MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. -- According to Raphael P. Ramos, when he was growing up in Carolina, Puerto Rico, he had no father figure and no real direction.
The only thing that got him away from the street life was his love of sports, participating in boxing and football as a young teenager and playing on the Ana Roque High School basketball team.
After graduating in 2003, Ramos continued to work as a security guard for various local businesses and eventually found the path to his future career as a United States Marine.
“I wanted to better myself as person and since I was a kid I looked up to people in the military,” explained the 21-year-old lance corporal.
Ramos enlisted in the Marine Corps and graduated recruit training at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, S.C., May 14, 2004.
Ramos then went on to the School of Infantry at Camp Geiger, N.C., where he trained as a rifleman until he reached his first duty station at Camp Lejeune, N.C. He “dropped his rifle” and picked up a squad automatic weapon with 1st Squad, 3rd Platoon, Company K, 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment.
Only being in the Corps for 10 months, Ramos packed his bags and made his first deployment to the Al Anbar province of Iraq.
“It was a good time for me to see what I could do as a Marine and as a SAW gunner; to finally put my training to the test,” Ramos explained.
Ramos conducted many missions while deployed to Iraq, but his shining moment came when he discovered gas masks during a detailed search that led to the capture of two of the battalion’s most wanted insurgents.
“It’s like I did a complete 180 turn around since I came here. I was having trouble settling into the Marine Corps, but being here changed all that and I have some direction in my life now,” he said.
Ramos was in four fire fights in Iraq, which according to him, was the true test of his abilities and his squad’s cohesion.
“Everything erases from your mind when it first breaks out. You feel the adrenaline pumping and then after that initial feeling you just do what comes natural, fight back and we did that,” Ramos explained.
Ramos described being in a combat zone “24/7” with his fellow Marines as a chance for them to truly learn the other individuals.
“We gained a lot of experience over [there] and a lot more discipline. Being in a combat zone has brought me closer to a lot of the Marines in my platoon and they have become my brothers,” he continued. “I’ve learned that in the Marine Corps, ethnicity and racial differences are flushed down the toilet, every body in this platoon is a brother to me.”
According to Ramos, being deployed to Iraq has opened his eyes to a whole new life that he wants to pursue.
“I’ve decided that after my original enlistment, I’m going to go to college through the Marine Corps and become an officer, hopefully becoming a platoon commander someday, but it doesn’t matter what job I have as long as I’m still in the Corps,” Ramos explained.
The young SAW gunner from a rough neighborhood in Puerto Rico summed up his success in the desert sands of Iraq and in the Corps.
“I would have never made it if I didn’t join. I would be in jail or dead going down the path I was going. The Marine Corps opened my eyes to a whole different life that I can have if I just stay disciplined and motivated to accomplish my goals,” Ramos said.