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Marine safety specialist learns lifelong lesson

15 Oct 2004 | Cpl. Mike Escobar

Whether seeking money for college and adventure abroad, or out of a desire to serve their country and pursue physical, mental and moral self-improvement, the young men and women of America join the ranks of the United States Marine Corps for reasons as diverse as the individuals who serve.
For one Marine, it was pursuing a lifelong dream, and he got a head start in fulfilling it in an unexpected manner.
“I started working in the 2nd Marine Division occupational safety field, working toward a lifelong goal,” explained Lance Cpl. Edward T. Herd, 2nd Marine Division occupational safety specialist.  “My goal is to pick up a master’s degree in occupational safety and health.  What I’ve learned in my job and through my Marine Corps training has been invaluable.”
Nowadays, the Carteret, NJ native and his fellow safety specialists investigate accidental chemical exposures, training exercise mishaps, and conduct health inspections on Marines’ work and living spaces.
The former Saint Joseph’s High School student of chemical physics claimed he has always been interested in helping people out, and the Marine Corps gave him valuable training on how to do exactly that. 
During his time in the Corps, he’s gained valuable insight on himself, and his personal and professional priorities.
“Growing up, I wanted to be a police officer,” Herd continued.  “I always wanted to be that ‘ricky recon’ guy, kicking down doors and busting the bad guys.”
But the Corps helped Herd realize that his calling to serve the community was not best served through a career in law enforcement.
Herd joined the Marine Corps in September of 2001 and started his military career as an infantryman with Company B, 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment.  It was during this time that he acquired knowledge and underwent experiences that would forever change his life.
“I came from an extremely regimented unit,” he said.  “Every day, we were awake at five in the morning, ready to start training.  Our beds would be made, our trash taken out, our room left looking clean.  This structure gave me a good foundation for learning discipline.”
After two years spent with what he calls “an awesome leadership team,” the young Marine found himself suddenly developing a respiratory illness.  It was then that his life took an interesting twist.
“I was diagnosed with respiratory and heart problems,” he stated.  Because of the infantry’s highly active lifestyle and frequent deployments, the former athlete, who had been a Diamond Gloves boxing champion while in high school,  could no longer continue serving his beloved Corps as a grunt.
“I was offered the chance to do a lateral move (January 2004) into the 2nd Marine Division occupational safety office, a part of the division that wasn’t deploying at the time,” Herd continued. 
“My family background also played a big role in this.  My mom is a nurse back home, and my dad works the safety field at Public Service Electric and Gas Company.  I always liked looking over his books and reading up on code and safety violations.”
The most important reason as to why he chose this career path, however, is because of something that happened back in his native home of Carteret.
Before enlisting in the armed services, Herd worked at a local grocery store. While at work, he accidentally became exposed to toxic chemical vapors caused by liquids that someone had mixed, not knowing that their combination would be harmful.
“After that, I spent four months in the hospital,” he stated.  “My experience of getting hurt at a worksite made me want to prevent anybody else from going through that.  It’s something really traumatic, lying in bed, getting pills shoved down your throat, not being able to do anything.  To think that (corporations) could do that to somebody and get away with it made me furious.”
Herd was released from his medical care and told that he would suffer “no lasting effects.”
“When I started having problems in the infantry, I knew that a career in the safety field was my calling,” he said.
His health issues, however, proved too great for him to remain in the Corps.  Herd is slated to be medically separated by September 2005, and is currently non- deployable.  This Marine, however, remains motivated. 
Whether working as an occupational safety specialist in the civilian or military sector, he said he is forever thankful for the experiences the Marines afforded him.
“I learned that the Marine Corps is not what people portray it to be, a brainwashed group of individuals,” he said.  “There’s some very professional, very intelligent men and women who are Marines and could be making millions of dollars in the civilian world, but they choose to enlist or become officers, because they have the moral courage to do what’s right.”
“To anyone who feels they need discipline in their life, the U.S. armed services is the way to go,” Herd advised.  “I’ve done it all in my short life, and this is definitely the place where people come to straighten themselves out.”
Soon, he will pursue his lifelong dream of “nabbing bad guys” in the civilian world, but not as the policeman of his childhood fantasies.
“Safety specialists are ultimately helping to save somebody’s life.  You’re creating a better environment for people who work for a living, not the corporate CEOs, but the blue-collar workers of America who work for a living and provide for their families.  The last thing they need to happen to them is to be injured on the job and be disabled like I was.  If corporations don’t care about their workers, it’s the safety specialists’ job to fine the business and look out for the employees’ welfare.”