AL QA'IM, Iraq --
Petty Officer 1st Class Adrian Figueroa grew up in Victoria, Texas, surrounded by illegal narcotics and violence. He left that situation behind many years ago, and now he keeps Marines fit for duty.
“I used to be a really bad person,” said Figueroa, a corpsman with 2nd battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 5. “I dropped out of school in the ninth grade to stay up drinking and making money all night.”
From age 14 to 21, Figueroa spent his time involved with gangs and carried out crimes.
“Drugs and violence were part of my life,” he said. “It didn’t matter to me. That’s just who we were and what we did.”
Figueroa grew up separated from his father for the most part, but still seemed to take after him in some ways. They both served their fair share
of time in jail.
“One day, my dad just picked me up from court and took me to a recruiting office,” Figueroa said. “He told me I needed to make a choice and left me there. I never told him how much I appreciate what he did, but he changed my life forever that day.”
Figueroa chose the Navy and scheduled a time to leave for boot camp. Even though he took a step toward changing his ways, the mistakes he made earlier in life still held him back.
“I had to wait to leave for training because I had outstanding tickets and warrants for my arrest that I didn’t know about,” he said. “I served time in jail before going.”
After settling his legal matters, he attended and completed boot camp in 1994. Figueroa had moved on from the street life he once led, but problems possibly affecting the outcome of his career began to arise.
“I came very close to being kicked out of the Navy for being overweight, he said. “I told them I would go anywhere to stay in, and my detailers sent me to Camp Lejeune, (N.C.)”
He arrived at 2nd Radio Bn., where he quickly adjusted to Marine Corps physical standards, and his weight issues faded away.
“I had to adapt to the Marine lifestyle and do (physical training) just like everybody else,” he said. “I had no choice, but to get in shape.”
His unit eventually placed him in 2nd Radio Recon Platoon, where he achieved a meritorious promotion to petty officer 2nd Class and became the first sailor in the II Marine Expeditionary Force to receive a Fleet Marine Force pin.
“After spending two years with recon, I became a field medical instructor at Camp Johnson, (N.C.),” Figueroa said. “I instructed around two-thousand sailors there. We took them on humps, made them do (physical fitness tests), fired M-16s for the first time and lived in the field.” “After completing this course, they can attach to Marine units.”
The next move in Figueroa’s military career took him back to Camp Lejeune. He attached to 2nd Bn., 2nd Marines, and once again received a meritorious promotion, this time to petty officer 1st Class. He is currently on his third deployment with the unit, and recalls teaching Marines in the past.
“I’m a (Marine Corps Martial Arts Program) black belt instructor and have trained Marines during (Operation Iraqi Freedom 05-06) and while with the (26th Marine Expeditionary Unit),” he said. “I plan on starting some more classes really soon.”
Figueroa recently re-enlisted for the last six years of his career so that he may retire at the age of 41.
“I’ve spent two years working under Figueroa,” said Seaman Joshua Martinez, a corpsman with 2nd Bn., 2nd Marines. “When I first got to the battalion, he taught me how to be confident in myself and be a leader to others. He is an excellent teacher and I’ve learned a lot from him.”
Perhaps when Martinez no longer works under Figueroa, he will have attained the characteristics to mold junior sailors into the leaders and mentors he believes Figueroa helped him to become.