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Former teacher now learns Iraqi lessons

12 Apr 2004 | Lance Cpl. Macario P. Mora Jr.

Cpl. Michael Alwardt swapped chalky blackboards in the classroom for greasy guns in the vast desert expanses of western Iraq. 

Alwardt is an armory custodian for Company K, 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment.  He's fulfilling a lifelong dream of serving as a Marine in a combat zone.  It's a dream the Collinsville, Ill., Marine once shelved to teach in the classroom.

"I decided I wanted to be a Marine when I was in sixth-grade," Alwardt said.  "I read about all the services and decided they were the best."

Alwardt instead went to Concordian University in River Forest, Ill., to take advantage of a baseball scholarship.  There, he earned a degree in criminal justice and earned his teaching credentials.  He set his dreams of being a Marine on a shelf and took up teaching in Edwardsville, Ill.

"I taught at Metro East Lutheran High School for about a year and a half," said 29-year-old Alwardt.  "I then decided it was now or never to become a Marine.  My body wasn't getting any younger.  I had students and parents of students that were in the military.  I had to do it."

The history, geography and physical education teacher drove himself to the nearest recruiting office.  Teaching, he said, was the perfect precursor to the Corps.

"My former life has helped me a lot since I've been in," Alwardt said.  "In boot-camp they gave me about five different tasks, because they said I was more mature.  I've been able to pick things up a little quicker."

According to those around him, such as good friend Lance Cpl. Michael Dressler, the armory custodian for Headquarters and Service Company, his former life paid dividends to both him and those around him.

"I look up to him," said Dressler, of Olathe, Kan.  "He has so much experience and not just in the Marine Corps, but in life.  He's a model Marine, everything you'd think a man needed to be in order to serve in the Corps."

"He's so smart," said 1st Lt Rudy G. Salcido, Company K's for executive officer.  "With him I only had to ask things once, often I didn't even have to ask to get things done."

According to the Tucson, Ariz. Marine, the "old man" is great to have around to help the others.

"He's so mature," Salcido said.

Alwardt plans on moving on from the Corps once his enlistment is up.  His plans are to go back to his other passion of teaching in a little more than a year.  His time back in the classroom will be enhanced by his service in uniform.

"I told myself I would get out after I had been to war," Alwardt said.  "I've now been in two.  I've served my country, now it's time for me to move on."