CAMP BLUE DIAMOND, Ar Ramadi, Iraq -- Lance Cpl. Jorge T. Villafuerte may be small in stature but he’s big on results.
The 19-year-old warehouseman from Long Island City, Queens, N.Y., weighs in at 137 pounds and stands only 5 feet 4 inches tall but he’s filling some pretty big shoes making sure that hundreds of Marines here are equipped with the things they need to take the fight to the enemy.
“I may not be out there in the gunfights but I know I’m supporting them and that’s what’s important,” Villafuerte said.
At any given time Villafuerte can be seen sorting through the dozens of large metal storage containers in the hot desert sun. The influx of equipment, hygiene products, uniforms, boots and other items that keep the camps residents flourishing keeps him busy. When someone needs something he’s the man they see.
“It’s not a hook-up when I get things for people,” He said. “If I have something they need I give it to them because that’s my job, to help people out.”
Villafuerte is relatively new to the Marine Corps having graduated from Long Island City High School in June 2004 before shipping of to recruit training in July of the same year. He’s also new to the camp. It’s his third month here but his initiative, inquisitive nature and motto of ‘closed mouths don’t get fed’ that has him thriving in the desert heat.
“I’ve learned a lot from the Marines I work with out here because I ask questions,” Villafuerte said. “I refuse to say, ‘I don’t know’ if I don’t have an answer I tell them I’ll check into it and keep asking around until I get one.”
Despite still being wet behind the ears, Villafuerte is often the Marine that others go to for ideas. Storing, organizing and tracking the equipment vital to military operations such as generators and computer equipment as well as necessities of daily life such as toilet paper, shaving cream and soap that keep the camps residents clean, requires a lot of headwork.
“When we need a good idea we can count on ‘V’,” said Lance Cpl. Daniel B. Thompson, fellow warehouseman with Headquarters Battalion and close friend of Villafuerte. “It’s always a group effort to figure out these things, but ‘V’ usually has the best ideas.”
Villafuerte’s resourcefulness stems from his humble beginnings and having to fend for himself. He was born in Guayaguil, Ecuador, before immigrating to the United States at age 9 to escape the pitfalls of a life growing up in South America. He said if he would have stayed in Ecuador he would have probably grown up, had kids and found myself in a dead-end job going no where like many of his friends he left behind.
“My mom stayed in Ecuador and I came to the States to live with my dad so I would have a better future.” Villafuerte said. “They all wanted a better life for me and I’m grateful because it worked out.”
The transition wasn’t easy. Not yet able to speak English, Villafuerte remembers being lost and confused his first day of school, not knowing what lied ahead. The language barrier forced him to take separate classes from his fellow students.
“I remember when I first got to school, they took me into this room in the back. I didn’t know what they were going to do to me so I started crying.” Villafuerte said. “I thought I was going to die.”
He didn’t die. In fact, he did just the opposite. He dedicated most of his time to studying English under his step-sister’s tutelage. His step-sister, Betsy, was persistent, making him recite his vocabulary lists repeatedly at the breakfast table.
“When people tell me that I speak well and they can barely tell I have an accent I say ‘thank you,' but all the thanks goes to my sister Betsy.”
Villafuerte says he owes a lot to his family for making him the man he is today. He also attributed joining the Marine Corps as one of the keys to his success and to the new way he lives his life. He said that living here has taught him to live for the moment and to seize every opportunity that comes along.
“I live my life like there may be no tomorrow,” Villafuerte said, “I’ve been on convoys and patrols and know that you never know what tomorrow may bring.”
Villafuerte said he knows he is making a difference but acknowledges the fact that he is not the only Marine here who is contributing to the mission.
“I’m just a Marine doing my job. It’s no different than what every other Marine is doing on this base,” he said.