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Why I Serve: Marine's Life-Long Dream Comes True

By Pfc. Cheryl Ransford, USA
Special to American Forces Press Service

BAGRAM AIR BASE, Afghanistan, Sept. 3, 2004 – "When I graduated from high school, I really wanted to join the Marines and be like my dad, but he didn't want any of his kids anywhere near the military," said Marine Lance Cpl. Bill McStay, a tug and aircraft generator mechanic. "He was a recon Marine in the Korean War, and didn't want his kids to see combat."

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Marine Lance Cpl. Bill McStay, a member of Heavy Marine Helicopter 769 Squadron, adjusts a wrench to tighten the power-steering pump on a tow tractor at Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan, Aug. 24. At 34 years old, McStay followed his dreams and joined the Marines after Sept. 11, 2001. Photo by Pfc. Cheryl Ransford, USA

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

As a child, McStay dreamed of following in his father's footsteps and becoming a Marine. Now, at the age of 36 and a member of Heavy Marine Helicopter 769 Squadron, he can finally say dreams really do come true.

Every time the recruiters would come around, his dad was right there to chase them off the property, McStay said. "So I went to college and earned a degree in education, and went to work for my dad at his business, selling and working on metal valves for steel mills and industrial plants," he said.

But everything changed after Sept. 11, 2001.

"After 9/11, there was a glut of imported steel, and the domestic steel mills slowly started going out of business," he said. "Unfortunately, my dad's business was one of them."

Before he went out of business, McStay's dad tried to downsize so he wouldn't have to leave as many workers without jobs. This alternative presented an opportunity for McStay to follow his dream. Since McStay didn't have a family, unlike many of the people who worked for his father, he decided it was time to visit the recruiters.

"I still had my childhood dream in the back of my head, and decided I was going to join the military and help save the jobs of the workers who have families," he said. "I walked into the recruiters at 34 and signed up for the infantry."

When McStay's father found out about his pending future in the infantry, he placed a call to the head of recruiting in Ohio to talk the Marines out of putting his son in the infantry. His father was successful in getting the recruiting command to change his McStay's assignment to the air wing.

From the time McStay enlisted in the Marines, until a few days before leaving for boot camp, his father didn't say a word to him. "Right before I left for boot camp, my dad went on a business trip," he said. "When I was dropping him off at the airport, he said we needed to talk."

His father gave him some advice, based on his experience as a Marine, which would help him make it through the hard times. "He gave me a lot of really good advice that has helped me throughout my two and a half years in the Marines," said McStay.

Over the past two years, McStay said, his father has come full-circle and is now one of his biggest supporters. "Now my dad is very involved in everything I do in the Marines," he said. Knowing that the Marines isn't going to be a lifelong career, McStay has found the service to be a teacher of life for him in some ways. "By being able to fulfill my childhood dream of becoming a Marine and serving my country, I have learned that life rarely turns out the way you expect," he said. "But at the same time, life will never give you more than you can handle.

"Growing up on the streets of inner-city Cleveland, I know what some of the kids are going through," he continued. "I am thinking about becoming an elementary (school) teacher in the future and using the experiences I have had, and will have, in the Marines to show the kids that there is always a way to rise above the hard times."

While McStay has experienced and will continue to experience challenging times in the military, he said he has never looked back and wondered, "What if?"

"This is the road that was meant for me," he said. "If I have learned anything from my experience, it is to not let other people dictate how you live your life. Do what makes you happy, and you can never go wrong."

(Army Pfc. Cheryl Ransford is a member of the 17th Public Affairs Detachment.)

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