CAMP AL QAIM, Iraq -- When Petty Officer 3rd Class Aaron M. Fenstemaker turned 18-years-old he wasn't thinking about the prom or what college he wanted to attend.
He was figuring out where he was going to sleep the next night.
That was until a simple phone call changed his life for the next few years.
Fenstemaker's mother remarried and had four children with her new husband.
"My step-father did not like the fact that my mom had kids from her previous marriage. My mom wasn't strong enough to stand up to him on a personal level and he basically told me that he wanted us out of the house," the Canton, Ohio, native explained.
Fenstemaker didn't take to the news very well and was sent to a juvenile detention center for disorderly conduct after he kicked in his parent's basement door to get into the house.
"I was released on my 18th birthday and my parents refused to take me back, so I had enough money to stay one night in a hotel. It was one of those roach-infested, ghetto ones," he explained, laughing.
With two months left to graduate high school and only enough money for one night, Fenstemaker was running out of options.
But as he looked through the newspaper he saw an advertisement that led to a new beginning for him.
"I saw an article in the paper about the army offering a bonus to join, so I thought well, they must really need people. I called the Army recruiter and he said that they didn't really need people and to call him when I graduated. He took my number down and said that he would call me back later," he continued. "About two hours later I got a call from the Marine recruiter, Sgt. Miller, who happened to talk to the Army recruiter and he told him my story."
Fenstemaker was picked up and taken to the Marine Corps office to talk about joining.
After their discussion Fenstemaker was unsure about joining until the recruiter made him an offer he couldn't refuse.
"He told me he talked to his wife and she agreed to let me stay with them. He was willing to do that if I would join the Marine Corps. I said 'yeah I'll join, sign me up.' So I stayed with them, and he gave me a car so I could get to and from school until I finished up and graduated. That fall I left for boot camp," said the 2000 Minerva High School graduate.
He signed up as a reservist warehouse clerk and while he was at recruit training aboard Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, S.C., he found himself at the recruit chapel every Sunday and noticed assistants helping the chaplain. He was intrigued by them.
Once he reported to his reserve unit he requested to become active and asked if he could put in a package to become a religious program specialist with the Navy.
"I thought being an RP was a significant thing because helping the chaplain give people the strength to get through something they otherwise would not be able to do is a pretty big deal," he said.
The chaplain with his unit helped him put together his package to switch to the Navy and was soon released from the Marine Corps.
Fenstemaker made his first deployment on a ship to Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003. February marked the beginning of his first ground deployment with the Marines to Iraq as the RP for 3rd Battalion, 2d Marine Regiment where he considers himself a jack-of-all-trades.
"My job out here involves a lot of different things. I'm in charge of supply and maintenance of the chapel, doing administration and logistics work and mainly I provide physical security for the chaplain when he is moving with troops," explained the 22-year-old.
With his wife Michelle back home in the United States and his Marine family out here in Iraq, Fenstemaker finds himself looking back on the tougher times with a sense of accomplishment and success.
"The hard times only increase our character and make us better people. It's caused me to grow up and has made me more independent. But I rely on god to get me through it all," he said.
With only one saying Fenstemaker sums up how he made it through his experiences in the past and how he will make it through the experiences he has yet to face in Iraq.
"It's kind of corny and cliché but it's a motto of mine that 'what ever doesn't kill you, only makes you stronger'," he explained.