Monday, June 25, 2012

Face of Defense: Oregon Native Overcomes Obstacles to Serve

By Marine Corps Cpl. Walter Marino III
Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego

MARINE CORPS RECRUIT DEPOT SAN DIEGO, Calif., June 25, 2012 – Each recruit here probably has experienced personal hardships. For Marine Corps Pfc. Thomas S. Breiter, who recently graduated from boot camp, tough times began with his parents’ divorce when he was 8 months old.

The hardships continued in high school, he said, when he struggled for motivation to make good grades and again when his weight ballooned to 260 pounds.

But it all changed, Breiter said, when he decided to join the Marines. He knew he couldn’t join without graduating from high school and losing weight, and that motivated him to get it done.

Breiter’s love for the Marines started at an early age. His parents had been Marines, and he ended up enlisting in same military occupational specialty in which his mother served.

“Both my parents said they’d disown me if I joined any other branch,” he said with a laugh.

When Breiter acknowledged his grades needed improving, he signed himself up for six months at the Oregon National Guard Youth Challenge Program. He returned for his senior year and became active in athletics and choir. He graduated with a 3.85 grade point average.

After graduation, Breiter’s weight was the only obstacle left. He needed to slim down from 260 to 212, but ended up getting his weight down to 203 pounds by cutting out sweets and alcohol, restricting his caloric intake and eating a lot of fruit and protein.

“I wanted to start over, the 22-year-old Oregon native said. “I’ve wanted to join since I was a kid. I plan to stay in shape. I’m strong, but I could be a lot stronger. Now that I’m a Marine, I hold myself to a higher standard.”

During the initial phases of boot camp, Breiter said, he was focused solely on himself and just getting through training. But he changed his mind, he added, when he saw other recruits needed his help. By encouraging others and being vocal, Breiter became a squad leader.

Breiter’s drill instructors explained they noticed his efforts when his voice was louder than those of the other recruits.

“He showed the willingness,” said Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Johnnatan Lopez, drill instructor in Breiter’s platoon. “He stood out when he encouraged others. He was always vocal and getting people going.”

When Breiter’s rackmate Pvt. Steven J. Caasi cried after repeatedly not receiving any letters, Breiter consoled him and helped to lift his spirits.

“He was there when I was down or alone in a corner,” the 18-year-old Caasi said. “When I found out my family wasn’t coming to the graduation, he told me that I could hang out with his family. He made me feel like there was someone I could depend on. I made a really good friend in boot camp.”

Breiter said he simply took Caasi under his wing, and that Caasi now is doing much better.

“I helped him a lot during first phase,” Breiter said. “He would cry, and I could understand. A lot of times, he would want to quit, but I just helped him keep his head up, and he’s here now. He’s definitely the type of person I’m going to stay in touch with the rest of my life.”

Now that he has graduated, Breiter said, all is well.

“My parents gave me constant motivation through their letters, because I know they were thinking of me,” he said. “I definitely feel like I’ve come a long way. I’m looking forward to going to my military occupational school and continuing to grow in the Marine Corps.”

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