CAMP SNAKE PIT, AR RAMADI, Iraq -- Twenty-year-old Cpl. Derek M. Hildman planned to serve his country as a Marine from the time he was a young motivator growing up in his hometown of Kenosha, Wis. It was something he couldn't wait to do.
Signing the dotted line at age 17, which requires his parent's signature, the machine gunner with Company C, 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment fulfilled his dream when he enlisted in the Corps. Ten days after graduating Kenosha Military Academy on Jan. 27, 2003, he shipped out to Marine Corps Recruit Depot, San Diego, Calif., to become one of The Few, The Proud.
During Hildman's transformation process from civilian to Marine, he saw something that motivated and assured him he'd made the right decision.
"I watched the Marines on TV make the initial push through Baghdad while I was in boot camp," he recalled. "When I joined, the war hadn't yet started. Then it happened, and I knew I'd soon end up here."
One of the infantry battalions he watched fight in Iraq while a recruit was 1st Battalion, 5th Marines. He finds it ironic that he's now a member of that battalion.
"I think it's funny that I'm with a battalion I saw fighting," he said. "Now I'm here with them fighting in Iraq myself."
He said he's honored to belong to organization that's helping the lives of others.
"I'm proud to be part of the Marines because I know we're making a difference here in Iraq."
This deployment is Hildman's second in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom and he's noticed some positive changes since his last deployment.
"It seems like the (Iraqi Security Force Commandos) are getting an idea of how things need to be done," he said. "It's improving over here. Things are a lot different then last time. The violence has subsided."
Hildman, who was meritoriously promoted to his present rank, said he takes pleasure in being a machine gunner. His highpoint is doing his job here.
"My biggest enjoyment is doing my job when I'm in a convoy," he said with a smile. "I like patrolling too.."
Hildman's fellow grunts consider him to be a confident professional who's proficient at whatever he does.
"He's an outstanding machine gunner," said 23-year-old Lance Cpl. Christopher L. Boulware, a rifleman with 2nd Platoon, Company C, 1st Battalion, 5th Marines. "He knows his MOS very well. He picked up promotion meritoriously, so that says a lot about the type of Marine he is. He's a Marine to the highest degree. He's trustworthy and dependable, too."
Hildman doesn't plan on making a career out of the Marines, however. He plans to pursue a higher education and attend college full time getting out after his enlistment.