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Face of Defense: Marine Started With Nothing, Credits Corps for Success

By Marine Corps Cpl. Ryan Tomlinson
Special to American Forces Press Service

CAMP KOREAN VILLAGE, Iraq, June 19, 2008 – Marine Corps Cpl. Andrew E. Nelson doesn’t mind admitting he very easily could have amounted to nothing in life.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Marine Corps Cpl. Andrew E. Nelson, 21, a personnel clerk with 2nd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, Regimental Combat Team 5, stands in front of a picture that depicts his main goal, becoming a drill instructor, at Camp Korean Village, Iraq, June 15, 2008. Born in Philadelphia, Nelson overcame hard times to turn his life around. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Ryan Tomlinson, Regimental Combat Team 5
  

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

“I started from nothing to making something of my life,” the personnel clerk with 2nd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, Regimental Combat Team 5, said. “I was broke then, and now I have goals, my credit cards are paid, and I can go to school again.”

The tough Philadelphia neighborhood where he grew up was full of metaphorical signposts pointing to the wrong road in life, Nelson said.

“I didn’t want to fall into that dead-end crowd a lot of the people I grew up with fell into,” he said. “Friends I went to high school with are either locked up or dead, and I didn’t want to end up like that.”

Nelson and his younger sister were mentored by their mother to stay out of trouble and remain in school. The maturing young man faced many temptations of bad influence.

“I grew up in what many people would call a bad neighborhood,” he said. “I woke up every day to find myself living on streets ridden with crime and abandoned buildings.”

Instead of falling in with a bad crowd, Nelson decided to make his mother and himself proud. He stayed in school, graduated and then attended college at DeVry University in Fort Washington, Pa.

“My mom was real hard on me. When I grew up, she turned into a mentor and a friend; I tell her everything,” he said. “I try to be her strength, instead of her weakness.”

Nelson was attending college while working a full-time job for a shipping company to make ends meet, supporting himself and his mother, who cares for his sister and niece. But the stress of doing so much was too intense, he said, and he decided to drop out of school. He went broke, constantly overdrawing his bank accounts and maxing out his credit cards.

“So many nights, I would see me mother crying, looking to God for guidance,” he recalled.

Nelson said that led him to pray and became more involved in his faith. He sensed that the answer to his prayers would be to join the service he dreamed of joining since he was a child.

Nelson enlisted in the Marine Corps in May 2006 to pursue his dream and to serve his country.

“Joining the Marines Corps had always been at the back of my mind since I could remember,” he said. “I had to get out of the glut I grew up in and do something in my life that had purpose.”

Nelson is deployed to Iraq for his first tour after his promotion to corporal in less than 18 months of service. He changed his life, and he said that ever since the first day he earned the title “Marine,” he has had more pride in himself and his family than ever before.

“The Marine Corps has given me a lot of ambitions and pride,” he said. “I want to be a drill instructor, to take a young man and change his life like my drill instructors did for me.”

He added that having the ability to do that would bestow the same feeling he got when graduating from boot camp: the greatest satisfaction.

“Nelson took it upon himself to train every Marine in our section,” said Cpl. Mehmet S. Bayar, 22, a company clerk with Headquarters and Service Company, 2nd LAR. “He even took me in to help me out with everything. I thank him every day for helping me become the Marine I am today.”

Nelson said he plans to re-enlist in the Marine Corps and marry his long-time girlfriend. He remains close with his mother and said he is there to support her at any given time.

“I wouldn’t change anything from my past, even after the struggles,” he said. “I have no doubt in my mind that if I hadn’t gone through the hard times and struggles, I wouldn’t appreciate everything in life as much.”

(Marine Corps Cpl. Ryan Tomlinson serves with Regimental Combat Team 5.)

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