New York-based reserve Marine puts civil service careers on hold for Iraq

28 Oct 2004 | Sgt. Luis R. Agostini 1st Marine Logistics Group

Many kids say "I want to be a fireman," or "I want to be a policeman when I grow up."

For one New York-based Marine, those dreams have carried on to his adulthood. But until he's finished helping fight the war on terrorism in Iraq, those dreams are going to have to wait.

"Everything that happens, happens for a reason. I just take it and deal with it," said Cpl. Danny R. Suarez, who has put his dreams of becoming a New York City firefighter, and paramedic, on the backburner to serve in Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Suarez, a truck driver currently attached to Combat Service Support Company 115 here, deployed in August with 6th Communications Battalion, a Marine reserve unit based out of Brooklyn, N.Y.

Before he ever set foot on the sands of the Middle East, Suarez' dreams were first interrupted by the events of Sept. 11, 2001.

A college student at the time, Suarez had less than two years in the Marine Corps reserves when 9/11 happened. He remembers that day well - he was in his Manhattan apartment when a call from his father woke him up. He turned on his television as the first tower collapsed. 

"If you go up to the top of my apartment, you could actually see the towers go down," said Suarez, who joined the Marine Corps Reserves in 1999 to pursue his college goals while serving his country.

"I had to join the Reserves, that way I get the most of everything - school, a job and the Marines," said the 24-year-old, who has an associate's degree in business management from Borough of Manhattan Community College.

He's also just eight classes shy from a degree in automotive technology from Bronx Community College.

The events of 9/11 hit home hard for Suarez, as it did for millions of other Americans. But unlike many other Americans, Suarez was in a position in which he could directly help fight the war on terrorism, as a U.S. Marine.

"That's my motivation for coming out here. As soon as that happened I called my master sergeant, and asked, 'where do you want me?'"

When he made that phone call, Suarez was informed that his unit had not been activated, leaving him still wanting to do something to help combat terrorism.

After viewing the brave actions of New York's civil service personnel during the events of 9/11, Suarez decided he wanted to make his childhood dream a reality and become a firefighter.  But before he could slide down poles and battle blazes, Suarez had to spend a year as an emergency medical technician - a prerequisite which requires three months of training.

By the time he was qualified to take the examination to become a firefighter, 6th Comm. Bn. was activated in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. He was deployed for seven months in Iraq, putting his drive to wear a New York Fire Department uniform on hold.

The maximum allotted time to transition from an EMT into the FDNY was one year, which expired for Suarez while he was serving in Iraq. To make the transition from EMT to the FDNY, he would have to re-take the final EMT examination for recertification before he could apply to the FDNY. To take the exam, he would have to resubmit his application, a process which would take an additional six months to a year.

Instead, Suarez opted to put his EMT experience to better use, and shifted gears from pursuing a career in firefighting to a career as a paramedic.

However, Murphy's Law struck again, and in July, 6th Comm. Bn. was activated again to deploy to Iraq. Suarez had to leave the same week as the paramedics test was administered. He missed the test - and another chance to achieve his goal.

But Suarez doesn't see his time in Iraq with the Marines as a career stopper. In fact, it's opened some doors for him during the training and interviewing process for different civil service jobs, he said.

"You got a lot of respect and you stand out as a Marine in New York, not like the other Marine towns where everyone else is a Marine," said Suarez.

The respect Suarez gets back home reminds him of his responsibilities as a Marine, and of the people he has sworn to defend against all enemies "foreign and domestic."
But it's the events of 9/11 which serves as a grim daily reminder of his importance in the fight against terrorism.

"I can't forget it. They're (New Yorkers) my people," said Suarez, referring to the 2,784 World Trade Center victims. "I would die for the terrorism (at home and abroad) to be over with."

Those close to Suarez sympathized with him during both deployments, but understood that his duties as a Marine took precedence.

"I felt sad that he couldn't do what he wanted with his life, but (I know) he could not miss meeting his commitment (to the Marines)," said Suarez's mother, Ligia.

His duties in Iraq as a truck driver bring back memories of driving the streets as an EMT near Yankee Stadium in the South Bronx.

"One thing I like about being an EMT is the ability to ride around. I love that sense of freedom," said Suarez, who gets the opportunity to ride around in Iraq as well on convoys.

Suarez has served as convoy commander on two of the seven convoys he's been on, transporting supplies in support of the infantrymen with Regimental Combat Team 1.

He knows his role in OIF is an important one - he is responsible for helping deliver supplies to Marine forces operating throughout Iraq. He does, however, occasionally think about what he's left behind - pursuit of a career, his family, his favorite hangouts in the city that never sleeps.

Suarez reminisces of the walks on South Street Seaport, a merchant/restaurant area of Manhattan. Another favorite hangout is Dyckman Street, a predominantly Hispanic neighborhood in Manhattan.

"It's clean, it's busy and it's diverse," said Suarez, whose heritage stems from the Dominican Republic.

Who wouldn't miss home? After all, he's spent nearly one-fifth of his time in the Marine Corps deployed to the Middle East - a total of 14 months when he returns home next spring.

"You know you are going to miss home, but you're not going to make it something that racks your brain," he said. 

At the end of his second deployment to Iraq, Suarez looks forward to picking up where he left off as an EMT.

"I love helping people. Even out here, I want to help people in whatever way I can," said Suarez, who has put his EMT training to use in Iraq by treating fellow Marines, from a twisted ankle to the common cold.

However, after two deployments that disrupted two different potential career paths, Suarez hopes that the third time is a charm.

"My time to leave the Corps is July, but I feel like I'm going to stick around a little while longer," he said.  "But if they activate us again, I'm going to get out when my time is done."

Like many other Reserve Marines currently serving in Iraq, Suarez looks forward to returning to the life he left in New York, but is glad to have served in Iraq - both times.

"Being out here, I feel like I'm not only just serving my country, but I'm serving my state, too."

Unit News Archive
1st Marine Logistics Group