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Wrestler Says He's Living His Dream of Being a Marine

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Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders have helped shape the history of the United States, and many of their lives have been dramatically influenced by moments in U.S. history. Every May, the Defense Department joins the rest of the nation in celebrating Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month.

Marine Corps Capt. Terrence Zaleski said being a Marine is the greatest privilege one could ever hope to have. He credits his father, a retired Marine gunnery sergeant, with inspiring him to join. 

A Marine stands with his mother.
Mother and Son
Marine Corps Capt. Terrence Zaleski and his mother pose for a photo during his promotion ceremony to captain at the Montford Point Memorial at Camp Lejeune, N.C., May 3, 2021.
Photo By: Courtesy of Marine Corps Capt. Terrence Zaleski
VIRIN: 210503-O-D0439-001

"The way my dad carried himself as a man and a Marine made me want to be just like him. He always walked with pride and dignity. He and all his Marine Corps buddies were so proud of being Marines. The brotherhood they had was something I wanted to experience one day," he said.

Zaleski was born in Jacksonville, North Carolina, the town just outside Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, where his father was stationed. Soon after he was born, Zaleski said his father retired and his parents decided to make Jacksonville their home.

Zaleski's mother was born in the province of Pangasinan in the Philippines. His father is Black and grew up in Georgia.

"Mom always told me how proud I should be to have Filipino blood running through my veins," he said.

Growing up, he recalled having huge get-togethers with what seemed like every Filipino in Jacksonville. "There would be tables and tables of delicious, traditional Filipino food, including my mom's lumpia. She makes the best lumpia. All of my friends and Marines can attest to that statement. I'm convinced she cooks the best Filipino food in the world, and I've eaten a lot of Filipino food." 

Two wrestlers wrestle in a gym.
Wrestling Championship
Marine Corps Capt. Terrence Zaleski, in blue uniform, goes against an Army wrestler at the Armed Forces Championship, Feb. 22, 2020.
Photo By: Courtesy of Marine Corps Capt. Terrence Zaleski
VIRIN: 200222-O-D0439-002

Zaleski said he considers Filipino cuisine as the "soul food of Asia."

Besides plenty of good food, these big get-togethers always featured karaoke, joking, drinking, laughing and dancing, he said. 

"There is nothing like it. And when I would visit the Philippines, I would see the exact same things," he said. "The difference is they did not have the nice things I had back at home in America: the privileges, opportunities and freedom that we have."

But people in the Philippines are just as happy and proud to be who they are, to be alive and surrounded by family and friends, he said. 

"I sometimes feel like, as human beings, we forget to appreciate the small things in life. Seeing those things made me feel proud of where my heritage stems from. It made me proud to be an American because some of us do not know how good we have it," Zaleski said.

"To be a Black Filipino-American Marine, you can say I wear a lot of pride on my shoulders," he said.

Standing next to a statue outdoors, a Marine holds a plaque as he faces another Marine; other Marines watch.
Promotion Ceremony
Marine Corps Capt. Terrence Zaleski is promoted to captain at the Montford Point Memorial at Camp Lejeune, N.C., May 3, 2021.
Photo By: Courtesy of Marine Corps Capt. Terrence Zaleski
VIRIN: 210503-O-D0439-002C

Growing up, Zaleski said he talked a lot about his dream of joining the Marines. He admitted that his dad told him that the Marines are too hard and advised him to join the Air Force and have an easier time.

"But I just could not do it. I have always strived to be the best of the best and the Marines are the best. When I earned my EGA [eagle, globe and anchor] on Brown Field in Quantico, Virginia, in 2017, I knew that is where I was supposed to be. The feeling can only be experienced, not described," he said. EGA is Marine-speak for the eagle, globe and anchor emblem worn by every Marine, and Marine Corps Base Quantico is where officers receive their basic training.

Zaleski's military occupational specialty is 4502, which is a communications strategy and operations officer. He said he loves his MOS and aspires to apply his skills in the marketing department.

He's currently stationed at Camp Lejeune, which he said is great because he can be near his parents. He's also been on the All-Marine Wrestling Team for the last three years.

Zaleski started wrestling at age 14. He said it helped build character in him. "I've learned about the amount of self-discipline and sacrifice that must happen if you want to be successful in this sport." 

Two wrestlers wrestle in a gym.
Championship Moves
Marine Corps Capt. Terrence Zaleski, in the red uniform, goes against a Navy wrestler at the Armed Forces Championship, Feb. 22, 2020.
Photo By: Courtesy of Marine Corps Capt. Terrence Zaleski
VIRIN: 200222-O-D0439-001C

Success followed. He's a five-time All-American in Greco-Roman and an Armed Forces Gold Medalist in Freestyle and Greco-Roman wrestling. He also qualified for the Olympic trials.

As for his future goals, he said he wants to stay in the Marine Corps for at least 20 years and continue wrestling, but he said he can forego wrestling if the Marine Corps needs to deploy him somewhere.

In the distant future, Zaleski said he wants to open a graphics design firm and start a youth wrestling academy for less fortunate kids. "But at the end of it all, when people remember me, I want them to remember how I made an impact in people's lives. I'm not trying to change the world. I just love motivating and inspiring people. It keeps me going. I love being a Marine Corps officer. Mentoring people and seeing the growth is a rewarding feeling. It makes my soul feel good." 

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