CAMP FOSTER, OKINAWA, Japan --
“I did everything to become an officer and I was set on it,” explained Nathan Nguyen, a Riverside, California native, and a college’s dream applicant. “So when I gave it my all and I didn’t get it, I said [expletive] it, I’ll just go to college and be normal.”
In 2014, Nguyen’s life was a blur of college applications and acceptance letters. Nguyen’s mother, his education inspiration, attended school full time as a single parent of two young boys, pushing until she graduated with her master’s degree. Education had always been an important part of his life but as Nguyen grew older, his mother encouraged him to further his education, but on his own dime.
“My mother told me she wouldn’t pay for my school,” said Nguyen smiling fondly. “She wanted me to appreciate the education that I had, and the only way she thought I could do that is if I earned it on my own.”
A Marine Corps recruiter reached out and offered him an application for a Marine Corps Reserve Officer Training Corps scholarship. The recruiter believed he would be the perfect candidate. As Nguyen began the tedious application process, success seemed inevitable. His options seemed endless and his confidence grew.
After a multitude of interviews, months of preparation, and more months of waiting, Nguyen finally heard back. The Marine Corps had denied his scholarship.
With a heavy heart, Nguyen began visiting various colleges searching for his next step. He fell in love with the beautiful campus and friendly people at San Diego State University.
The day Nguyen walked into SDSU prepared to make his payment to save his spot in his dream school, his hand wavered. As he pulled his card from his wallet, he battled a wave of emotions.
“I put my card down to pay and then I broke down,” recalled Nguyen his brown eyes lowering. “I called my recruiter, and in short, I joined. If I was going to be a bear, I might as well be a grizzly.”
In October of 2015, Nguyen left for boot camp with the military occupational specialty of administrative specialist.
“I hated the Marine Corps when I first joined,” confided Nguyen, now a corporal and an administrative specialist with Headquarters and Support Battalion, Marine Corps Installations Pacific-Marine Corps Base Camp Butler, Japan. “I hated boot camp. I had an issue with authority. I didn’t like it at all, but being in Okinawa changed that for me. You don’t have a choice on whether or not you are going to be selfish. You live with these people day in and day out. They need you and you need them.”
According to Nguyen, since his orders to Okinawa, Japan, and a temporary additional duty to Korea, he has noticed a tremendous change in his mindset about the Marine Corps.
“When I joined I didn’t know what I wanted,” said Nguyen. “Before I joined it was me, me, me. I wanted to be better than everyone else. I wanted to be smarter than everyone else. I wanted to be the best athlete. I didn’t care about the bigger picture or anyone else except myself. Thankfully, especially as a corporal, I have learned how important it is to be unselfish.”
The Marine Corps ingrains leadership into all Marines, teaching traits like unselfishness the moment a recruit places their feet on the yellow footprints. After coming to Okinawa, Nguyen began to put his Marine’s and peers welfare before his own. Nguyen strives to better himself as an administrative specialist, and a leader, teaching his junior Marines every trick that he knows and learns.
“It is one thing to have knowledge and to keep it for yourself and only progress yourself as an individual,” said Nguyen. “But it is another to share what you know. I don’t mind sharing what I know, I don’t fear them being better than me.”
According to Sgt. Irene Billinglsey, a noncommissioned officer in charge of Nguyen, his positive attitude is contagious. At the end of long work days, she’ll listen as he pulls all the junior Marines together, reminding them of the importance of their MOS and their mission. Nguyen stresses the importance of looking out for the service member to the right and left of them. He often sacrifices weekends and evenings running with his Marines, grabbing them food when other obligations tie them up and offering them advice.
“The most humbling part for me is the fact that I am part of a picture that is so much larger than myself,” said Nguyen. “When I became a corporal, I feel like the betterment of my Marines’ lives was put in my hands. The things that I do impact their lives. It taught me how to make sacrifices and that the good of the group is more important than me doing things on my own. I was always selfish. Everything I did, I did for myself. I didn’t realize that if I stayed late on the weekend, my Marines wouldn’t have to. That is a sacrifice I am willing to make.”
As Nguyen’s time on Okinawa comes to a close, he looks forward to going to his next duty station with a renewed sense of commitment and dedication to the betterment of the Marine Corps and most importantly, his Marines.