FORWARD OPERATING BASE PAYNE, Helmand province, Afghanistan --
Surf the crashing waves along Pismo Beach in Santa Maria, Calif., skateboard the boardwalk, and take pictures as the sun sets below the horizon … or join the military and deploy to Afghanistan. Most people would choose California. One Santa Maria native, however, decided to take the path less traveled and is now taking care of Marines with 2nd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion.
Petty Officer 3rd Class Avery Alejandro, the preventative medicine specialist with 2nd LAR, wanted to see the world and be a part of something bigger than himself. He wanted the feeling of camaraderie that comes with being in the military.
Alejandro grew up by the beach, spending his days in the sun, skating and taking pictures with friends. He was comfortable, relaxed and used to the routine, but he feared his life would be nothing more than one trip to the beach after another. Alejandro didn’t want to become the stereotypical beach bum; he wanted to join the military and be a part of an organization that offered opportunity and a change of scenery. The 22-year-old aspiring photographer enlisted in the Navy in 2007, despite a fear of the unknown. However, his trusty point-and-shoot camera came with him as a way to document his experiences.
Straight out of initial training, his first duty station at the naval hospital aboard Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, N.C., provided little change from his civilian life. Every morning, he arrived in civilian attire, wore hospital scrubs throughout the day, and left each evening in civilian clothing. He worked 12-hour shifts at the intensive care unit changing bandages and checking fluids for various patients. The cool water of the Atlantic Ocean was 20 minutes away and reminded him of the crashing waves back home. Not much had changed from his life on the West Coast. In the first few years of his duty on shore he became comfortable and acclimated to the routine, until the day he received orders to join the Marines of 2nd LAR and everything changed.
"I have a big fear of the unknown, and leaving the hospital to go and work with Marines was totally different," said the 2006 Santa Maria High School graduate. "I was anxious, but also longing for a military setting."
Alejandro got exactly what he asked for. Shortly after arriving at the battalion, he was notified he would be deploying to Afghanistan. Alejandro mentioned that he felt uneasy about his deployment, yet it was during his pre-deployment training when his love for taking photos took flight.
"I found out about his passion for photography during (our final exercise before the deployment) in California," said Ronan, Mo., native Navy Lt. Gordon T. Markham, the battalion surgeon for 2nd LAR. "He was always taking very detailed photographs out there and he continues to do the same here in Afghanistan."
Alejandro’s determination to become a more proficient photographer shows itself each day as he strives to improve various photographic techniques through weekly photo shoots he does in his spare time.
“He doesn't have the technology (of a professional camera) to take his photography to the next level yet, but he's doing amazing photography with what he has, and I know his goals are to go to school up in New York,” said the University of Florida graduate.
Nine weeks into his deployment, Alejandro is making strides to improve his portfolio in hopes of one day attending the Tisch School of Photography in New York City to become a freelance photographer.
“I want to be well-rounded. It's what motivates me to go to photography school in order to learn different techniques,” said Alejandro. “I want to be able to show the world what most people don't see. Rarely people see what (service members) go through on a day-to-day basis; what they see lacks intimacy, and I want to show it to them.”
Alejandro has been a corpsman for the Marines of 2nd LAR for nearly a year. He has broken free from the routine of a hospital setting by joining the Marines on patrols and providing care to them in the field. Despite his initial anxious feelings to deploy, Alejandro’s enthusiasm to earn the respect of the Marines in his squad has not gone unnoticed.
“He is one of my finest corpsmen,” said Markham native. “He's always been very motivated and loves getting out with the Marines. He loves patrolling and going on long (hikes) – he always volunteers – we never have to ask.”
For now, Alejandro’s deployment with the Marines of 2nd LAR, offers him unique possibilities to take photos of Marines and sailors in their daily lives to add to a portfolio he can use when applying to schools next year when his enlistment ends.
“My photos capture a moment, I'll take pictures and feel so much better,” said Alejandro. “It’s a chronological memory of everything I've done. I look at them and it reminds me that I've done a lot for someone my age.”
Editor’s note: 2nd Marine Division (Forward), which heads Task Force Leatherneck, serves as the ground combat element of Regional Command (Southwest) and works in partnership with the Afghan National Security Force and the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan to conduct counterinsurgency operations. The unit is dedicated to securing the Afghan people, defeating insurgent forces, and enabling ANSF assumption of security responsibilities within its area of operations in order to support the expansion of stability, development and legitimate governance.