HIT, Iraq -- “To know what freedom really is, you have to defend it,” said the soft-spoken machine gunner from Company K, 3rd Battalion, 25th Marine Regiment. “I’m here doing my part because I know what it’s like to not have the freedom many take for granted.”
Twenty-four-year-old Cpl. Andrei V. Chernyshev was born in Alma-aty, Kazakhstan in the former Soviet Union were he and his family was denied freedom to practice their faith as Christians, under communist rule.
Despite this fact, Chernyshev remembers having a good childhood before moving to the United States with his family at age 12 when the government collapsed.
He learned how to speak English over the next few years while adjusting to his new life style as an immigrant in America.
“They had a better educational system here and we weren’t not discriminated against because of our beliefs,” the State College, Penn., native and 1999 State College Area High School graduate. “The idea of free thought, free speech was something new to me and I was happy to be a part of it.”
Throughout his school years, he met other students from different countries, who shared similar stories with him.
He joined the Marine Corps Reserve after graduating from high school with hopes of traveling after he earned his associate’s degree. He got his chance when his unit deployed to Iraq last March.
As he patrols the streets here, some citizens seem intimidated by his size of 6 feet 6 inches tall, but after speaking with him, they see he is not as imposing as he seems.
“When people find out I’m Russian they seem to be more relaxed around me,” the 2004 South Hills Business School graduate said. “They know that in the past Russia was friendly with their country and they see now that some from there is trying to help them.”
One way Chernyshev helps his unit and the community is by using his language skills to identify weaponry and explosives from Russia so they can be properly disposed.
Chernyshev knows that by helping the people of Iraq he is providing security for his new home, America, which he became citizen of two years ago.
“I don’t understand why some Americans protest the war and the military and so many immigrants support it,” Chernyshev said in his distinctive Russian accent. “I guess it’s because we know what it is to be deprived and to have dangerous men tearing our country apart.
“I don’t want anyone to have to experience that, and I will not let anyone do that to my America.”