FORWARD OPERATING BASE SABIT QADAM, Afghanistan – Decisions at the age of 3 usually consist of which color crayon to use. For one Marine, it was a point where he made the biggest decision of his life.
Cpl. John Anthony Cleaver said becoming a Marine was something he’s wanted to do since he started to talk, walk and wear his uncle’s Marine “boonie cover,” a floppy hat used in sunny climates.
Seventeen years later, Cleaver works directly with his Afghan National Army counterparts as an advisor, teaching them everything from patrolling tactics to how to guard their base in one of Afghanistan’s most dangerous areas.
“We spend a lot of time with the ANA,” Cleaver said. “We train the trainers, so to speak. We show their leadership how to do things the right way, so when they go back to their units, they can teach their soldiers.”
Cleaver said he was brought up in South Philadelphia with a love for the Marine Corps and a love of hockey.
“For three years, I worked as an assistant for the Philadelphia Phantoms, which used to be the minor league team for the Philadelphia Flyers,” he said. “I would get the players anything they needed during games, and sometimes I would go on the road with them. Philadelphia has some of the craziest fans in the world, and definitely I’m one of them.”
Cleaver has put that intensity toward his job as a Marine, both as an advisor to the Afghan army and in his primary job as motor transport operator. Most operators just arriving to the operational forces would have little responsibility until they learned the ropes of how to do their job. But five months after arriving to the operational forces, Cleaver was meritoriously promoted to corporal.
“When I was promoted, I was put in charge of the [onboard vehicle equipment] for all of our Humvees,” the 2010 Ridley High School graduate explained. “A few months later, I became the one of the line noncommissioned officers in charge and took care of more than 60 vehicles, 11 Marines and made sure all my guys were where they needed to be if a mission came up. It was a couple months when the order came down and they asked if I wanted to deploy on an [individual augment] billet. I couldn’t have been happier that they picked me.”
Cleaver said deploying and training soldiers with the Afghan army has been a positive experience that he hopes will leave a lasting legacy in Afghanistan.
“It’s interesting living in a different culture,” he said. “The soldiers take their training from us and make an ‘Afghan solution’ to keep their people safe and let them have security. They know we’re not going to be here forever, so they listen and learn when we teach them. That transfers over to the safety of their people, and I’m glad I’m a part of that process.”