CROW VALLEY, Philippines -- When enlisting into the Marine Corps, the recruiter is usually the first Marine an enlistee meets. Because an enlistment can be a defining moment in a young person’s life, recruiters can leave a lasting impression on young men and women.
Lance Cpl. Ricardo Medrano, a mortarman with 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, 3rd Marine Expeditionary Brigade, recently found himself working side-by-side with his recruiter, Staff Sgt. Andrew Couls, the mortar section leader for Battalion Landing Team 2nd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, during the annual Philippine Bilateral Amphibious Landing Exercise here, Oct 8.
The road to Medrano becoming a Marine and later deploying to the Philippines was difficult, but he was able to pull through and overcome adversity, allowing him to train alongside the man who helped him earn the title of Marine.
“Since I was a little kid, I always wanted to join the Marines,” said Medrano. “Growing up, the idea was always in the back of my head.”
When Medrano entered high school, the thought of joining the Marines became just a memory. Hanging out with the wrong group of friends, Medrano’s grades began to slip away. He would skip classes and get in trouble, until he finally dropped out his junior year.
For more than three years after his premature end to high school, Medrano worked several jobs and subsequently lost them all. He had no idea what he was going to do with his life until his father, a retired Marine officer, brought him to a Marine recruiting office.
“I was just sitting in my office when Medrano’s dad walked in and said his son needed guidance,” said Couls. “Because of his past, I had a little bit of trouble getting him into the Marine Corps. But after a lot of work from both of us, I got him into the (Delayed Entry Program).”
Upon joining the program, Medrano immediately began to show promise. Already capable of the Marine Corps’ top score of 20 pull-ups and posting an excellent run time, Medrano found no difficulty in getting through the physical portion of the selection process. Once chosen, like every other Marine, Medrano had to choose his Military Occupational Specialty.
“With my dad being a former reconnaissance Marine, I could not let myself choose anything else but infantry,” said Medrano. “So I told Staff Sgt. Couls that there was no way I would be anything else.”
Assigned the infantry MOS, Medrano entered recruit training in Oct. 2009. Completing the basic training schools, he found himself with his current unit in Hawaii in March, 2010.
While Couls continued to recruit, Medrano completed a tour in Afghanistan before his unit began a deployment to Okinawa, Japan. When PHIBLEX 13 began shortly thereafter, 2/3 joined the 31st MEU in Crow Valley, where the two Marines found each other again.
“Medrano and I kept in touch through the years after he joined,” said Couls. “I knew that he was with 2/3, but had no idea that he was coming out here with us. It was a surprise to be walking through camp and see him.”
Couls and Medrano participated in the 29th iteration of the PHIBLEX alongside their Philippine Marine counterparts in order to improve the two forces’ interoperability and strengthen their long standing relationship.
From being a high school dropout and working dead-end jobs, to becoming a United States Marine and working alongside Philippine Marines in one of the biggest military exercises in the Asia-Pacific, Medrano used the help of a Marine recruiter to positively steer the direction of his future.
“I can honestly say that the Marines changed Medrano’s life for the better,” said Couls. “If it was not for him enlisting, neither he nor I have any clue where he would be. He has the Marine Corps to thank for that.”
Living less than 100 yards from one another, Medrano has had numerous opportunities to train alongside Couls. Being involved in PHIBLEX alongside the man who helped make it happen gives Medrano a sense of pride.
"When I joined the Marines, I had no idea that I would one day be in the Philippines with Staff Sgt. Couls,” said Medrano. “Getting into the Marine Corps was hard, but take a look at me now; I am here, training alongside my recruiter and Philippine Marines.”
The 31st MEU and 2/3 trained alongside the Philippine Marines for two weeks, integrating the skills gained here to strengthen interoperability in the future. The 31st MEU is the only continuously forward-deployed MEU and is the Marine Corps’ force in readiness in the Asia-Pacific region.