payments on his tuition at Delaware State University. He said he was determined to experience what it takes to be successful, so after talking with a high school friend and a recruiter, he reported to basic training at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, in February 2005.

“The Air Force was the only branch I could think of that I wanted to join,” Oquendo said. “I didn’t see any other options, so I signed the dotted line to start my future.”

Upon graduation, he was provided the sense of pride by becoming a member of the U.S. military.

“I felt like most Marines feel when they graduate boot camp and earn the eagle, globe and anchor,” he said. “I felt like I was on top of the world.”

The new airman checked into the Defense Information School at Fort Meade, Md., for training as a photographer. In July 2006, while stationed at Scott Air Force Base, Ill., Oquendo deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

“While in Qatar temporarily, Oquendo was assigned to photograph a visit by Maj. Gen. Anthony Przybyslawski, then commander of the Air Force Personnel Center. “He liked the photos so much he asked if I could accompany him through the rest of his tour,” Oquendo recalled.

During the tour, Oquendo said, he saw Marine infantrymen conducting operations in Iraq and Afghanistan and had a feeling that something was missing in his life. He felt he wasn’t contributing enough to the global war on terrorism.

“I knew what I really wanted to do, so I had to do whatever it took to achieve it,” he said.

After building the courage, he talked to Przybyslawski about his ambitions and got the help he needed to make the transition from the Air Force to the Marine Corps.

“I went to the administrative center to apply for separation forms, and the lady at the front desk thought I was crazy for filling it out after how long I’d been in,” Oquendo said. “Little did she know how committed I was to becoming a Marine.”

Within two weeks, his separation request was approved and he left the Air Force on Nov. 1, 2006. Three weeks later, he stepped on the “Yellow Footprints” at Parris Island, S.C., with the ambition of becoming an infantry Marine.

“Since I had been in the military for two years, it was kind of like cheating, because a lot of times were easier for me than the other recruits,” Oquendo said.

He’s now deployed to Iraq for his second combat tour, this time with the Marine infantry, and he is as happy as ever.

“I wanted to be an infantryman, because it’s the backbone of the Marine Corps,” he said. “It’s the stuff you read about in the history book making a difference in the world.”

“When it comes to motivation, Oquendo bring it to a different level,” said Marine Corps Sgt. James D. Leach, a scout squad leader with Company D, 2nd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion. “It’s good having him around.”

(Marine Corps Cpl. Ryan Tomlinson serves with Regimental Combat Team 5.)