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Cpl. Andrew E. Nelson, 21, a personnel clerk with 2nd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, Regimental Combat Team 5, stands in front of a picture of his main goal, becoming a drill instructor, at Cam Korean Village, Iraq, June 15. Born in Philadelphia, Nelson overcame odds and struggling times to turn his life around.

Photo by Cpl. Ryan Tomlinson

From nothing to success

16 Jun 2008 | Cpl. Ryan Tomlinson

“I started from nothing to making something of my life,” said Cpl. Andrew E. Nelson, a personnel clerk with 2nd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, Regimental Combat Team 5. “I was broke then, and now I have goals, my credit cards are paid and I can go to school again.”

Those were the words of Nelson, 21, as he reflected on his hard, but influential past. Born in Philadelphia, Nelson overcame the odds and struggling times to turn his life around.

“I didn’t want to fall into that dead-end crowd a lot of the people I grew up with fell into,” said Nelson. “Friends I went to high school with are either locked up or dead, and I didn’t want to end up like that.”

Nelson and his younger sister were mentored by their mother to stay out of trouble and remain in school. The maturing young man faced many temptations of bad influence.

“I grew up in what many people would call a bad neighborhood,” he said. “I woke up everyday to find myself living on streets ridden with crime and abandoned buildings.”

Instead of falling in with a bad crowd, Nelson decided to make his mother and himself proud. He stayed in school, graduated and then attended college at DeVry University in Fort Washington, Pa.

“My mom was real hard on me. When I grew up, she turned into a mentor and a friend – I tell her everything,” he said. “I try to be her strength, instead of her weakness.”

Nelson was attending college while working a full-time job for a shipping company to make ends meet, supporting himself and his mother, who cares for his sister and niece. After intense stress, he decided to drop-out of school. He went broke, constantly overdrawing his banking accounts and maxing out his credit cards.

“So many nights, I would see me mother crying looking to God for guidance,” said Nelson.

According to Nelson, he started to pray and became more involved in his faith. He received an answer – to join the service he dreamed of joining since he was a child.

Nelson enlisted in the Marine Corps in May 2006 to pursue his dream and to serve his country.

“Joining the Marines Corps had always been at the back of my mind since I could remember,” said Nelson. “I had to get out of the glut I grew up in and do something in my life that had purpose.”

Nelson is now deployed to Iraq for his first tour after his promotion to corporal in less than 18 months of service. He changed his life and he said ever since the first day he earned the title Marine, he has had more pride in himself and his family than ever before. 

“The Marine Corps has given me a lot of ambitions and pride,” he said. “I want to be a drill instructor, to take a young man and change his life like my drill instructors did for me.”

He added that having the ability to do that would bestow the same feeling he got when graduating boot camp: the greatest satisfaction.

“Nelson took it upon himself to train every Marine in our section,” said Cpl. Mehmet S. Bayar, 22, a company clerk with Headquarters and Service Company, 2nd LAR. “He even took me in to help me out with everything. I thank him everyday for helping me become the Marine I am today.”

Nelson, who wouldn’t back down from hard times, plans to reenlist in the Marine Corps and marry his long-time girlfriend.  He remains close with his mother and is there to support her at any given time.

“I wouldn’t change anything from my past – even after the struggles,” said Nelson. “I have no doubt in my mind that if I hadn’t gone through the hard times and struggles, I wouldn’t appreciate everything in life as much.”