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Photo Information

FALLUJAH, Iraq - Pfc. Andrew Murray, a squad automatic weapon gunner with 1st Platoon, Company C, 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, talks on the radio while providing security alongside the Euphrates River here July 24. The unit is currently working alongside Iraqi Security Forces to conduct security and stability operations throughout Fallujah.

Photo by Cpl Mike Escobar

There and back again: Idaho infantryman leaves Corps for college, family;

30 Jul 2005 | Cpl. Mike Escobar

At 22 years of age, Cpl. Alex Rangel has shouldered responsibilities of many men twice his age. Though school books may fail to mention this Middleton, Id. native’s name, Rangel’s four-year-long legacy of service will live on in the Marines he led through Fallujah’s perilous streets. “Today is pretty much going to be my last mission with these guys,” stated the squad leader with the Company C, 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment after patrolling the city’s alleyways alongside his men for hours July 24. For the past four months, Rangel’s battalion has worked alongside Iraqi forces to rid Fallujah of its tenacious insurgency. As his term of service draws to a close, Rangel prepares to pass on his squad leader torch to another, all the while reflecting on how his past years and the Iraqi experience have changed him. “I wanted to join the Marine Corps ever since I was six years old, and I saw that movie ‘Full Metal Jacket,” he stated. “I always dreamed about being a Marine.” After graduating from Middleton High School in 2001, Rangel enlisted in the Corps as a military public affairs photojournalist. “The recruiters convinced me to pick any other job field but the grunts (infantry),” Rangel stated, citing high intelligence and aptitude test scores as the reason. “I thought being a Marine just meant being a grunt. I tried public affairs out, and I realized I didn’t really like it. So I ended up in a grunt unit.” He spent the next several years traveling the world, serving in places such as Guantanamo Bay, Cuba; and Djibouti, Africa. These experiences served as a cross-cultural eye opener, but Rangel’s greatest challenges came with his deployment to Afghanistan. “I had guys senior to me up until my two year mark, and all of a sudden, they just left,” he stated. “One day, I was just a regular ‘lance coolie’ who didn’t know anything; the next, I was a squad leader.” Leading his squad through the perilous Afghani wastelands prepared Rangel for his deployment to Iraq months later. As 3rd squad’s leader with Company C’s 1st Platoon, he currently oversees the welfare and tactical employment of his squad. “Out here, I make sure my guys are looking for threats in their sectors and on the rooftops while we’re patrolling through the city,” Rangel explained. “I make sure we’re all communicating with one another and that the guys are getting enough rest, eating and drinking water to stay functional out here.” “It’s tough work and frustrating sometimes, but it’s awesome being a squad leader,” he continued. “At the end of the day, you realize that you’re helping your guys grow as Marines and as people.” Although not under his command, Rangel also oversees some training and implementation of Iraqi Security Forces who work alongside his ranks. ISF personnel form the lead element during every Marine mission here. “We’re training the ISF, trying to get them to the point where we’re at,” Rangel said. “It’s been kind of fun, because you get to see how similar they are to us. They like taking pictures and telling jokes, just like we do.” His mentorship role and the hardships endured in many third-world countries have served more than just to benefit those beneath him, however. “I’ve noticed a big change in me, from the time when I first came in until now. I’ve learned to see a little bit of the bigger picture of things. I now understand that in the military, you have to set aside your personal beliefs and opinions. You just have to do your part of the job; otherwise, people die.” Rangel will leave active duty service in September, and will use the wisdom, leadership experiences, and ‘can-do’ attitude the Marines endowed him with to study agriculture at the University of Idaho. He will also work as a firefighter and on building a family of his own. “Being a grunt for the past four years … I’ve been alone for the past four years. I’m ready to find someone who I can connect with,” he said. “These have been a good past four years. In the end, I’ve appreciated every single moment I’ve had, because they’ve helped me out a lot. Good things, bad things … I’ve learned from them all.”