My Military Experience: An Interview with Former USMC Corporal Andrew Ambrogio

 

Operation MCP (Making Careers Possible) recently sat down with former United States Marine Corporal Andrew Ambrogio.  We discussed why he chose to join the military, lessons he learned and how he is currently transitioning to civilian life.

OMCP: “After graduating from high school, why did you consider joining the military?”

AA: “My grandpa was in the Navy and it appealed to me.  I felt I was born to serve.”

OMCP: “Did you speak to recruiters from all military branches?

AA: “No.”

OMCP: “What made you decide on the United States Marine Corps (USMC)?”

AA: “I originally wanted to follow in the footsteps of my grandpa and join the Navy, but because my cousin was already in the Marine Corps, which is part of of the Department of the Navy, I joined the USMC.”

OMCP: “Please explain the process. Signing your contract (how many years), health screening, etc… Did you have to do anything in particular to prepare?”

AA: “I talked to a recruiter, had to take a physical exam and drug test to ensure I was “fit” to be accepted into the USMC. I also had to take the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) practice test.  The higher the test score, the more jobs were available. I signed my 4 year contract and wanted to apply for a Military Police (MP) position, but the MOS (Military occupation school) was closed out, so I decided to sign for combat engineer.  Prior to leaving for bootcamp I had to physically train (PT), three times a week with other poolees.”

OMCP: “How soon after signing your contract did you leave for boot camp? I know that recruits from the east coast, train on Paris Island in South Carolina and those to the west of the Mississippi train in San Diego, California, so you were headed to Paris Island.” 

AA: “I signed my contract in August 2011 and left for boot camp in February 2012”. Yes, since I’m from New Jersey, I was headed to Paris Island for twelve weeks.”

OMCP: “When I hear Paris Island, it reminds me of Stanley Kubrick’s film Full Metal Jacket. Is the portrayal of boot camp accurate? Most civilians know that military boot camp can be extremely demanding and grueling. What type of training did you receive?”

AA: “Yes, the movie is pretty accurate.  There is only one road in and out of Paris Island. Upon our arrival, all recruits get off the bus and make our one phone call home to tell our families we arrived safely.  Afterwards, we lined up to have our heads shaved.  I received different types of training.  Specifically, Swim Day, Rifle Range and the Gas Chamber. Swim Day consisted of five parts. The first part, we were ordered to swim half way across a pool in fullutilities and boots without touching the ground.  The second part, and still wearing our utilities and boots, we were tasked with carrying our filled packs halfway across the pool.  The packs are purposely buoyant in case of going overboard. The third part of swim day, we were tasked to tread water for 3-5 minutes while using the “blouse inflation technique”.  This technique allows air into your uniform so you become buoyant to prevent drowning. The fourth part of Swim Day was the “Dive Board”.  The diving board was very high.  We had to walk to the edge and drop straight down with our arms crossed and feet together.  This technique is used incase of going overboard as well.  On the fifth and last part of Swim Day we were instructed with our kevlar, flak jacket and rifle to start off standing in the shallow end of the pool.  We had to go under the water, remove all gear, drop our rifle and stand up.  All of this had to be completed within five seconds”.

The Rifle Range training consisted of 1-2 weeks.  It required hiking to different barracks on the island.  During the first week, we learned all about rifles, specifically the M16A4, which is a service rifle.  We learned the techniques and shooting stances: standing, kneeling, sitting and prone, which is holding a rifle while laying on your belly. We practiced shooting targets from 100, 200, 300 and 500 yards.  We were also trained to use a bayonet, which is a knife attachment for a rifle used for close combat.  We had target practice, which consisted of a small course where we would slowly walk up and stab or slash the target.

The Gas Chamber is just that.  We received just an hour to learn gas mask usage. We were dressed up in a Mission Oriented Protective Posture (MOPP) suit with the mask.  All recruits were lined up around the perimeter of a small building and tear gas is released.  While this happens, we have to increase our heart rates and were told to do jumping jacks and hold our breath.  Then we were told to break the seal of the mask which is when the tear gas goes in.  When the last recruit breaks their seal, you’re told to close the seal and clear the mask, then exit the building. To mess around with my fellow recruits, I took my time exiting the building, while others were gasping for air, trying to escape the building.” (Laughing)

OMCP: “Was there any training that scared you or you were worried you couldn’t complete?”

AA: “Swim Day, for fear of drowning. I hate swimming”.

OMCP: “I know you had a very tight schedule.  What were your days and nights like?”

AA: “The first 2 or 3 days consisted of very little sleep.  We had 1 hour in the evenings of “square away time” to put away our things, fix uniforms and write letters to loved ones.  Lights out at 8 or 9pm.  All recruits were rotated on “Fire Watch” throughout the night.  The recruits would turn the lights on 5 minutes before it was time to wake up at 5am.”

OMCP: “Was there any training that you enjoyed or didn’t enjoy?”

AA: “I enjoyed The Crucible.  The Crucible is the application of the 12 weeks of training, including trust building exercises and camaraderie over a 36 hour period.  We were required to hike to an area with huts and a forest.  The weather was extremely hot. While wearing our full gear, flak jacket, uniform and a rifle, we had to complete various tasks and missions where we had to rely on fellow Marines. We had very few hours of sleep, and there was lots of low crawling. If you messed up a task, you had to start from the beginning.  At night we would hear the sounds of bombs and firearms to simulate real life combat situations. Once we completed The Crucible, we hiked back to base and enjoyed the Warrior’s Breakfast because during the 36 hours, we only ate Meal Ready-to-Eat (MREs).  After breakfast, the drill instructors shook our hands and we were each awarded with the Eagle, Globe and Anchor pin, the symbol of the United States Marine Corps.”

OMCP: “During boot camp, it must have been difficult being away from family and friends. How did you stay in contact and motivated?”

AA: “The only way to communicate with loved ones was by writing letters. You have no choice but to complete boot camp. You can’t look back.”

OMCP: “How did it make you feel when you completed boot camp?”

AA: “I made it.  All the hard work paid off.  I had a sense of accomplishment.”

OMCP: “How was it seeing your family for the first time after those long weeks?”

AA: “I was very happy to see everyone and the first time I felt something.”

OMCP: “After completing boot camp, where were you stationed for work?”

AA: “I attended Marine Combat Training (MCT) in Camp Lejeune, NC for 1 month.  There I learned all about machine guns, combat scenarios, how to clear buildings, throw grenades, shoot a 240 Bravo, 249 machine guns, 204 grenade launcher which attaches to an M16. I also learned to use night speciality vision goggles.  This training also consisted of a classroom environment.”

OMCP: “What was your first Military Occupational Specialty (MOS)?”

AA: “1391 Bulk Fuel Specialist.”

OMCP: “What were your responsibilities?”

AA: “Under combat engineer, we designed and constructed fuel farms and stored, received and dispensed fuel for all military operations. Upon graduation from MCT, we were assigned a duty station on the West coast, East coast or overseas. I was assigned to Camp Pendleton, CA.”

OMCP: “How was the organization structured?”

AA: “There is a chain of command.  Our Battalion Commander was at the top, followed by Sergeant Major, Company Commander, First Sergeant, Platoon Sergeant, Squad Leader, then myself.” I was in the Bulk Fuel Company, 7th ESB (Engineer Support Battalion) and part of the 1st MLG (Marine Logistics Group).”

OMCP: “How many people did you report to?”

AA: “I reported directly to my squad leader.”

OMCP: “How many people were in your platoon?”

AA: “It varied.  At first, there were close to 200, then only about 50 due to new assignments, deployments, completion of a contract or people getting discharged dishonorably.”

OMCP: “As in the civilian workforce oftentimes, was there any on-the-job (OTJ) training?”

AA: “Yes. All the time.”

OMCP: “Were you required to take classes/courses? If so, what were they?”

AA: “Annual training included sexual harassment, combat trafficking, internet safety, 101 Days of Summer which addressed drinking and driving, motorcycle riding safety and other summer activity safety.  I participatedin the Marine Corps Martial Arts Program (MCMP) and completed courses up to green belt, which is optional.  I also completed the Combat Hunter Course, which was my favorite.  Here, I learned to read body language to pick out possible terrorists. This included identifying foot patterns and tracking abilities.  I also completed the Tactical Combat Casualty Care (TCCC) training.  Here I learned CPR, to seal wounds and the use of administering IVs. My classmates and I gave each other IVs (laughs). This was an advanced class, specifically if you’re in a combat situation and under fire”. 

OMCP: “How do promotions work?”

AA: “Private First Class and Lance Corporal are automatic.  Promotions to Corporal and Sergeant are based on a scoring system.  Staff and above are selected by the USMC.”

OMCP: “How did if feel transitioning back to civilian life? Did the (military branch) prepare you? How?”

AA: “It hasn’t hit me yet.  I feel like I’m on leave and that the last 4 years were a dream”.  As I transitioned out of the USMC, I had to complete the Transition Readiness Program (TRP). Here we learned about our medical, educational, retirement and other benefits, as well as how to apply for jobs.”

OMCP: “From your military career, what can you apply to civilian life and civilian careers?”

AA: “Leadership, confidence, initiative, being a better civilian, and always willing to help others.”

OMCP: “What are your next goals?”

AA: “I always wanted to go into law enforcement, but I’m applying to jobs in different industries.”

OMCP: “Would you recommend young people going the military? If so, why?”

AA: “You can certainly learn a lot and it looks really good on your resume.”

OMCP: “What would you like civilians to know about veterans and service members? Are there any misconceptions about the U.S. military?”

AA: “We’re not all pro-war/fighting”. We were taught to protect and serve, only if absolutely necessary.”

OMCP: “Lastly, do you have a favorite memory, or something that will always “stand out?”

AA: “ Lots of things.  It’s not everyday that people get to experience being in the military and all the training it requires.  I will always remember the camaraderie and friendships I’ve made during this chapter of my life.”

Operation MCP (Making Careers Possible), headquartered in Washington, DC, is a free resume writing and interview preparation service for United States veterans and service members.  To learn more, visit www.operationmcp.org