MARINE CORPS AIR GROUND COMBAT CENTER TWENTYNINE PALMS, Calif. -- After spending more than two years protecting the commandant of the Marine Corps and then the President of the United States, one Marine is now adapting to life with the Marines of Fox Company, 2nd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, as they prepare to deploy to Iraq.Cpl. Richard R. Casper, a 21-year-old Washburn, Ill., native, said he never dreamed he would stand in the oval office or have his photograph taken with the president six times.“The whole experience was awesome,” said Casper, who now serves as a fire team leader with 1st Squad, 1st Platoon, in Fox Company. “While I was doing it, I knew it was probably something cool I was doing, but looking back now I see how much it actually meant. I met two presidents, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the commandant and sergeant major of the Marine Corps and so many higher-up people — all as a Pfc. or lance corporal. I’m so glad I was able to do it.“I went infantry the whole way, though,” Casper said. “I didn’t even think about doing anything with Security Forces in the first place but ended up loving my time there.Casper, whose father served in the Navy, said he was the first in his family to join the Marine Corps in June 2003 and wanted simply to be an infantryman but was selected to go to Marine Security Forces and to presidential security after being screened at recruit training in San Diego.After training at the School of Infantry at Camp Pendleton, Casper was sent to Chesapeake, Va., for Security Forces training before being assigned as a guard to Marine Barracks, Washington, for 11 months.“I was at 8th and I for 11 months because I had to wait for my top secret clearance to go through,” said Casper. “Marines are there different amounts of time while they wait for that; some shorter or longer.”Once his clearance was approved, Casper was transferred Camp David, which serves as the president’s private retreat in Maryland.“I met President Bush a number of times and he was awesome, just awesome,” said Casper. “He seemed like a really cool guy or someone you would want to be your grandpa. When he sees a Marine, he’ll always wave or stop and say hi to us. It was the same with his dad, too.“I have six different photos of me with the president,” added Casper. “One thing I’m really proud of is when Marines leave there, they get to go to the white house to the oval office and bring one guest for a photo, so I brought my mom. They sent the photo to us and President Bush signed it personally to both of us. At Christmas and holidays, all the Marines get cards from the president and joint chiefs, too.”From his arrival, he and his fellow Marines, who lived in the barracks aboard the facility, kept busy, not only with regular duties, but also with infantry training. They were constantly refreshed to better ready them to leave for regular Marine units.“At camp, they still push a lot of infantry skills and training, especially for the Marines who are leaving to fleet units, because they know as a corporal you may be put into a fire team or squad leader position,” said Casper. “They push that a lot there. So if we weren’t working, we were training.”One Marine in Casper’s platoon, 20-year-old Lance Cpl. Oscar Martinez, also a fire team leader, said he sees a difference in Casper and other Marines coming from Security Forces.“He’s a grunt, just like us, but with a different background,” said the El Paso, Texas, native, who has been with 2/7 for more than a year-and-a-half and has completed a combat tour in Iraq. “It’s just a different branch of the same tree. I notice the difference in Security Forces Marines and fleet Marines, but they are not bad differences. I’ve learned a lot from him and he learns from us.“He’s a good Marine, too,” continued Martinez. “He’s smart. They don’t come from Camp David empty-minded, and he knows his stuff. What’s nice is he’ll have a lot to look back on when he gets out of the Marine Corps because he’s guarded the commandant, then the president, along with a tour in Iraq.”For the Marines of 2/7, their upcoming deployment next year means a lot more training must be accomplished before they ship out again. Casper said one challenge he faces is educating many of the Marines who recently came to the battalion from SOI.“It’s been challenging for me working with all the new Marines,” said Casper. “You really have to break things down for them more than I’m used to sometimes. At camp, most Marines have been in for at least a year already. Here we are going to have to work with these Marines a lot before we deploy next year, but we’ll be ready.“We have time to identify weaknesses in the Marines and focus on them so when more difficult training comes around, they’re ready,” Casper said.Although Casper will end his active service near the time 2/7 will return from Iraq, he said he is willing to extend his contract to be able to deploy.“When he does deploy, I think he’ll set some of the standards for us in good leadership, good discipline and will set an example all around,” said Martinez. “He is also good a follower. It takes a good follower to be a good leader and he has that.”“I’ll go to combat with him any day,” Martinez said.