CAMP BLUE DIAMOND, Iraq -- Corporal Daniel Catinella was prepared for the 120 degree heat when he deployed to Iraq; he knew he’d be choking on dust and he even brought his mosquito net. But what he couldn’t possibly fathom, was the incredible experience of leading Marines in a combat environment.
Catinella, a 20-year old, Smithtown, N.Y., native from Long Island is a trumpeter in the 2nd Marine Division Band based at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, N.C. Approximately one year ago, he set his brass aside and picked up a rifle to train as a fire team leader for the division’s forward deployed headquarters.
He and his fellow band members are now the camp’s ready reaction force during their deployment here. A half year after setting foot on the sand, the job has become second nature, according to Catinella, who says he’s found a new appreciation for the Marine Corps with his new responsibilities.
“It’s my first experience in a combat zone and knowing I’m responsible for three other guys directly is important to me,” said Catinella. “It weighed on me a little bit at first because the decisions I make affect their lives. But I’ve done a lot of thinking on that and I’ve come to grips with it – I know I’ll do what I can to keep them out of trouble.”
Catinella is actually responsible for more than just his fire team. The inhabitants of the camp entrust him with their safety. So, he put it simply to himself, when he made a pact to concentrate on the task at hand.
“Three things always stick out in my mind when I think of the close calls I’ve had on the job,” said Catinella. “We had to kill a wild dog once when it almost attacked one of the guys. While on patrol we escalated our force when a car sped toward us out of nowhere. Luckily, it wasn’t anything to worry about after we shot a flare.
“And finally, my team was searching a house when I rounded a corner and came face to face with an Iraqi woman who was staring down my barrel. Her face turned white, but I think we were both just as scared.”
When he first arrived, he and his team weren’t so seasoned. They trained every day, rehearsing maneuvers they learned through an advanced infantry training that focused on close quarters combat marksmanship and stability and security operations training – directly related to lessons learned from operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“The transition from being in the band to being a sentry and an assistant patrol leader really started back in Lejeune,” said Catinella. “I was more or less prepared for what we had to do out here, but the biggest shock was the change in environment.”
Just when Catinella started getting comfortable and settled in with the job, he’s now on his way home. The guard will be replaced with a fresh crew of trained Marines and Catinella will go back to playing the trumpet in the band. It’s not all going to be forgotten, though, according to him.
“I’m gonna’ miss it; I really like what I do,” said Catinella. “But when I go home and play all of our traditional military songs, they’ll bring back memories of this place – and I’ll play them knowing why they were written.”