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Cpl. Andrew M. Oquendo, a scout with Delta Company, 2nd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, Regimental Combat Team 5, stands in front of a light armored vehicle at Camp Korean Village, Iraq, April 16. Oquendo, 22, from Paterson, N.J., joined the Marine Corps infantry after being a photographer for the U.S. Air Force. "I wanted to be a Marine ever since I joined the military," said Oquendo. "I worked hard to get where I am today, and it is extremely rewarding in every aspect."

Photo by Cpl. Ryan Tomlinson

Air Force photographer becomes Marine grunt

22 Apr 2008 | Cpl. Ryan Tomlinson 1st Marine Division

A hard fought transition brought one Marine from shooting photos to shooting rifles.

Cpl. Andrew M. Oquendo, a scout with Delta Company, 2nd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, Regimental Combat Team 5, went from photographer with the U.S. Air Force to infantryman in the U.S. Marine Corps.

The 22-year-old infantryman from Paterson, N.J., joined the Air Force after struggling to make payments on his tuition at Delaware State University.

Oquendo was determined to experience what it takes to be successful, so after talking with a high-school friend and a recruiter, he reported to boot camp at Lackland Air Force Base, San Antonio, Texas, in February 2005.

“The Air Force was the only branch I could think of that I wanted to join,” said Oquendo. “I didn’t see any other options, so I signed the dotted line to start my future.”

Upon graduation, he was provided the sense of pride by becoming a member of the U.S. military.

“I felt like most Marines feel when they graduate boot camp and earn the Eagle, Globe and Anchor,” he said. “I felt like I was on top of the world.”

The new airman checked into the Defense Information School in Fort Meade, Md., to earn the military occupational specialty of photographer.  Once earning the title of photographer, Oquendo deployed in July 2006 from Scott Air Force Base, Illi., in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

“I was in Qatar temporarily until my unit was visited by Maj. Gen. Anthony Przybyslawski (former commanding general of U.S. Air Force Personnel Center), and I took pictures of him,” Oquendo said. “He liked the photos so much he asked if I could accompany him through the rest of his tour.”

During the tour, Oquendo saw Marine infantrymen conducting operations in Iraq and Afghanistan and had a feeling that something was missing in his life. He felt he wasn’t contributing enough to the Global War on Terrorism.

“I knew what I really wanted to do, so I had to do whatever it took to achieve it,” said Oquendo.

After building the courage, he talked to Maj. Gen. Przybyslawski about his ambitions and got the assistance he needed to make the transition from the Air Force to the Marine Corps.

“I went to the administrative center to apply for separation forms and the lady at the front desk thought I was crazy for filling it out after how long I’d been in,” said Oquendo. “Little did she know how committed I was to becoming a Marine.”

Within two weeks, his separation request was approved and he left the Air Force Nov. 1, 2006. Oquendo stepped on the “Yellow Footprints” at Parris Island, S.C., Nov. 27, 2006, with the ambition of becoming an infantry Marine.

The newest Marine recruit was prepared for whatever he had to face. According to him, he was looked up to by most of his members of the platoon.

“Since I had been in the military for two years, it was kind of like cheating because a lot of times were easier for me than the other recruits,” Oquendo said.

Now deployed to Iraq for his second combat tour, but this time with the Marine infantry, he is as happy as ever.

“I wanted to be an infantryman because it’s the backbone of the Marine Corps,” said Oquendo. “It’s the stuff you read about in the history book making difference in the world.”

He added he wanted to be part of a brotherhood that would make history.

“When it comes to motivation, Oquendo bring it to a different level,” said Sgt. James D. Leach, a scout squad leader with Delta Company, 2nd LAR. “It’s good having him around.”

1st Marine Division