FALLUJAH, Iraq -- A year and a half ago Luis Lopez ventured from his homeland of San Juan, Puerto Rico to U.S. shores and an intense Marine Corps recruit training regimen.
He possesses degrees in criminal justice and psychology from the University of Puerto Rico and owned property back home, but gave up this lifestyle to pursue dreams in America.
“I came into the Marines mostly to learn English, but also because I believed them to be the best branch of the armed services,” said the 25-year-old lance corporal and infantry mortar man with Weapons Company, 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment.
His unit is currently one of several helping root out terrorists in and around the once-embattled city of Fallujah.
Lopez and his 21 teammates form Weapons Company’s 81 mm Mortar Platoon are trained to rain destruction on insurgents from afar with their weapon systems. Since Marines here need little in the way of mortar support however, the 81 mm members have restructured their platoon to form an external security detachment, or ESD.
Among other duties, Lopez and his ESD crew provide a security escort for the battalion’s supply and logistics convoys.
“I feel like I’m doing something that’s worth it by helping out the Marines at the bases,” stated Lopez, referring to how he enjoys helping deliver essential supplies to his fellow infantrymen. “When doing my regular job as a mortar man (at Camp Lejeune), I’d just be sitting there, waiting for a fire mission. Out here, though, we’re always keeping on the move, always seeing new things.”
It’s hardly an Iraqi sightseeing trip however, as these Marines keep vigilant while they escort about 18,000 gallons of bulk fuel, 36,000 gallons of water, as well as pallets of ice and drinking water to the bases each week. Lopez and his crew log in hundreds of miles on the city’s roadways along with their logistics counterparts.
“They give us the flexibility to cope with changes on the battlefield and get much needed logistical support to the companies,” said 1st Lt. Christian Peterson, the battalion’s assistant logistics officer.
Lopez and his team do more than provide security for these "log" runs, though. The mortar men often assist fellow Marines in providing perimeter security for patrols through the city streets looking for munitions, explosives and insurgent activity.
Although many missions lie ahead for the mortar men, Lopez said he has already learned valuable lessons from his months in Iraq and service in the Corps.
“I love what I do, even though fighting a war is very tough at times,” he said. “Though I didn’t know much English when I came in, I’ve still gotten by and learned a lot. This military experience has opened many doors for my future.”
Always looking for a challenge and seeking constant self-improvement, Lopez now strives to advance his Marine career by becoming a commissioned officer.
“I plan to attend (Officer Candidate School) in November,” he stated. “I feel like I can use my education and experience to make more of a difference as an officer.”
Lopez added that he has loved the diverse and accepting atmosphere he has thus far found in the Corps.
“Being Latin American doesn’t stop you at all from serving, because we all fight for the same cause: freedom. I’m fighting for freedom in Puerto Rico, the (United States), and Iraq. What we’re doing here right now will make the history books tomorrow.”