2/7 Saipan native brings enthusiasm

9 Aug 2006 | Cpl. Brian A. Tuthill

Thousands of immigrants from nations around the world proudly come to this country to start new lives, but few American citizens have never stepped foot in America. For Lance Cpl. Jeffrey A. Rocha, a 2nd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, Marine and native of Garaparn on the Pacific island of Saipan, his coming to America tale had him stepping off a plane last October and onto the yellow footprints in San Diego.“I had never been away from home that great of a distance before, and I was scared and excited at the same time,” said Rocha, whose home is a U.S. territory and the sight of ferocious fighting by Marines in World War II. “I was leaving a small island to go to a bigger world, but I had to be focused on my training.”Before arriving at Echo Company April 18, Rocha was awarded by his peers for his enthusiasm, support and devotion from the School of Infantry West at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendelton, Calif. The Paul Ison award, given to those voted “most likely to go to war with,” earned him a meritorious promotion to lance corporal.In Saipan, his recruiter, the only one on the island, gave him a book of recruit knowledge, which he said he devoured to help him prepare for what he said was one of the greatest challenges in his life.“When I first saw the drill instructors at the airport, I thought to myself, ‘Now it’s real’,” said Rocha, who speaks both English and Tagalog fluently. “I just tried to fit in. But there were some Marines I met before who encouraged me. They said it’s hard, but it’s not impossible. So that’s what kept me going. If I can do it, you can do it.“The hardest thing about boot camp and being in the Marine Corps for me has been being separated from my family,” he continued. “I know they love me and I know they are thinking of me the whole time, so it doesn’t bother me as much.”Although he has been serving for nearly nine months, Rocha has still not had the opportunity to return home to see his family. He will deploy with 2/7 in late winter and plans to spend as much of his predeployment leave with his family as possible.“I can’t wait to see them and tell them about everything,” he said. “I’m going to go back to my church and see my pastor and talk to people about the Marine Corps.”Although Marines are trained to tough it out in nearly any circumstance, Rocha admits his first days aboard the base were very rough for him coming from a tropical island. With a combination of elevation, humidity and heat, he nearly fainted while checking into 2/7, but has since acclimatized.“Coming here to Twentynine Palms was a wakeup call,” said Rocha. “I have never been to the desert before. It’s really dry and I almost fainted from the weather and the hot sun.”Rocha also strives to make good use of his time while stationed here. He said one of his favorite weekend activities is going on trips with the Single Marine Program, doing community service and volunteering with his church.“My weekends are really my only free time, but there are Marines who just stay in the barracks and play video games and drink beer, and I don’t want to be like them,” he said.Other Marines in his unit, like Cpl. Kris Decapua, his squad leader, say they notice his efforts to work hard, better himself and help out in the community.“He tries really hard,” he said. “He’s inexperienced in some areas, but he’s always learning and putting out. He does volunteer stuff all the time with SMP and with his church.”Unlike some of his peers, Rocha has a plan for his time in the Marine Corps, and near the top of that list is to go to college and get a degree. He said he dreams of becoming a commissioned officer, either through a college program after his enlistment ends or through the Marine Enlisted Commissioning Education Program.“I chose the Marine Corps because I wanted to be the best,” Rocha said. “Things are going well for me here and I hope I can share what I’ve learned with others.”
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