CAMP TAQADDUM, Iraq -- Marines come from all over the United States to serve their country. They come from small towns, cities and suburbs. All of these men have backgrounds and stories, but of the 178,000 “Leathernecks,” there are those who join at an older age and are proud of it.
Trading a full-time job in an American metropolitan area for an around-the-clock job in a combat zone, and leaving behind regular visits with an 8-year old son for a yearlong absence, Cpl. Jason H. Gerstner, a member of the rear security element of 1st Platoon, 9th Engineer Support Battalion, 1st Marine Logistics Group (Fwd.), joined the Marine Corps later in life, at age 28.
After the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, he felt that despite the personal sacrifices, like not being able to see his son and his parents, he needed to serve his country.
“I felt I had to contribute,” Gerstner said.
“I remember when I first told my mother I wanted to join the Marine Corps, she supported me 100 percent,” he said. “Now she wears a Marine emblem on her shirts and brags about me all of the time.”
Gerstner said he graduated from Norwin Senior High School located in North Huntingdon, Pa., in 1993 at age 17 and attended college at The University of Lock Haven, Pa. He added that while in college, he never had the slightest idea he was going to join the Marine Corps.
He said after three semesters of college, he and his girlfriend conceived a child, which influenced his decision to drop out of school and start working full time in 1995 for Duquesne Light Company, one of the premiere electric companies in Pittsburg.
With a look of sincerity, Gerstner explained that he and his girlfriend made their son the number one priority. “She and I weren’t able to work out, but she is a great mom, and she has done an amazing job with my son,” he added.
When he was 28 years old, he quit his job and walked into the recruiters’ office determined to join the Marine Corps.
“I asked (the recruiter) if I was too old to join the Marine Corps, and fortunately he said no,” Gerstner said.
He spent his 29th birthday in boot camp after stepping on the yellow foot prints in June 2004.
“The drill instructors didn’t (mess with) me too much when I attented boot camp,” Gerstner said. “They mainly looked to me as a role model for the other recruits.”
Now with 1st Platoon, 9th ESB, the Marine they call “Old Man” is constantly sought after by his peers as a role model.
“I respect him because he is a 31-year-old man going the distance with 18-year-old kids,” said Cpl. Robert L. Palmer, 23, a fire team leader with 1st Platoon and a Kennewick, Wash., native. “He has developed more of a leadership role because of his age and his wisdom.”
“Gerstner is somebody you could talk to about anything, he is a real person, and a good person,” said Cpl. Levi A. Gundy, 20, a Keokuk, Iowa, native.
The Marines featured explained his initiative, leadership and mentorship played a positive role on not only his peers, but also his senior leaders.
“Corporal Gerstner is a Marines’ Marine,” said Staff Sgt. Michael R. Leisure, 33, platoon sergeant of 1st Platoon and a Parkersburg, W.Va., native. “He is destined to do great things; there is nothing he can’t do.”
First Platoon is scheduled to return to the United States this month now that they have been replaced by Bravo Company, 6th Engineer Support Battalion, a Marine Reserve unit out of South Bend, Ind., which has been attached to 9th ESB.
After a year stationed at Okinawa, Japan, and a 7-month deployment in Iraq, Gerstner is going back to his hometown of Irwin, Pa., to see his son for the first time in over a year and a half.
“I can’t wait until I get back home to see my son,” said Gerstner, adding that because of the deployment his father helped his son pick out new sports equipment last season.
“My son is looking forward to me coming home,” he said with excitement. “When I come home, he will be starting his football season.”
This season Gerstner and his son will be able to buy football cleats together.