THAR THAR REGION, Iraq -- ‘Lotto,’ as his friends here call him, struck it rich when he joined the Marine Corps.
Seeing the 23-year-old La Habra, Calif., native lead his team of three Marines through the often-perilous streets of Fallujah and bombed-out desert fields outside the city, one might have a hard time visualizing this young man as a troubled youth causing mischief on the streets of his hometown.
“I came from a broken family. I was involved with drugs, vandalism, and a lot of juvenile crime stuff,” explained Lance Cpl. Anthony Lazzarotto, currently deployed to Iraq and serving as a fire team leader with the 2nd Squad, 2nd Platoon, Company B, 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment. “There were a lot of hoodlums where I was from, so I thought I was just doing my thing along with everyone else.”
However, he felt ready for a change.
“I was engaged to this one girl, and things didn’t quite work out,” continued Lazzarotto, a 2000 Sonora High School graduate. “I needed to get away from where I was at and all the bad stuff I was doing. I talked to my good buddy Josh, who had already joined the Marine Corps, and he told me some things about it.”
Lazzarotto visited with his local recruiters, whom he claims dissuaded him from serving the Corps as a jet mechanic and encouraged him to sign up for the infantry instead.
“My recruiters had a good way of showing me the ‘grunt’ way, so I eventually just said, ‘Hey, sign me up,’” he stated. “I went to boot camp Oct. 2002, on my 21st birthday, actually.”
“I got there, and my drill instructors were all like, ‘Get on the yellow footprints!’ and I was thinking to myself, ‘Hey, where’s my cake?’” he added with a chuckle.
After receiving subsequent training as an infantryman, Lazzarotto reported to his present command June 2003. He did not get much time to soak in the North Carolina lifestyle, however.
“As soon as I got there, they were doing their workups (pre-deployment training) for Afghanistan,” he said.
After several months of field training, Lazzarotto set sail with his unit Feb. 2004 as part of the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit, one of the Corps’ mobile forces able to deploy from a self-contained base at sea.
“Afghanistan … that was an experience,” remarked Lazzarotto, as he recalled the long days of hardships he and fellow Marines shared in the mountainous, barren wastelands. “I can’t say it was all that bad, though. Once we got to Afghanistan, I felt like I was in Nevada because of the layout of the land. Once I saw all the locals working and everything, it was quite a trip.”
The next several months flew by for the Marines, as Lazzarotto said the unit conducted operations 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
“We started doing nonstop ops, from here to there. We’d take a truck to one village, and then walk to the next. We’d just be hiking all day, then stop to search an entire village.”
There, he also broke a rib when his seven-ton truck rolled over while attempting to cross through some particularly treacherous mountain terrain.
“Nobody died, which was a really good thing, but a lot of my buddies that I really clicked with got hurt and sent home,” he stated.
However, Lazzarotto recovered, finished up this tour of service in September, and returned to the States to get ready for his unit’s next mission: Operation Iraqi Freedom.
“I got a chance to go home over Christmas, on pre-deployment leave, and I got married then,” he said.
Less than six months after he and his teammates had returned from their challenging overseas mission, Lazzarotto once again set off to serve his country.
Since mid-March, 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment personnel have been conducting counter-insurgency operations in and around the once-embattled city of Fallujah. These missions include constant presence patrols through the city alongside Iraqi Security Forces, as well as various raids and sweeps through the desert fields bordering it. The two nations’ military forces continue working together to rid the area of the insurgency.
Although the mission the troops perform here is well-intentioned, Lazzarotto’s lasting pleasures stem from the personal lessons he’s learned as a U.S. Marine.
“The Marine Corps has taught me so much about myself. I was the kind of person who would resort to foul means if the legitimate way of doing things got tough. This has taught me that even if you don’t like to do something, sometimes you have to do it anyways.”
In the military, Lazzarotto has also found a surrogate family.
“I never had any siblings, but I’ve seen people who do,” he said. “They argue and bicker, but they always have each other’s backs, and this is the same thing we do here. Sometimes, you really don’t want someone around you, but no matter how pissed off you are at a person, you’re always going to be there for him. I’d say this is kind of like my adoptive family.”
In little over one year, Lazzarotto will put these experiences learned to use by either re-enlisting in the Corps, or pursuing other goals outside the military.
“I don’t know if I want to stay in. I was thinking about extending for another deployment, but now that I’m married, I’ll take that into consideration. If I don’t stay in, I’ll go back to school and join the DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration). I figure if I can wipe out drugs, then it will help someone else not go down the path I was on. I’ve been on both sides of it, so I think I’d be perfect for the job.”